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What Does a Meth Lab Smell Like?

Strange Odors and Drugs

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Crystals of of the drug methamphetamine (crystal meth).

Crystals of the drug methamphetamine (crystal meth).

US DEA

Question: What Does a Meth Lab Smell Like?

No one wants to live next door to a meth lab, but how do you know if there is one in your neighborhood? One way to detect illegal drug production is to look for trash associated with the supplies and chemicals used for cooking meth. There might be a "Beware of Dog" or "Keep Out" sign and boarded windows. Another big giveaway if you suspect illegal drugs are being made is by their smell.

Answer: What sort of smell are you looking for? There isn't any single odor that would be a tip-off for meth production, but several chemicals waft distinctive odors, not like you would want your house to smell. Examples of odors from a meth lab might be a sweet ether smell, acrid chemical fume, ammonia or cat urine odor, or rotten egg sulfurous stink.

Meth Lab Chemicals

There is more than one way to cook meth, but if you see or smell these chemicals together, they might indicate a meth lab.
  • acetone
  • isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol or Iso-Heet fuel treatment)
  • methyl alcohol (wood spirits or Heet fuel treatment)
  • lye as in Red Devil lye
  • crystal or liquid iodine
  • mineral spirits
  • bleach
  • anhydrous ammonia
  • sulfuric acid (car battery acid)
  • hydrochloric acid (muriatic acid)
  • matches/match box strikers (for red phosphorus)
  • cold tablets containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine
  • white gas
  • lithium (from lithium batteries)
  • trichloroethane (solvent for gun cleaning)
  • sodium metal or rock or table salt
  • ether (starter fluid)
  • toluene
Since these chemicals give off unpleasant and toxic fumes, you might see some sort of ventilation intended to blow the vapors out of the building, like a chimney or fans. Don't expect to see smoke or any visible sign of "cooking."

Meth Lab Trash

Meth labs tend to be secretive, so you may see drawn shades or paper or foil over the windows, a guard dog and a "keep out" sign. Watch for these types of products in the garbage:
  • paint thinner
  • antifreeze
  • plastic soda bottles with holes or tubes at the top
  • acetone
  • drain cleaner
  • brake fluid
  • reddish stained coffee filters
  • used rags
  • broken lithium batteries
  • cold tablet packaging
Because trash says a lot about a person's activities, a meth lab might break the garbage up and put some of it in with a neighbor's trash.

Meth Lab Signs

Other signs of a meth lab could include dead spots in the yard, since spilling or dumping these chemicals would kill grass. Because meth production involves the use of flammable chemicals, people cooking meth tend to smoke outdoors, away from the building. Occupants of a meth lab might seem secretive and shy, yet entertain a lot of visitors.

What To Do If You Suspect a Meth Lab

If you think you've come across a meth lab, there is a right way and a wrong way to deal with it. The right way is to play it cool and avoid alerting the cook to your suspicion. The wrong way is to go snooping, accusing or trying to handle it yourself. Here are some steps to take:
  1. Call the authorities and explain why you think you've come across a meth lab. Follow their instructions.

     

  2. Don't touch anything. Especially don't open any containers, which may contain toxic or reactive chemicals. Don't turn on or turn off any electric switches. Just quietly leave the premises.

     

  3. Don't light a match or a cigarette or anything that might ignite flammable chemicals.

     

  4. Touching chemicals can give you a chemical burn or poison you. Similarly, breathing in the fumes from a meth lab can harm your health. If you can smell the fumes, you are still too close, even if you have left the immediate property. If your yard or home smell bad, remember, this can harm your health.

 

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