Meth Lab Smell

What does a meth lab smell like?

Meth labs can smell like cat urine, rotten eggs, sewer gas, ether, wet diapers, paint thinners, paint removers, adhesives, cleaning fluids, vinegar, pickled foods, cattle feed lots, and fertilizers.

Meth labs can smell like a hospital due to the common use of ethyl ether as an anesthetic. Nasal irritant. Ether-like: Aromatic, sweet odor often accompanied by a sweet taste.

meth lab smellsSmells like paint thinners, paint removers, adhesives, and cleaning fluids. Type of odor often found in auto body shops or furniture refinishing shops. Eye and nasal irritant.

Smells like odor found in vinegar, mayonnaise, salad dressings or pickled food. Pungent, acrid, or sour smell. Eye irritant.

Smells like wet diapers, glass cleaners, cattle feed-lots, or fertilizers. A sharp, irritating odor.  Eye and nasal irritant.

Note: Meth lab homes that have been allowed to air out for some time may not have any detectable odors. The absence of odor in a home does not mean the home is not contaminated.

Meth Lab Smell
Original publish date Nov. 2, 2008

Source: N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health, Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance Program (HSEES)

Unusual, strong odors (like cat urine, ether, ammonia, acetone or other chemicals).

Source: W.V. Department of Health and Human Services

Signs that a child is being exposed to Meth Lab Chemicals

A child that has been exposed to meth lab chemicals may exhibit signs that you might not associate with chemical exposure, but knowing the signs of meth lab exposure in children can help you to protect their health and safety. Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a day care provider, a child protection service worker, a neighbor, or anyone else who cares about children, you should know some of the health symptoms that can indicate exposure to meth lab chemicals in children.

According to the Arizona Attorney General’s office, children exposed to the chemicals used to make meth may exhibit the following signs:

  • Watery eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye pain, including burning
  • Skin irritation and redness
  • Mild to severe burns on the skin
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Difficult and labored breathing, shortness of breath
  • Congestion of the voice box
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Moderate to severe headache
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dark colored urine
  • Fever
  • Decrease in mental status
  • Yellow jaundice
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme irritability
  • Severe neglect

If you believe a child is being exposed to meth lab chemicals, or if a child tells you that drug-making is occurring in their home, please call 911 immediately and tell law enforcement personnel what you know.

What kind of trash do meth lab cooks throw away?

What kind of trash do meth lab cooks throw away? The kind of trash that meth labs generate varies according to which method they’re using to make meth. Here is a list of some items that may be a signal a meth lab.


Rags with red and/or yellow stains.

A large number of pill blister packaging from cold and allergy products containing pseudoephedrine.


Bottles or containers connected with rubber hosing and duct tape


Empty containers from white gas, ether, starting fluids, lye or drain openers, paint thinner, acetone, or alcohol.

chemical cans

Compressed gas cylinders, or camp stove (Coleman) fuel containers

Packaging from Epsom salts or rock salt.

Propane tanks or coolers containing strong ammonia odors.

Pyrex/glass/Corning containers, with dried chemical deposits left in them.

Coolers, thermos bottles, or other cold storage containers.

Respiratory masks and filters or dust masks.

Funnels, hosing and clamps.

Discarded rubber or latex gloves.

Coffee filters, pillow cases or bed sheets stained red (used to filter red phosphorous), or containing a white powdery residue.

Disposable cold packs.


Multiple bags of fertilizer.


Originally posted:  October 20, 2008.

Meth lab pictures for renters, realtors, home owners, home buyers

Renter, realtors, home buyers, and home owners often miss the signs of a meth lab, which may appear to look “odd” but not so odd that it sends up a red flag.  A word of advice: If you think something is odd, weird, or unusual, you should listen to what your gut is telling you. Ask questions and investigate the history of the home before you buy or rent it. Talk to the local health department, the local and state police departments, and the neighbors may help you to learn more about whether the previous occupants may have been meth users, meth cooks, or if a meth lab bust occurred at that address.

