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Question DetailsAsked on 6/1/2017

Should I be concerned about an earthy smell in my kitchen cabinet?

To the lower, right-hand side of my kitchen sink is a cabinet that has a moist, earthy smell, like wet potting soil. I just purchased the home, and I'm not sure if I should be concerned or not because the scent is actually quite aromatic and not unpleasant. I just find it odd because it is only in that one cabinet and it's not a smell I automatically associate with mold or mildew, so I'm having a hard time figuring out what it is. Has anyone else encountered this?

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1 Answer


Here is a previous question on garbage disposal area smell - though running some strong lemon scented dish soap or grinding up a lemon in it (cut into wedges - not all at once) should eliminate that as a source.

Could be some spice or scented oil or such was spilled in there - try cleaning with vinegar and baking soda or with TSP and see if the smell goes away.

Another possibility (the one you did not want to hear) is possibly a leak causing rot in the wood - fungal growth due to constant wetness (wet rot) smells earthy or like a mild mushroom or toadstool or woody rotten log smell. Many cabinets (both under sink and others) have the bottom inserts just laid in or only nailed with a couple of finish nails so can easily be pried up to look underneath - but not always. Unfortunately, since you say smells wet and earthy, if not garbage disposal (or a drip under the garbage disposal or drain pipes in the cabinet under the sink) this is a likely situation.

Occasionally (not real common) the cabinets are open-base construction (the sides go to the floow but not the fronts) and the toekick area just have a nailed or glued-on fascia board or toekick board under there which you can remove to look in underneath - though of course it is always a question of how hard to pry on it before deciding not to because it may break - and of course if the floowing is installed up in front of it unless you can pry just the top free and pivot it out, may not come out anyway without cutting or breaking it.

Can also be caused by rotting countertop material - the particle board used as the substrate for laminate countertops, and commonly as a base under synthetic ones too. You may be able to look up from underneath under the sink and up under adjacent cabinet (aftertaking the drawers out if any) and see if there is dark colored or swollen or deteriorating particle board or plywood up under the countertop.

Another possibility - you can sometimes rent for about $5-10/day at a tool rental place, but cost about $100 to buy a fairly accurate one - is getting a wood moisture meter and checking all over inside and under the cabinets - everywhere you can reach - and see if there is a moist area.

Of course, if you have exposed crawlspace or basement ceiling underneath, crawl under and check for leakage evidence under there.

And of course look in crawlspace/basement for any signs of debris or such which might be generating the smell - your nose should tell you pretty quickly, at least on a calm day.

Or as last resort before tearing into things, if an underlying ceiling, a fiber optic camera (about $20-40/day rental commonly at Home Depot or tool rental place or some auto parts stores) takes about a 1/2-3/4" hole or few in the underlying ceiling to look up from underneath and look for wetness, fungal growth, staining, etc. That assuming the underlying ceiling does not have brown or orangish water halo stains, which are an almost guaranteed (unless just a rust halo around nails) sign of water dripping down from above.

I would investigate till you solve it, because even though it is a hassle (especially with a new home) far better to catch it when just a bit of cabinet or flooring damage can be repaired than wait till have significant subflooring wetness leaking to spongy floors and possibly structural damage.

Plus wet framing/subflooring also attracts undesireable insects. BTW - insect nests (carpenter ants, termites, wood borers, etc) also commonly smell like that - earthy or wet wood is probably the most common description of those.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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