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Question DetailsAsked on 9/9/2015

Please help us figure out the source of a mysterious odor in our house!

We bought our home 9 years ago, thinking that the strong odor was from the owner's cat, but the cat has been gone for 9 years. A couple of years later we renovated a bathroom and discovered lots of mouse evidence in the wall, which we very thoroughly cleaned out, including enzyme cleaners, etc. We also sealed up the exterior of the house twice and have not had a mouse problem since. We built an addition 3 years ago which involved opening up much of the original house - we hoped the airing out would get rid of the smell but it didn't,, and the smell is in my clothing which I keep in our newly added closet. We have several times wet-vacuumed the one carpet we kept from the old owners which was clearly brand new. Someone thought it was a wet wood smell -- is there such a pungent odor? Ohers say that it smells more like a new house smell. The basement is dry with a slightly musty, basementy smell (walls are rubble/stone,1937). One spot gets an occasional patch of white mold.Thx!

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2 Answers

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IF you have friends/relatives who you don't mind knowing you have a somewhat stinky house, have them walk around and see if they recognize the smell.

A Home Inspector might also be a good choice without the embarassment - most have run across a variety of smells in their time.

Common sources - though of course my description of the smells might be different from what someone else would call them

1) rodents or bats, birds nesting - crawlspace, attic, etc

2) xxxx /urine smell - commonly in crawlspace - either from animals living there or intruding animals coming through openings in foundations/walls, or from leaking toilet wax seal

3) sticky sweet - though you usually hear them too - bees nesting in walls/attic

4) acrid, pungent, sometimes almost like sewa depending on fungus type - wood fungus in flooring due to leaking pipes or drains

5) stinky sock or moldy or mildewy smell - air conditioner evaporator mold, or mold in central heating ducts

6) burning plastic or overheated electronics smell - overheating wiring, furnace, A/C, range, dryer, home electronics

7) mildewy/moldy smell - from light mildew smell like musty basement to heavy, overpowering mildew smell like wet clothes left in washer for several days - wet foundation or basement or crawlspace, moldy washer, stinky dishwasher, dirty garbage disposal, wet carpeting or padding or subfloor

8) somewhat plasticy, sometimes biting solvent smell - foam in place foam insulation

9) sewage / sulfur smell - leaking or backing up drain or sewer pipe (in house, under slabs, outside) or sewer gas coming up through dry drains like unused washer or laundry tub drains or floor drains that have dried out so gas is coming up through the trap. This one is quite common - pouring a half to full gallon of water with some scented kitchen detergent or vinegar down them solves this quick.

Tracking these types of smells down can be tough - try turning off all air circulating devices and close all doors (room and cubboard) and let sit for many hours, like overnight or while you are out of the house. Then when you come back, systematically work through the house smelling where it is strongest - commonly basement, kitchen sink area, separate deep freeze or reefer that is not commonly used that has stopped cooling or was disconnected and left closed but not cleaned first.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD


I'm sorry for your issue, you can place a dehumidifyer in the basement and in the interior of the home to see if this makes a difference. Let it run 24/7. And you can also place charcole bricketts in a pan (5-6) and place them in the closets to absorb odors. But I would get rid of the rug to see if this may be the contributer. Or you can find a company that offers ionizeing your home. I've done this before, it totally consumes your home with microscopic deordorizers and wipes out the smells throughout. Good luck.

Source: Cleaning Maid Easy Inc.

Answered 5 years ago by Kathy Huff


One thought on Kathy Huff's ionizer suggestion - it can work for smell that are regenerating due to decaying animal, mold, fungal growth, etc But:

That can damage some electronics, especially if turned on, because ozone (which is what ionizers turn out) staticizes electronics. With prolonged or strong exposure like in an ozone treatment can also be damaging to fine fabrics like lace and such, especially old fabric; to artwork; to acrylic plastic like plexiglass (commonly used instead of glasson paintings and other artwork); and to some types of varnishes and shellacs which can fog under prolonged exposre. Effect is basically like leaving the items out in a bright son for many hours - bleaches them. Ozone is the primary "unhealthy" component of smog and affects asthmatics and others with lung issues.

I am still stumped on the "wet wood" smell that also smells like a "new house" smell. Odd combination of descriptions - the one a wet organic material source, the other an outgassing solvents or fresh wood smell.

Thought of other things besides wood fungus that smells possibly like that - wet attic insulation from a roof leak; wood boring or eating insect nests like large termite or ant nests, termite-eaten wood, the wood rejected by carpenter ants (they tunnel in it, don't eat it, so they reject tiny saliva-covered pieces into piles typically at the bottom of their tunnels in the house wood). Other types of concentrated insects can also smell like this, so you could do a thorough inspection all around the house (and in basement and crawlspace) for insect droppings, dead insect carcasses or shells, little piles of sawdust at the base of foundation walls, termite mud tunnels up foundation concrete to the wood, etc. Also ditto to inspection in the attic.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD

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