What you see inside and outside of a home may help you to identify a meth lab home, but you should keep in mind that many former meth lab homes have been “cleaned up” by their owners. Does the home appear as if it’s undergone a total rehab? Does it have new flooring, new rugs, new kitchen and bathroom fixtures, and new paint? Ask yourself “why is that”? Looking “new” is not a guarantee that a home is not contaminated by meth or meth lab chemicals. The only sure way to find out if a home is contaminated by meth is to have the home professionally tested.

*According to estimates by law enforcement agencies and meth lab cleanup contractors, only one out of ten homes where meth has been manufactured, have ever been discovered by the police. Buyer and renters beware!

Chemical stains on flooring

Chemical staining on walls and floors often result when chemicals spill during the meth cook.  Floors and carpets are often stained or damaged by meth chemicals that can include liquids such as hydrochloric acid. A former meth lab may also have brand new flooring and carpets, which can signal that the previous flooring was damaged because of meth lab chemical spills.

Fixer-upper buyers beware! Also, keep in mind that meth lab homes may look brand new and not show any of the damages you see in the pictures listed here. Unscrupulous sellers who buy meth lab homes at rock bottom prices often cover stains with carpeting and new flooring and paint walls to minimize any questions or concerns about the home from prospective buyers or renters.

meth lab chemical stains on hardwood floor


Burned grass or vegetation

Meth lab cooks may cook meth outdoors or burn empty pseudoephedrine packages or blister packaging for cold, allergy, and sinus medicines, to avoid raising the suspicion of anyone seeing the tell-tale meth signs in their trash. Cooking outdoors is remote locations in another way to avoid being detected by neighbors who may smell the chemicals they’re cooking. Cooking outdoors also keeps their homes from getting contaminated or exposing their children to the hazardous chemicals they’re cooking with.  If you see burn pits, stained soil or dead vegetation it may indicate areas where meth lab chemicals have been dumped.

meth lab burns grass

Kitty Litter

Kitty Litter is often used by meth lab cooks to soak up spilled chemicals.  In the first picture, a meth lab cook uses this kitty litter container as part of their meth manufacturing process. Tubing is commonly found at meth labs, where it is often connected to a variety of containers.


Do you see kitty litter in unusual locations? It could indicate that someone used it to absorb a chemical spill.



When someone is addicted to meth, meth is ALL THAT MATTERS.  The effect of meth on users makes it difficult for them to get organized and keep the kind of focus it would take to keep their house neat and tidy.

Renters who are using meth and/or making meth will try to avoid having their landlord come in to inspect their home, due to its condition and to prevent the landlord from seeing anything that might evoke questions.  Neighbors and other visitors are also avoided by meth lab cooks, for the same reasons.

Windows  are often  covered or blacked-out to keep prying eyes from seeing inside.


Living conditions in a meth lab home

bathroom of a meth lab home

living conditions in a meth lab home

Strange Plumbing

Strange plumbing, vent systems, and/or  electrical connections in a house should make you question why someone would have a plumbing, wiring, or electrical system like that in their house, basement, attic, or garage. Could the plumbing be installed to make it easier to dump chemicals without being detected by anyone outside of the house?


Could venting systems be installed in basements to vent out meth lab fumes? Are electrical outlets or wiring found in weird places?



The windows on basements and garages made be covered or painted to keep others from seeing what’s “cooking”. Exhaust fans are common, as well.


Police often find different types of glassware in meth labs, including glass bottles, jugs, and glass cooking containers.


Plastic Bottles

Meth cooks who use the “shake and bake” method, which has become increasingly popular in recent years, typically use commonly found plastic bottles to make meth. Water bottles, soda bottles, sports drinks bottles, juice bottles and other plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes are being used to make meth. Meth made in these bottles frequently explode causing fires and burn injuries to people in their vicinity.

This post was originally published on July 16, 2009.

