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What Are Hockey Players Sniffing On The Bench? Smelling Salts

By Usha Shrestha / 9 June 2023 03:05 AM

The Knights has won the Game 2 with a 7-2 on June 5 at T-Mobile Arena
The Knights has won the Game 2 with a 7-2 on June 5 at T-Mobile Arena( Source : instagram )

What are hockey players sniffing on the bench? Hockey Players are sniffing ammonia laced salt, also known as smelling salts.

Basically, it is ammonium carbonate, a colorless-to-white crystalline solid. At present, additional products like lavender oil or eucalyptus oil are mixed with ammonia for extra aroma.

The chemical compound is used as a tonic to restore consciousness after fainting. In ancient times, smelling salts were used on fainted people or who feels fainting. For instance, in Victorian Britain, people used the component to revive fainting women.

At present, sportspeople use them to "wake up " and "perform better." Not just ice hockey, athletic competitions like powerlifting and rugby also promotes using them for better performance.

"Even though you're awake, it makes you (snaps fingers) wake up instantly," said the former defenseman of the Islander, Johny Boychuk.

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Why Do Hockey Players Sniff Smelling Salts?

Hockey players sniff smelling salts to be more alert and increase their skills during play. They believe it helps escalate energy levels, speed, and strength.

Smelling salts have been common in the NHL for years now. Even though it smells awful, it has been a routine for the athletes before entering the rink. They are seen inhaling the inhalants sitting on the bench and making those disgusted faces.

Ice hockey is one of the chaotic and fast-paced sports. Chasing the small flying puck can exhaust the player on the ice. The players use the inhalants to get back the energy instantly.

What is Smelling Salts?

Smelling salts are made of chemicals, mostly ammonia, that has a strong aroma. It is also known as an ammonia inhalant.

It is designed to cause a reaction in your body to increase performance and alertness.  Modern versions of the solution exist mixed with water or alcohol. It retains in small glass capsules wrapped in a cotton layer and netting.

When the thin glass tube is crushed, the liquid form releases on the cotton. The soaked fabric is waved in front of the nose.

When someone inhales the component, it irritates his nasal and lung membranes. That is due to ammonia. Thus, the person involuntarily inhales and starts breathing faster.

What Does Smelling Salts Do For Hockey Players?

Smelling Salts help hockey players to keep more attentive. At least, this is what the professional ice skaters believe.

When a hockey player sniffs the salts, the ammonia gas irritates the nose, causing an inhalation reflex. Eventually, their body takes a deep breath which boosts oxygen intake. Stimulating the nervous system, players feel more focused and alert.

Anheim Ducks center player Trevor Zegras's reaction captured after sniffing smelling salts
Anheim Ducks center player Trevor Zegras's reaction captured after sniffing smelling salts( Source : twitter )

Vancouver Canucks forward player Anthony Beauvillier is also one of the athletes who have adopted smelling salts. He uses it as a third-period refresh.

Beauvillier is yet to be habitual to the strong odor of ammonia. He finds them awful, yet it's been a part of a routine for him.

NHL franchise Islanders players are familiar with the routine. Winger Matt Martin has been doing them since his debut match in the league. However, he still struggles to bear the smell.

Purpose and Uses Of Smelling Salts

The primary purpose of smelling salts is to revive someone who has fainted. However, the use of smelling salts by doctors has abated.

In the 14th century, the chemical was used to shave harts' horns and hooves. Later it spread throughout Europe as a treatment for fainting, headaches, fatigue, and other symptoms.

As time passed, from ordinary people to sports athletes began using inhalants for several purposes.

While talking about the usage of smelling salts, boxers often used them. They were given for mental alertness and to restore consciousness after the knock-out. Now, most boxing competitions have banned the action.


  • For medical emergencies to help revive people who lost consciousness
  • Effective to restrain awareness and attention for people suffering from low blood pressure
  • ockey, boxing, and football player use them to revive themselves from feeling dizzy due to dehydration and physical exertion

Are Smelling Salts Addictive?

Smelling salts can be addictive after regular consumption. There has been a rise in its use compared to the last ten years.

In the case of National Hockey League players, it has been a routine for them to inhale the ammonia, whether it works or not.

An athlete using smelling salts to increase his alertness
An athlete using smelling salts to increase his alertness ( Source : facebook )

New York Islanders defense Ryan Pulock once talked with NHL.com and admitted he didn't know if they are effective, but it's just one of those things.

Similarly, a regular user of smelling salt, Martin admitted it had been part of his routine since the day he started using them.

Rather than due to its benefits, Martin feels people start inhaling it after seeing other guys doing so, and one wants to be one of the "cool guys." Likewise, there are football athletes and fitness fanatics who can't go a day without sniffing the aromatic ammonia.

Are Smelling Salts Bad For You?

Smelling salts are not bad as long as it is used as directed. It is better to consult a doctor before using them.

Before using the smelling salt, one needs to know how it may affect their health. As ammonia is a toxic substance, improper exposure can invite health risks.

Some research suggests ammonia inhalants can damage the upper airways and lungs in case of centered subjection. Eventually, it causes allergic reactions.

Thus, the minimum distance of the inhalants should be ten centimeters from the nose while inhaling.

While discussing the risks, high ammonia absorption can burn the nasal or oral mucosa. Similarly, smelling ammonia can delay the proper treatment of an injured player.

A person injured during sport might neglect professional healthcare as smelling salts temporarily rescue them from the immediate pain.

The followings are some of the negative effects of Smelling Salts:

  • Nose, sinus, and throat irritation
  • Temporary increment in heart rate
  • Damage of upper airways and lungs in case of concentrated exposure
  • Not suitable for individuals with breathing problems (asthma or emphysema)
  • Sniffing too many inhalants can cause headaches 

Where Can You Buy Smelling Salts?

You can buy smelling salts at drugstores. Also, one can purchase from a website like Amazon.com.

It counts around 16 to 28 dollars for a bottle. Manufacturing and trading smelling salts are completely legal in the United States and the United Kingdom. Pharmaceutical companies trade inhalants.

Superdrug also sells ammonia as Mackenzies Smelling Salts-17 ml. It is a traditional remedy for symptomatic relief of congested nose, throat, and head colds.

Similarly, there are different types of smelling salts in the market. For instance, Ammonia Sport Ran is considered one of the strongest. It gives instant sensation and can be used in the gym as well.

Some other inhalants available in the market are Dynarex Ammonia Inhalants, First Aid Only Ammonia Inhalants, Ammonia Sport Ampulses, Ward Smelling Salts, and others.

Why Do Hockey Players Eat Mustard?

Hockey players eat mustard to treat exercise-associated muscle cramps. Mustard ingredients help prevent cramps or get rid of them quickly.

Ice hockey is a physical game. Skaters lose energy and might be prone to salty sweating or cramps. Eventually, they lose sodium in their boy.

To replenish the sodium, a home remedy like consuming mustard can be beneficial. Another best alternative can be pickle juice. Both ingredients help a person produce more acetylcholine, which plays a role in cramping.

Many ice hockey athletes admit to eating yellow seeds to fight the cramps. One of them is the Nashville Predators' first-round pick from the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Zachary L'Heureux.

Zachary was captured quaffing from a bright yellow mustard bottle on May 3, 2023. He was sitting on the bench with fellow Halifax Mooseheads athletes for the QMJHL.

Similarly, former Penguins forward Mark Letestu surprised the spectators in a preseason game in September 2019. The audience was astonished to see him taking a sip from a packet of mustard.

Later, he admitted to consuming the yellow seed juice for years for his cramping problems. He said, " It works. I didn't have any issues for the rest of the game.


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