Wednesday, August 29, 2012

That Closed-Up House Smell

It happens every year. We arrive home after a vacation, open our front door and get hit with a wall of  odor. 

We've assumed there are a couple of factors at play:

Lack of Ventilation

When we're home, we tend to have lots of open windows with fans blowing, thus airing out the house. When we're on vacation, the house is shut up tight. There's no air circulation and no fresh air from outside.


There's no way to sugar coat this one. Pets smell. It's a fact. If I get close enough to our living room rug, it smells like our dog. I treat it with baking soda once in a while, but not nearly often enough. We also have a litter box for our two cats. It's covered, kept in the utility room and we change it frequently, but it still smells. Worse, as I've posted before, one of our cats is naughty and pees outside the litter box sometimes.

This time, we were on vacation for 10 days and asked our pet sitters to keep the cats outside as much as possible. It helped.  I didn't smell cat urine when we walked in after our long drive.

Still, it took a bit longer for the general odor to dissipate even without the cat odor. I swore it was worse in the kitchen than anywhere. Turns out, I might be right.

According to a Yahoo! article by C. Jeanne Heida called Why Does My House Smell?, exhaust fans and drains may be a source of odor.

Hood Vents 

I'm embarrassed to say that I've never cleaned the mesh screen on our hood vent. It never occurred to me that this could be a source of odor. But, it makes sense. There has to be old grease and other particles trapped in there.


Drains tend to be breeding grounds for odor-causing bacteria. Heida suggests we pour boiling water down our drains on a regular basis. I think I should do this before we leave on vacation the next time. It'll only take a few extra minutes and could help make a difference in odor control.

Could this be the source of your household odor? Photo courtesy of Griet49 at Morguefile.
I like to tell myself, because it makes me feel better, that everyone else has this closed-up house odor problem. I'm sure the most fastidious cleaners with no pets probably don't, but the rest of us common folk do, right? 

It's not the kind of thing people admit. But, here's an article that makes me feel a bit better from The Wolfe Realty Group's website called Vacant House Smell. They've got a few tips for real estate agents to deal with house odors in vacant, closed-up houses, including running a lemon through the garbage disposal.

Anyone else deal with house odor after a vacation? What do you do to prevent it? Or, do you just deal with it when you get home and hope the pet sitter doesn't notice it?


  1. In addition to pouring boiling water down the drain you can also pour baking soda followed by vinegar to clear out the drain. Then pour the boiling water (once all the fun stuff stops). This would be sink drains (even the washing machine run off sink), and the bath tub.

    You can also leave out a bowl of baking soda in each room (about one cup) to act as a natural deodorizer.

    I notice the same things when I return home from a vacation. Sad to say right now the cat litter boxes are an issue. The girls aren't cleaning them as well as they should. I will be purchasing 2 new litter boxes so once a month they can be completely emptied and cleaned with my steam cleaner.

  2. You know, our litter box is very old - older than both of our kitties, in fact. It's from our previous two kitties that have long since gone on to their great reward. It's got to be retaining some odors! So yucky now that I think about it! I think it's time for a new one!

  3. Excellent suggestions.

    We got energy efficient windows several years ago when we could get tax credits for having them; this has helped our electric bill. But you know, we really do need to air out the house from time to time.

  4. We never go anywhere. I used to feel bad about it, but thanks for providing an upside!

  5. Glad I could help, Marianne! :)

  6. Yes! Our house smelled like a zoo when we returned home from vacation. The litter boxes are the main culprit, but I had never thought of the drains...
    The litter boxes have been changed, the windows are open, but I'm not sure if the zoo-y smell has dissipated or I have just become used to it...

  7. That makes me feel better, Lisa! I was worried yesterday when the boys I babysit and their mom first walked into my house. I really worked hard to get rid of the odor the day before, so I hoped I wasn't just used to it. I think it's gone, though. No one complained, anyway - lol!