Meth Lab: Behavior signs

How can you tell if you’re dealing with someone who’s a meth abuser or a meth lab cook? Observe their behavior.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “In addition to being addicted to methamphetamine, chronic abusers exhibit symptoms that can include anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior. They also can display a number of psychotic features, including paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects creeping under the skin). Psychotic symptoms can sometimes last for months or years after methamphetamine abuse has ceased, and stress has been shown to precipitate spontaneous recurrence of methamphetamine psychosis in formerly psychotic methamphetamine abusers.”

1. Frequent visitors at all times of the day or night, followed by periods where there are no visitors.

Meth users can stay awake for several days and nights without sleep. During those “awake times”,  buyers will frequently visit the meth dealer’s home. Cash poor buyers often bring stolen goods to the meth dealer’s home to barter for methamphetamine. Electronic items and tools are popular replacements for cash. Meth cooks will often “signal” buyers when they have meth to sell by doing something like leaving a porch light on or creating some other visible sign outside of their house.

2. Visitors park far away from the meth lab house, even though there is parking available in front of the home.

Buyers don’t want neighbors or other people that they know to see their car parked in front of a drug dealer’s home and meth dealers don’t want alot of vehicles showing up at their house.  Some meth buyers drive stolen cars, but that’s not true of all buyers. If the car has been stolen, the door lock may be punched out.  Stolen cars may be dirty, but they will have clean license plates.

3. Activity at the house is usually at odd hours or late at night.

Meth cooks usually cook meth in the early morning hours when most people are sleeping. Meth lab cooks that use motel and hotel rooms to cook meth often cook meth somewhere between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.  Meth’s effect on users allow them to stay awake all day and all night for several days in a row, if they keep using more meth. Lack of sleep causes hallucinations and extreme paranoia.

psueudoephedrine-tablets3. Occupants appear unemployed, yet seem to have plenty of money and pay bills with cash.

Meth dealers get paid in cash and often with stolen property. Because of the laws limiting the sale of pseudoephedrine,  meth dealers will also accept packages of pseudoephedrine as payment for meth.

4. Occupants are unfriendly, appear secretive about activities.

The last thing that a meth cook wants is a friendly neighbor stopping by and asking questions about anything they see or smell, or about them, for that matter.

5. Occupants watch cars suspiciously when they pass by.

Heavy meth users and meth cooks are always worried that someone is coming to get them and they want to be ready to a)  make a quick escape or b) grab a weapon.

6. Occupants display a paranoid or odd behavior.

Heavy meth users who go without food and sleep for several days in a row are prone to hallucinations and paranoia.

7. Extensive security at the home.

“Private Property” or “Beware of Dog” signs may be posted as well as fences, large shrubs, bushes and trees. Security cameras may also be attached to the house, shed, barn, garage, etc. Anyone making and selling meth wants to know who is getting “too close” to finding out about their illegal activity.

8. Windows blackened or curtains always drawn.

Besides preventing anyone from seeing any signs of meth lab through their windows, they also prevent anyone from seeing the mess inside of their homes.

9. Occupants go outside the house to smoke cigarettes.

Meth lab cooks are smart enough to know that lighting a cigarette near the volatile chemicals inside their home or shed would be disasterous.

10. Chemical odors coming from the house, garbage or detached buildings.

11. Garbage contains numerous bottles, containers.

12. Coffee filters, bed sheets or other material stained from filtering red phosphorus or other chemicals

13. Occupant sets his garbage for pick up in another neighbor’s collection area.

14. Evidence of chemical or waste dumping (i.e. burn pits, or “dead spots” in the yard)

15. Meth users are extremely active. Methamphetamine gives the user alot of energy, making them very talkative and energetic. When graffitithey’re high on meth, they may be involved in several kinds of projects but seldom finish any of them.

For example, they may pull apart vehicles and other machinery with the intention of fixing them, but  never complete the repairs.

Some meth lab homes have been found with graffiti painted on walls and ceilings. Meth gives them so much energy that they have to do “something”.

16. If the meth user / dealer/ lab cook has children or pets, they are typically neglected and in danger. Chemicals in meth lab homes are often left where children can reach them and drink them. Meth lab homes are full of toxic chemicals that are extremely dangerous to the health of children, whose immune systems are still developing.

