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The use of smelling salts is nothing new. These chemical-containing wake-up aids have been used in some form for hundreds of years, most often to restore consciousness in people who have fainted. Today, smelling salts can still be used for that purpose, but they are also utilized by athletes and gym-goers as a stimulant to boost alertness and focus. Let SPY guide you through what smelling salts are, their origin, how they work and the potential dangers of using them to see if smelling salts are worth adding to your routine.
What Are Smelling Salts?
Smelling salts, also known as ammonia inhalants, spirit of hartshorn or sal volatil, are compounds that contain the active ingredient ammonium carbonate. This ammonia gas–producing ingredient is often combined with some kind of perfume to mask the gas’s rather overpowering smell.
You may also find alternative smelling salts, better known as aromatic spirits of ammonia, which use diluted ammonia instead of ammonium carbonate, with ethanol and perfume to produce a similar, gas-fueled stimulation. This preparation is more common in over-the-counter products available today.
How Do Smelling Salts Work?
The action of smelling salts is based on the human body’s natural reaction to ammonia gas. When sniffed or breathed in, the ammonia gas causes irritation to the membranes in the nostrils and lungs, triggering a near-involuntary inhalation reflex. It’s this inhalation that increases the amount of air, including oxygen, inside the lungs and potentially jolts the body awake. This oxygen-led stimulation is the main goal of smelling salts and why they are sought after for reviving consciousness or stimulating alertness.
The History of Smelling Salts
The origin of smelling salts can be traced back to the 13th century, beginning a journey that saw its use in several functions, including textile dyers, medicine and baking. Fast forward to Britain’s Victorian era and smelling salts were used as a medical treatment, carried by police and emergency workers to revive anyone who fainted.
In the 20th century, boxers frequently used smelling salts to remain alert and prevent/delay the impact of hard hits (although this is now banned in modern day competition). Today, smelling salts have mostly been replaced by alternative methods when it comes to dealing with fainting. However, the use of smelling salts can still be observed in many sports (including football and hockey), and by athletes such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who have been observed using smelling salts for their focusing impact.
Are Smelling Salts Safe?
There are no scientific reports to suggest that the use of smelling salts in the capacity seen in sports or gyms results in any adverse health issues. However, given that prolonged exposure to concentrated ammonia gas can have severe negative health implications, it’s likely that the comparatively small dose of ammonia gas and the short-term exposure is what makes smelling salts OK for use.
Because of the potential issues if mistreated, it’s always important to follow the directions specified on the product. This includes maintaining correct distances and not overusing the product. In terms of legality, it’s also worth mentioning that, in the majority of sports, smelling salts are perfectly legal for use.
Where to Buy Smelling Salts
Smelling salts are available for over-the-counter or online purchasing. Your local supermarket or pharmacy will likely stock some kind of smelling salt. Alternatively, check out our top picks for the best smelling salts available online. These products come with hundreds, if not thousands, of positive reviews and ratings and can be delivered directly to your door.
Below, you’ll find SPY’s top smelling salts. We’ve included options specifically designed for use in activities such as powerlifting, as well as individually wrapped salts that are ideal for home first aid kits or on-the-go use. Scroll down to find the right option for you.
The Best Smelling Salts
1. AmmoniaSport Athletic Smelling Salts
With more than 3,500 five-star ratings, these AmmoniaSport Athletic Smelling Salts are a tried-and-tested answer you can trust. Each bottle can be activated by adding a small amount of water and offers users more than 100 uses. Once ready, open the resealable bottle at least six inches from your nose and sniff. The near-instant reaction claims to potentially deliver greater explosive energy, maximized strength and razor-sharp focus. This USA-made product also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
2. Crains Nose Tork Smelling Salts
BEST FOR POWERLIFTING
If you’re looking for that little extra boost when it comes to achieving a new PR, you may want to give these Nose Tork Smelling Salts a try. The included salts are designed for serious lifters as they are both super strong and potent. One sniff before your lift is ideal for waking your body up and getting your mind in the right place. The reusable bottle contains a chunk of ammonia in an aqueous solution, delivering a small dose of ammonia gas every time you unscrew the lid. Once sniffed, simply replace the cap and re-use the bottle as and when you need it.
3. Atomic Rhino Smelling Salts
By scientifically formulating the product to deliver the highest possible ammonia yield, these Atomic Rhino Smelling Salts can get you where you want to go during workout sessions. To activate the salts, simply add a small dose of water to the bottle. After shaking the bottle, remove the lid and take a whiff to boost alertness and focus. This professional sportsperson-worthy product comes backed by more than 1,500 five-star ratings and delivers more than 100 uses from a single bottle.
4. Ward Smelling Salts Bottled Insanity
GREAT FOR SPORTS
In addition to powerlifting and strongman, this Ward Smelling Salts Insanely Strong Ammonia Inhalant is ideal for boosting focus, temporarily increasing strength and staying alert in a wide range of sports, including football, hockey and boxing. The extra long-lasting formula delivers dozens and dozens of users from the single, resealable bottle. As the product ships unactivated, you’ll need to add a teaspoon of water to initiate the reaction.
5. Vaxxen Labs Ammonia Inhalant Pouch
BEST SINGLE USE
If you’re looking for an ammonia inhalant to keep in your home first aid kit or just want something for one-time use, consider a box of these Vaxxen Labs Ammonia Inhalant Pouches. The packs are available with either 10 or 100 individually sealed pouches inside, each containing a 15-20% ammonia wipe that is ready for use. Additionally, these fast-acting salts are made in the USA and compact enough to be stored in pockets or backpacks.