Iron and copper salts, when placed in the mouth, may give rise to odorous compounds which complicate their functioning as chemical stimuli. The contribution of retronasal smell to perception of these metal salts at threshold has not been determined. Detection thresholds of the sulfate and chloride salts of ferrous iron and copper, and sodium chloride (as a control) were determined using a modified forced-choice ascending method of limits, with and without nasal occlusion. Threshold values were calculated from geometric means of individual estimates, and from interpolation on logistic regression and percent correct plots. Nasal occlusion raised thresholds for iron salts and copper but not sodium. The geometric mean detection thresholds with the nose open were 30, 64, 7.8, and 8.2 microM for FeSO(4), FeCl(2), CuSO(4), CuCl(2), respectively but rose to 160, 227, 24.6 and 15.6 with the nose closed. Metal salts of both iron and copper create a retronasally perceived olfactory stimulus at low concentration levels, probably arising from lipid oxidation products generated in the mouth.