During the times that the meth using parents crash by sleeping for days meth-lab-kidsat a time, children and animals are often left to fend for themselves.  During those times, many children don’t go to school. Older children often stay home from school to take care of their younger siblings, while their adult caretakers sleep.

Food may be scarce in a heavy meth user’s home, due to money being spent on drugs before food for their children and their pets. Meth users may also forget that children and pets need to be fed, as meth takes away their urge to eat.

Children may not be allowed to go outside without a parent or other adult present.


Originally published on March 13, 2009.



Meth Lab Chemicals List

“Toxic chemicals can be ingested either by consuming contaminated food or beverages or by inadvertently consuming the chemicals directly. (Young children present at laboratory sites are at particular risk of ingesting chemicals.) Ingesting toxic chemicals—or methamphetamine itself—may result in potentially fatal poisoning, internal chemical burns, damage to organ function, and harm to neurological and immunologic functioning.

In addition, methamphetamine production threatens the environment. The average methamphetamine laboratory produces 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine produced. Operators often dispose of this waste improperly, simply by dumping it near the laboratory. This can cause contamination of the soil and nearby water supplies.

The chemicals used to produce methamphetamine are extremely hazardous. Some are highly volatile and may ignite or explode if mixed or stored improperly. Fire and explosion pose risks not only to the individuals producing the drug but also to anyone in the surrounding area, including children, neighbors, and passersby. Even when fire or explosion does not occur, methamphetamine production is dangerous. Simply being exposed to the toxic chemicals used to produce the drug poses a variety of health risks, including intoxication, dizziness, nausea, disorientation, lack of coordination, pulmonary edema, serious respiratory problems, severe chemical burns, and damage to internal organs.”

– National Drug Intelligence Center, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice.


Acetone and Alcohol (denatured, isopropyl, rubbing) -“Extremely flammable, posing a fire risk in and around the laboratory. Inhalation or ingestion of these solvents causes severe gastric irritation, narcosis, or coma.” – DEA Office of Diversion Control.

Anhydrous ammonia or ammonium sulfate (crop fertilizer)- “A colorless gas with a pungent, suffocating odor. Inhalation causes edema of the respiratory tract and asphyxia. Contact with vapors damages eyes and mucous membranes.” -DEA Office of Diversion Control.

“Anhydrous ammonia, a colorless gas with a pungent, suffocating fumes, is used primarily as an agricultural fertilizer and industrial refrigerant. (1). Anhydrous ammonia is also a key ingredient for illicit methamphetamine (meth) production in makeshift laboratories. Exposure to anhydrous ammonia can be immediately dangerous to life or health (1,2). Anhydrous ammonia generally is not available for sale to the public; states require a license for purchase. Because of this, many illicit meth producers (i.e., “cookers”) resort to stealing anhydrous ammonia. If released into the environment, anhydrous ammonia can cause acute injuries to emergency responders, the public, and the cookers themselves. In addition, when handled improperly, anhydrous ammonia can be explosive and deadly.” – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Sulfuric acid is an acid found in batteries

Bleach – used for cleaning

Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine – (found in some cold or allergy pills)- “Ingestion of doses greater than 240 mg causes hypertension, arrhythmia, anxiety, dizziness, and vomiting. Ingestion of doses greater than 600 mg can lead to renal failure and seizures.” – DEA Office of Diversion Control.

Freon – “Inhalation can cause sudden cardiac arrest or severe lung damage. It is corrosive if ingested.” – DEA Office of Diversion Control.

Naphtha – (found in Coleman camping fuel)

Sulfuric acid – used in drain cleaner products

Sodium hydroxide used in drain cleaners like Red Devil lye

Methanol or Methyl Alcohol used as a gasoline additive found in the products Heet” or Iso-Heet”

Hydrogen peroxide

Hydriotic Acid – “A corrosive acid with vapors that are irritating to the respiratory system, eyes, and skin. If ingested, causes severe internal irritation and damage that may cause death.” – DEA Office of Diversion Control.

