Why Your Home Stinks and How to Fix It

June 3, 2016

From fried fish to a filthy litterbox, most smells in your home are fairly easy to pinpoint. There are, however, more insidious aromas that linger and seem impossible to eliminate, no matter how many bottles of Febreeze you unleash. To keep these odors from taking over your home, first, you have to identify them.

There’s Hidden Mold

Maybe you’ve noticed a “musty” or “wet cardboard” smell in your home. Or perhaps you’ve referred to it as “old home smell.” Either way, one of the most common causes of lingering, musty smells, especially in older homes, is hidden mold, usually in the walls.

As you probably know, some types of mold can be toxic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most household mold problems under 10 square feet are safe enough to clean on your own and don’t need a professional, but to be safe, you should read up on the different types of mold at the EPA’s website here.

Then, the first real order of business? Figure out where that mold might be hiding. Here are some common culprits:

Leaky plumbing
Gutter issues
Poor ventilation in kitchen and bathrooms
Window frames where condensation builds up

For small, non-toxic mold problems, like the mold that accumulates on windowsills and frames, simply clean the mold with a soap and water solution, as instructed in the video. Vinegar or diluted bleach are also useful. Add it to water, then spray directly on the mold and clean up. For larger mold problems, you should call a professional.

Prevention is key with mold, and the University of Missouri Extension offers some easy tips for keeping that nasty stuff at bay:

Keep closets, dresser drawers, basements — any place where mildew is likely to grow — as clean as possible. Soil on dirty articles can supply enough food for mildew to start growing when moisture and temperature are right. Greasy films, such as those that form on kitchen walls, also contain many nutrients for mildew-causing molds.

Spread a layer of moisture-barrier material over the soil in crawl spaces under houses. You can use heavy roofing paper or polyethylene plastic film. Good ventilation is important. If possible, do not enclose the crawl space. In extreme cases, a fan or blower may be needed to move the humid air from under the building.

In rooms that are not air-conditioned — especially the basement — mechanical dehumidifiers are useful. A humidistat can be attached to the unit to control the humidity. Mechanical dehumidifiers, however, can add heat to a room.

Take extra care in laundry rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and basements, where moisture and humidity run amok.

Your Carpet and Walls Have Absorbed Years of Stink

Carpets and paint can absorb bad smells over time: smoke, pet urine, spilled milk. I always splash a fresh coat of paint on the walls when I move, and it typically gets rid of most lingering smells. If you’re renting, you might not be able to paint without getting your deposit back, so always check with your landlord first. At the very least, deep clean the walls, ceilings, and baseboards to get rid of as much of the stink as possible.

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