Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gross: The Smells No One Wants to Talk About

Ever walked into your house and said, "What the heck is that smell?"

Unpleasant household odors happen to all of us sooner or later. Sure, some people like to pretend it's never an issue for them, but the realists among us know those people aren't being entirely honest.

So, what's the worst smell you've ever been confronted with in your home? Wet dog? Musty, moldy mildew? Rotten food seeping from the refrigerator? Funky garbage disposal? Or, how about dead rodent? You won't find those scents at your local Yankee Candle Outlet.

Real estate advice websites talk in-depth about smells. Vacant, closed-up houses smell. Odors that were masked when the house was occupied can knock a prospective buyer over as soon as he walks in the door. It's a common problem in the real estate world and one that's been addressed in many different ways.

The Real Estate Snippets website does not recommend covering odors with air fresheners like scented candles or plug-ins. Most noses can tell the artificial scent is covering up something unsavory. In my experience, too much air freshener is a bad smell all by itself. Anyone else get a headache from those artificial scents?

You don't need to have your house on the market to have an odor problem.

What's a scent-sensitive homeowner to do?

The best advice involves keeping your house clean. Specific scents respond well to a thorough cleaning, including steam cleaning of the rugs and furniture. Our house had a distinct dog smell this summer. It's gone now that we've had everything professionally steam cleaned.

Keeping the refrigerator clean, washing the walls periodically and washing curtains and bedding that may trap odors also helps. Getting rid of extra clutter that can trap dirt and odors is recommended, as well.

If a musty smell is an ongoing problem, you likely need a dehumidifier. We have an open design in our house with stairs in the entry way going down into the finished basement. The damp basement odors usually hit us at the front door. People had been telling us for years to get a dehumidifier. We finally did this summer. It works so well at controlling the dampness and musty smell that I can't believe we waited so long.

If dead rodents are a recurring problem, you need to find out how they're getting into the house. I think most houses, even new ones, get critters from time to time. It's a constant process to find holes and seal them so nothing else can get in. Those little buggers are clever. If a rodent gets into your house and dies in the walls, do your best to find it. That odor is one of the grossest ones I've encountered. You don't want it to linger.

My advice is to not use poison to control rodents. Not only is it dangerous for children and pets, but the rodents will ingest the poison, wander further into the house and die hidden in the walls. They're not looking for a place that's convenient for you to clean!

Instead of products to mask odors, use products that absorb odors. Forget about air fresheners. They don't get rid of odors. If you like to burn scented candles, then go for it, but know they won't get rid of odor problems.

White vinegar, activated charcoal and baking soda will absorb odors. Set out dishes of white vinegar overnight in rooms that have odor issues. Sprinkle baking soda on the floor and vacuum the next day. Hang activated charcoal in a basement, where you keep your cat litter box or anywhere there's an odor problem.

Defeating odors at the source is really the only way to go. It's a pain in the rear, to be sure, especially when the source of a particular odor remains elusive. But, you'll eventually root it out and not have to be embarrassed by the smell of your house.


  1. How is it that every time I read your blog it perfectly coincides with whats going on in my life at that moment? Right now I'm battling a combination of litter box/ garbage can, I was thinking about trying some kind of charcoal and baking soda combo and see if that helps! Thanks, Love reading your blog been following you since you started! Erin :)

  2. Thank you, Erin! So glad you've stuck with me since the beginning! We have a cat box with a charcoal filter on the lid. It seems to work a bit to contain the odor. I wonder if hanging some activated charcoal near the box is a better solution? Good luck with your odors!

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