Iodine (crystal or liquid tincture). “Gives off vapor that is irritating to respiratory system and eyes. Solid form irritates the eyes and may burn skin. If ingested, cause severe internal damage.” – DEA Office of Diversion Control.

Phenylpropanolamine – “Ingestion of doses greater than 75 mg causes hypertension, arrhythmia, anxiety, and dizziness. Quantities greater than 300 mg can lead to renal failure, seizures, stroke, and death.”- DEA Office of Diversion Control.

Lithium batteries – “Extremely caustic to all body tissues. Reacts violently with water and poses a fire or explosion hazard.”DEA Office of Diversion Control.

Red Phosphorous – found on Match book striker plates. Red phosphorus is unstable and flammable and can cause explosions and chemical fires if exposed to a flame or spark.

“Red Phosphorous ignites if heated above 260°C. Vapor from ignited phosphorus severely irritates the nose, throat, lungs, and eyes.” – DEA Office of Diversion Control.

Methyl Choloride – Mineral spirits

Muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid) found in driveway and brickand pool cleaners

Salt (table or rock)

Sodium or lithium metal

Organic ether – used in starting fluid

Trichloroethane used as a gun cleaning solvent


Information (below) from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, First Responder Awareness training manual

Acetic acid – Flammable; vapor is irritating if inhaled; can cause severe burns to eyes and skin; poisonous if ingested.

Acetic anhydride – Flammable; vapor is irritating if inhaled; liquid may burn eyes and skin severely; ingestion causes irritation, pain and vomiting.

Acetone – Highly flammable; vapor irritates eyes and nose in high concentrations; inhalation may cause dizziness, narcosis or coma; liquid may severely damage eyes; ingestion can cause coma.

Benzyl chloride– Vapor irritates respiratory system, mucous membranes, eyes and skin; liquid can cause burns; poisonous if ingested.

Ephedrine – Harmful if swallowed in large quantities.

Ethyl alcohol – Highly flammable; causes impaired perception and coordination in high concentrations.

Ethyl amine – Vapor irritates the mucous membranes, respiratory system and eyes; may affect the central nervous system in high concentrations; liquid irritates eyes and skin; poisonous if ingested.

Ethyl ether – Highly flammable; inhaling vapor or ingesting liquid may cause drowsiness, dizziness, mental confusion, faintness and, in high concentrations, unconsciousness.

Hydriodic acid – Vapor irritates respiratory system, skin and eyes, liquid causes severe burns to eyes and skin; may cause severe internal irritation and damage if ingested.

Hydrochloric acid – Inhaling may cause coughing, choking and inflammation and ulceration of the respiratory tract; concentrated solutions cause severe burns; strongly corrosive; causes eye irritation; prolonged exposure to vapors can cause death.

Iodine – Vapor irritates respiratory system and eyes; solid form irritates eyes and may burn the skin; poisonous if ingested.

Isopropyl alcohol – Flammable; inhaling vapor in high concentrations or ingesting liquid may cause headaches, dizziness, depression, nausea, vomiting or coma; liquid can cause severe eye damage.

Nitroethane – Vapor irritates eyes and respiratory system; liquid irritates eyes and mucous membranes; absorption via skin contact or ingestion may cause liver and kidney damage.

Petroleum ether – Highly flammable; toxic.

Phenyl-2-propanone – Irritating to skin and eyes.

Phenylacetic acid – Moderately toxic by ingestion; has been linked to cancer in animal experiments; emits smoke and irritating fumes when heated.

Pseudoephedrine – Harmful if swallowed in large quantities; irritating to skin and eyes.

Red phosphorous – Vapors can irritate the nose, throat, lungs and eyes.

Sodium hydroxide – Concentrated material is very corrosive to human tissue; solid form or liquid can cause severe burns to eyes and skin; poisonous if ingested.

Sulfuric acid – Concentrated acid is extremely corrosive to skin; causes severe burns.

Thionyl chloride – Causes burns; irritating to respiratory system if inhaled; may ignite other combustible material.

