What Do Hockey Players Sniff? Do They Use Smelling Salts?

We use affiliate links, and may receive a commission if you purchase a product through our links. Learn more

Have you ever wondered what the strange thing that ice hockey players hold close to their noses and breathe in just before they’re about to ace the game is?

Nothing to worry about; it’s just smelling salts.

I know most of you think it’s odd to see them sniffing salt openly and so casually before their most anticipated games like it’s some form of ritual.

It’s a pretty common practice for athletes, especially for ice hockey players; however, the reason behind it is not known to many yet.

Read on to discover what smelling salts are all about and other necessary details.

Why Do Hockey Players Smell Salt?

The first thing to describe smelling salts is that they’re not the ones found in your kitchen and not the regular type you can buy in retail stores. 

Smelling salts are made of ammonia and perfume. They come in various forms, from colorless to white crystalline, and are present in different cultures.

History says these have been used for many situations, such as wars, athletic competitions, and medical conditions and emergencies. 

They have been used in the mentioned fields and circumstances because their composition stimulates the body’s nervous system, forcing you to focus on your present environment. Ice hockey players smell salt so proactively. 

Contrary to most people’s beliefs, smelling salts does not give off a delightful aroma that keeps you drawing deep breaths at intervals.

Instead, their weird smell jerk you awake rudely and irritate your eyes and nostrils.

Reasons Behind Hockey Players Smelling Salt

Since smelling salts don’t smell nice, there are more reasons why they are involved in pre-game rituals for ice hockey events. 

Most hockey players believe in the science of such substances, or if some would argue, the magic of smelling salts. 

Typically, you see players sniffing these salts just before they step in and play. Flared nostrils and watery eyes are common reactions after waving these substances under their noses.

Once the effect triggered by the smell has fully kicked into their system, their body is ready and more alert.

Ice hockey players smell salt before the game because it is the best time to perform it, and this is when they need to be at their peak awareness.

Popular hockey players and advocates of smelling salt also professed that sniffing such salts gives them buzz and awareness.

This buzz goes a long way in boosting their confidence and generally improving their performances.

Such statements are considered truthful since smelling salts are known to trigger the body’s fight response and give you a surge of adrenaline.

Therefore, increased energy levels give athletes extra strength, speed, and increased brain activity.

However, with all these beneficial effects, they all wear off immediately, according to athletes. Some hockey players even stated that sniffing salts is not always about physical stimulation but a mental boost.

In a way, the placebo effect plays a role in convincing the athletes that the team would have a great game so each one of them would deliver an excellent performance.

what do hockey players sniff

How Long Do They Last?

Smelling salts are often used by people who have fainted to help them regain consciousness. They are also well-known tools for trainers and athletes to use in order to wake themselves up.

The active ingredient in smelling salts is ammonia, which causes the sudden burst of energy they provide. However, they do not last very long and should be used sparingly.

They come in a small container that you can carry around with you.

And are two types: those that contain ammonia and those that have ammonium carbonate. Ammonia is more potent than ammonium carbonate, so the former type is stronger than the latter.

The smelling salts are unlike medicine, where side effects last 6-12 hours. They only last a few seconds; they dissipate into the air as soon as they are released.

Though the salt smell is a powerful stimulant, it is not like any gas that may get into your lungs and damage them.

Why is This Ritual Still Present in Most Games?

Even though some think smelling salts are useless and nothing but armor for a mental boost, several players still stick with this tradition, which is believed to bring good luck and create positive vibes ahead of their games. 

Sniffing salts as part of pre-game rituals may not be backed up by proven scientific results, but for some, this is their coin of luck.

Where Are They Available?

Since a prescription is not required for smelling salts, they are readily available in a few online stores.

Typically, they come in first aid kit packaging.

Can You Make Homemade Smelling Salts?

It is highly discouraged to experiment with chemical mixtures. Also, the main ingredient of smelling salts, ammonia, is not usually available in supplement stores.

Although there are helpful articles online on creating an alternative formula for smelling salts, such procedures shouldn’t be done carelessly. Such action is not recommended.

Are Smelling Salts Bad For You?

While smelling salts are generally safe, they should only be used as directed. Using them repeatedly or holding them too close to your nose can have long-term effects.

Excessive and improper use of smelling salts may irritate the nasal passage. The ammonia fumes may burn the membranes in your nostrils, but this would necessitate frequent and heavy use of smelling salts.

Smelling salts usually  have no adverse effects when used properly, but there are some unusual side effects which I have listed below:

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
smelling salt is harmful

People with respiratory conditions may have adverse reactions. Among these conditions are the following:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic lung disease

Smelling salts have been used for centuries to revive fainted people. Athletes use them for short bursts of energy or focus, but there is no evidence that they improve performance.

Ammonia is an eroding chemical that can irritate and burn anything with which it comes into contact. If you get smelling salts in your eyes, rinse them gently with water and call poison control, your doctor, or an emergency room.

If the salts come into contact with your skin, immediately rinse it with water. To relieve the irritation, do not apply an ointment. If the irritation persists, consult your doctor.

Final Thoughts

We all have ways of fully equipping ourselves with luck and preparedness before competitions and events.

For ice hockey players, having smelling salts around is a way of acing their games.

The scientific results of how effective smelling salts are yet to be disclosed.

For now, let us acknowledge that sniffing such substances as part of their pre-game ritual is welcomed by most hockey players.

If you want to know more about ice hockey as a sport and its gears, like ice hockey skates, helmets, and sticks, do click on the links mentioned.

Also, if you have any more questions? Leave a comment below!

Photo of author


Charles Adam
Charles is from the state of Minnesota. As Minnesota is one of the coldest states in the US, there is no surprise that he likes ice fishing. Along with ice fishing, he also likes to watch the NHL.

Leave a Comment