Odors, Some Causes, Cures, and Some Things In Between.
By Dan Richard
Let’s start to peel away at the subject of odor control and elimination as we would an onion, one layer at a time, realizing it can be a painful process getting to the center.
What is that smell and where is it coming from?
General smells that can infuriate a home, hitting you most when you first enter, can come from a lot of different sources. The most common odor causing sources are smoke, urine, feces, general animal smell, mold, food, cooking grease, body odor (from bacteria), and even well water.
Category 1. Low-level but irritating and potentially embarrassing odors:
Less obvious sources that anyone can reduce can be found in clothes, shoes, bed linens, hard floors, carpet, walls, window treatments (shades, blinds, shears, drapery), and all wipe-able surfaces like furnishings, walls, and cabinets, which is a good place to start.
Understand that odors are caused by microbes (germs) and germs love humidity. One goal is to keep your space well air conditioned in warm and especially moderate-temperatures. A dehumidifier should be used if you are resistant to keeping the A/C at least four degrees colder than it is outside. When heat is needed, then humidity levels are usually low, so there is no worry. The worst scenario is when the outside temperature is moderate, and no A/C or heat is needed. This is when a dehumidifier should be considered.
The second goal is to reduce the microbial activity on all surfaces (kill the germs). The point here is to clean, clean, clean! Start with dusting every surface in the home. Then wipe down kitchen cabinets, tops, and exteriors. Move stoves and refrigerators to clean all appliance exteriors, the walls behind and floors under them. Clean all hard floors, then the bathroom’s hard surfaces with a disinfectant. I use organic/green products, but the real concern should be to protect your lungs and skin with respirators and gloves. If you still smell a general, low-level odor, then wipe all walls of the home down with a disinfectant cleaner (a wet-swifter works well for this). Next would be all soft materials like drapes, bed linens, laundry, shoes, towels that are displayed as décor, anything you can wash, wash. Finally, vacuum more than you think you need to. If you think one time a week is right, it probably needs to occur three time a week. Initially vacuum every square foot with about five passes, that’s right, five slow passes with a good vacuum. It’s important to use a fresh bag, or fresh/clean filters in the bag-less type. Bacteria and odors flourish in vacuum bags and filters. I suggest that folks have 2 sets of filters, so they always have a clean set to install before a thorough vacuuming.
Carpet cleaning with a disinfectant and deodorizer (make sure it’s an actual odor killer and not just a perfume) and perhaps a leave-in enzyme treatment, may be needed if odor persists after the above cleaning is performed. Carpets should be cleaned two to three times a year if pets are in the property or every twelve months regardless.
Finally, if you still have a slight, general odor, consider having your Air Ducts cleaned and fogged with an EPA-registered, hospital-level disinfectant by a professional vendor.
Category 2. Strong, Offensive Odors.
The goal is to find the “gross” material (as gross as the gross material can be, we use this term to describe the three dimensional, dense, stuff that can be seen with the naked eye). If it is obvious enough to find, it should be obvious to clean up and remove the piles, saturations, etc. Be sure to search behind and under furniture, beds, and the furniture and mattresses themselves.
Professional cleaning with enzyme treatments can be used for general animal odors and urine-soaked areas of carpet, upholstery, mattresses, etc. as an effective way to reduce or eliminate animal odors. Note that tiled floors have grout that is porous and can hold odors. If this is suspected, a cleaning and sealing of the grout is recommended.
If urine or another odor causing contaminate has gone into the backing or padding of the carpet, replacement of padding and possibly the carpet may need to occur to solve the issue.
If the affected areas are smaller than 2’ x 2’, then the carpets can be saturated through the carpet and padding with an enzyme. Carpets that have been treated in this manner will need to be cleaned seven to ten days after treatment.
If the affected areas are larger or If the above treatment fails, then the carpet and padding should then be replaced. Note that the floor should be sealed before the new floor covering is installed.
Cat urine and smoke odors can be especially difficult to remedy. In addition to the above stated steps, all walls and ceilings, and base-boards may need to be primed and painted with a non-flat paint. (Satin or shinier is best). Base-boards need to be caulked at the top and bottom of the boards as well.
Ozone can be utilized by professionals as an affective odor eliminator. Ozone splits and destroys the molecules of the malodor, thus correcting the issue. Ozone can be dangerous and should be utilized by a professional or after a great amount of research to avoid damage to human tissue and cells.
Professional application of essential oil mist can also be part of an affective remedy since essential oils can also destroy the molecules of malodors.
Some odor removal can be accomplished by the home occupant however most of the more serious issues should be rectified by seeking service from professionals. These issues include but are not limited to mold, heavy smoke, dead animal odor from within walls or attic space, water intrusion that affected or may have affected walls.
Professionals have the training, experience, equipment, and products to locate, assess, and remedy malodors in the home as well as determining if any damage occurred to property. Moisture, leak and mold testing are good examples of what pros can do beyond a typical homeowner’s or tenant’s ability.
When dealing with odors in the home yourself, keep in mind that “masking agents” will not permanently fix the problem but can possibly harm your health. It is healthiest for you and your family to use diffusers with 100% pure and certified-organic essential oils to mask light odors or to add a nice fragrance to your home.
Removing odors can be taken a step at a time, doing more and more until a resolution occurs.
It is important to be conscious of odors since they can be an indicator of property and health damaging factors. From a light-duty issue of not keeping the general environment dry or clean enough, to more serious issues that may be present, always seek to resolve bad odors so that you, your family, and your home stays safe and healthy.
Dan Dan the Carpet Man