Toluene – Flammable; can burn or irritate mucous membranes, eyes and respiratory tract; vapors may cause dizziness.

According to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, the presence of the following items could indicate the existence of a meth lab:

Toluene/Paint Thinner
Camp Stove Fuel/Coleman Fuel
Starting Fluid
Anhydrous Ammonia
White Gasoline
Iodine Crystals
Red Phosphorous
Black Iodine
Lye (Red Devil Lye)
Muriatic/Hydrochloric Acid
Battery Acid/Sulfuric Acid
Epsom Salts
Sodium Metal
Wooden Matches
Propane Cylinders
Hot Plates
Ephedrine (over-the-counter)
Cold Tablets
Energy Boosters
Rock Salt
Diet Aids

Meth cook steals electric from grain facility in rural MN

Higher than “normal” electric bills don’t send up the red flag warnings that they used to, in an economy flooded with utility cost increases. It is a fact that one meth cook in the Mapleton and Minnesota Lake region of Minnesota depended on when he hooked up his home to a neighbor’s grain storage facility. It worked, for awhile at least.

His free electric source came to a screeching halt though, when the facility’s owners called an electrician to help them take a look at a problem at their grain facility. When the electrician asked the owners where the electrical shut off switch was located in their building, he discovered a wire that gave him cause for concern. Someone, he knew, was stealing electric from the grain facility owners.

When police received the complaint, they began an investigation that revealed that a nearby neighbor had lost his electric power for an outstanding $700 bill. Using a search warrant, police went to the home of 33 year old Christopher Carey to see if what they found would confirm their suspicions. Police soon realized something they didn’t realize before. Christopher Carey appeared to be running a meth lab out of his rural home in Minnesota, southeast of Mapleton. Police also suspected that Jeana Sue Tate-Rorvig, 28, was his assistant. Staci jean Klein, 18, was also present in Carey’s home. Police found meth in her purse. Another man at the scene, who is related to Carey, has not been charged with any crimes. Both Carey and Tate-Rorvig appeared in court on Monday to face felony charges of first-degree drug manufacturing. Klein was charged with fifth-degree drug possession, also a felony.

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What you should know about meth lab trash

Methlab trash contains chemicals that are toxic, flammable, corrosive, and acidic. The chemicals can explode, catch fire, and burn your skin if it comes in contact with them. You should be especially careful not to touch any trash bags that you might see by by the side of the road or a highway.

What you should know about meth lab trash – here’s some good information from the Indiana state police:

gas-cans-with-tubing-attachedMeth cooks are using a variety of containers to manufacture their product. A popular container is the one and a half gallon gas can.

These gas containers can appear to be new,and have been found along the roadside by unknowing people who believe that they have found a new gas can and end up with a working meth lab.

soda-bottles-and-meth-labsOther Items to be aware of include battery casings, Ziploc style bags, empty blister packs, and containers (pop-bottles, jars, etc.) that contain a granular material.

They may or may not have a tube extending out of the top depending on whether it is a hydrochloric gas generator (HCL) or a one pot reaction. Both of these are extremely hazardous.


Be aware of any type of cylinder found in an odd place (middle of a field, ditch line, wooded area) that has a modified valve. The valve will typically be modified in some way and will have a bright blue color to it.

These cylinders are used to store or transport anhydrous ammonia, which is an extremely dangerous gas when direct contact or inhalation has occurred.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation also provides the following information about cylinders, like propane tanks, that are used to store Anhydrous Ammonia:

Indications of illegal use of anhydrous ammonia:

  • Anhydrous ammonia stored in small propane tanks, plastic gas containers or insulated coolers.
  • Brass fittings on container have turned blue or green.
  • Container has frost forming on it.
  • Privately-owned anhydrous ammonia tanks are found with the valve open.

If you live in Indiana, you should call the Indiana State Police in Fort Wayne (260) 432-8661 or (800) 552-0976 (Indiana only) Any questions or concerns about meth can be directed to the Indiana Meth Suppression Section at (877) 855-METH.

If you live outside of Indiana and you find meth lab trash, you should call your state or local police department.