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Rebecca VA

How can you find out where a foul smell in a house is coming from?

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We just bought a new house and really love it -- except that there's a smell in it. It's sort of like mildew. The odor is in the front part of the house, which was built in the 1950s. We cannot smell it at all in the back wing of the house, which is new.

 

There are many houses that smell of mildew in town, because it's on the coast and houses are just older. However, this particular house has been very well-maintained. I can't imagine the previous owners tolerating a bad odor in the house. They did move out over a year ago, though -- they moved to another city but kept this house and then finally put it on the market when they realized they wouldn't be coming back.

 

I saw the thread on leaking garbage disposals, and hoses from dishwashers, and it got me thinking...how would I know where to look to locate such a problem? The home inspector (who was very thorough) did not find any problems with the house. My husband is extremely busy and simply can't go through and search down phantom odors.

 

Is there a type of contractor who hunts down mildew and then solves the problem? I can't give him more help than "it's in the front of the house and I sometimes smell it in this room but then sometimes I smell it somewhere else." Can anyone advise me on this?

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Our new house also had an unidintified odor, which we did not notice til we were actually living here... Sort of a sweet yet unpleasant odor. We had gitten rid of their carpets, and I had the pleated blinds cleaned, which helped. I febrezed it and also used Ozium (sp?) which made the odor less and changed it so it could be identified-- it's cigarette smoke plus incense (a particular kind they have at Pier One). Bleh. I hope when we repaint it will go.

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Do you have a crawl-space or basement? If you do, I would check there first.

 

Also, check the walls around any wet areas (i.e. anywhere water pipes are) If any feel soft or spongy, there could be a leak.

 

Look for discoloration on the walls or ceiling. Sometimes mildew can be temporarily covered up with primer and paint, but it will usually start seeping through if it wasn't treated properly.

 

Get down and sniff any carpet. You can also lift the carpet and look for stains. If it has a smell or stains, pull it and the pad out.

 

Wash the windows with bleach and water. Believe it or not, I have wiped black mildew off windows that only looked slightly dirty.

 

ETA: Also look in the attic with a light. Check for old or new leaks and mold or mildew on the rafters or sheathing.

 

You could also hire someone to come in and check your ductwork.

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We had some unidentified smells when we moved into our house, one of them was a dead mouse in the wall. A more recent mystery smell was rotten potato's hidden in a cupboard, someone put the bag "away" in the wrong spot.

 

Both smells seemed like mildew and mold to us at first.

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I called an environmental contractor this morning who will come out tomorrow. He kind of scared me by talking about cleaning the ductwork and mold growing under walls. Hopefully that won't be the problem -- maybe it's just a dead mouse:)

 

I'll update this thread after he finds the source.

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A more recent mystery smell was rotten potato

 

I just had this happen. Smelled like something died in my kitchen. I finally found that it was a potato that had rolled behind my stockpot in my open shelves. EEEwwww!

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Do you have a crawl-space or basement? If you do, I would check there first.

 

Also, check the walls around any wet areas (i.e. anywhere water pipes are) If any feel soft or spongy, there could be a leak.

 

Look for discoloration on the walls or ceiling. Sometimes mildew can be temporarily covered up with primer and paint, but it will usually start seeping through if it wasn't treated properly.

 

Get down and sniff any carpet. You can also lift the carpet and look for stains. If it has a smell or stains, pull it and the pad out.

 

Wash the windows with bleach and water. Believe it or not, I have wiped black mildew off windows that only looked slightly dirty.

 

ETA: Also look in the attic with a light. Check for old or new leaks and mold or mildew on the rafters or sheathing.

 

You could also hire someone to come in and check your ductwork.

 

:iagree:

 

Also, gently pry back a bit of baseboard and molding around windows to see if there's anything behind them.

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I just had this happen. Smelled like something died in my kitchen. I finally found that it was a potato that had rolled behind my stockpot in my open shelves. EEEwwww!

 

Oh yeah, these totally smell like something died. Insanely awful smell. And the potatoes bubble black goo!

 

When I have a weird bad smell, I just go around sniffing. The most recent one was driving me crazy, finally I figured out it was these replacement training wheels for a bicycle, they had this weirdly acrid rubber smell, yuckola. I made my husband return them to the store.

 

If it's that complicated or widespread, I hope you find someone who can help you determine its cause.

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Get down and sniff

 

 

I'd start with a careful visual and olfactory inspection of everything. Have your sharpest eyes to the looking and your keenest nose do the sniffing.

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Things you can do:

 

1) pour bleach in all drains, wait a bit (30 min. or so) then run all faucets at once for 5 minutes. In the kitchen, make sure you run water in both drains. Keep checking to make sure nothing backs up!!! And, pour bleach down shower drain and in toilets.

2) change filters on cold air returns

3) vacuum vents, take off if you can and vacuum up as far as you can without damaging anything

4) clean carpets (or replace, that is better, we found lots of cat pee that had soaked to the subfloor)

5) paint (the walls may have smoke/food odors), if ceiling is discolored, paint it too, be on the lookout for water stains which would tell you there is or has been a leak.

6) drain the bottom of the hot water heater

7) if you got an existing refrigerator, check the drip pan (you won't believe it...) and vacuum coils

8) see if you can see all air ducts in attic or crawl space. A house we bought had them in the crawl space, and animals had gotten in there and made quite a mess...

9) if you have a crawl space, send someone down to inspect. we had a world of issues.... a toilet about to come through the floor with water damage around it, disconnected and wet air ducts, critters... (never again will we believe that a realtor is handling the inspection....)

10) check oven and under the stove if you don't have flat top stove

11) check the drain from the A/C (ours runs from the air handler in the attic down a pipe to the yard)

12) check flower beds just outside the part of the house, they may be too high on the outside wall and moisture may be coming in (and...we found all planting beds covered with plastic, and when I pulled it up, oh my, did it stink)

13) check the garbage disposal, they can get disgusting!

 

I would do all of that before I call an air duct person..... and be aware that they may take advantage of you wanting to get rid of smells!

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The mold inspector came out this afternoon to look at the house. He did not see anything that caused him any concern. He said the house was well taken care of and just needed airing out since it's been closed up for months. He did say it would be wise to have the vents cleaned (his company does not do this, so he was not trying to sell me anything) and to have a built-in dehumidifier for the whole house.

 

He did not do everything on Susan C'.s wonderful list (thank you for this!). I will probably check some of the places once things settle down next week and I start spending more time at the new house.

 

The inspector told me some horror stories of situations he sees every day -- things like slow water leaks that go on for months and cause black mildew underneath walls. He felt certain that we do not have this kind of problem.

 

Thank you for the support and advice! I feel much better about moving our belongings into the house now that it's been blessed off.

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