Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

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Messner8000
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Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Messner8000 »

I thought I would draw upon the collective boggleheads brain trust with a totally random question.

Since I purchased my home a few years ago there has been a strange smell and we can’t tell where it is coming from. At first we thought it was the smell of new paint, but when we repainted the interior with an odor absorbing paint, the smell stayed the same. We’ve asked about 20 people (professionals and just friends) if they can smell the odor, and about half say no, and half say yes, and of the yeses, half say it smells bad and half say it is a “new house” smell (although our house is 60+ years old). We always notice the smell when we open the front door and walk into the house. And we can always smell it on our clothes that have been in the closet for a while. (And no, the front door is not by the closet). We think it kind of smells like paint, but who knows at this point.

I am completely at a loss for how to figure out the source of the smell. I looked into hiring an industrial hygienist, but they said all they could do was an air sample test, which they said would give us a read-out of the most common chemicals in the air, but would very likely not help us locate the source of the smell. I even googled hiring one of those people with amazing noses (that I've read alcohol companies hire to detect imperfections in their spirit storing techniques)---but I didn't get very far with that (apparently crazy) idea.

Obviously my main concern is making sure it isn't something harmful. But since we don’t have any illness symptoms, for the moment I just really want to solve this mystery!
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TxAg
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by TxAg »

Maybe something with your central heat/air?
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Easy Rhino »

we had a mystery smell a couple of year ago. vaguely stinky and chemically.

Had a mold guy come in, did moisture tests, didn't find anything, but agreed there was a smell, but it wasn't a mold smell.
Plumbing leak detection turned up nothing.

Realized it was coming from the walls, and the contract who did the wall insulation had theory there was a shower pan leak getting into the walls, wetting the insulation, and freeing up the ammonium sulfate fire retardant (ammonia smell). We ended up neading to tear up the shower to get the insulation out and repair the shower pan.

As for your smell... man I dunno. Do other clothes have the smell or just the closet ones? If just the closet, what's in there? Mothballs? cedar?

Have you also checked the immediate outdoor surroundings plan/soil/crawlspace/basement?
123
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by 123 »

The most common sources of house odors are sink and sewer traps that have gone dry, which can happen if they have slow leaks. Otherwise I'd suggest checking for signs of water damage due to leaking pipes or roof leaks. I lived in one home where there was a leak in the window that caused the plaster under the window to smell due to moisture. Sometimes that kind of leak is hard to spot if your walls are all white etc.

Is the smell seasonal? Does it go away in the summer or get worse?

Do you have slab floors or raised floor foundation? You could have a dead rat(s)/cat under the house. I've found animal skeletons under houses when I've crawled under them to install additional phone/cable jacks for relatives. You may want to also check for attic crawlspace as well, mice and squirrels, even birds can sometimes get in and not get out.
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Messner8000
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Messner8000 »

Thanks for the suggestions. I neglected to mention that complicating the matter (and the range of things it could be) is that the house was a “flip” when we bought it, and we know it was in really rough shape before they renovated it. We have already discovered dozens of shortcuts they took, and so we have no idea what could be hiding behind the walls (before they repainted them), under the floors (before they replaced them), etc. Anyway, so far it sounds like my things to check are:

• Central Air/Heating---not really sure how to check this, I guess I could have the ducts cleaned out.
• Sink and Sewer Traps – This seems unlikely to me since the smell is on the clothes that come from our two closets.
• Dead creatures under the house—We have a basement and I think the smell is primarily on the main floor (it’s a one story house), so this seems less likely.

It is a year-round smell. I know our house has relatively high humidity levels, if that helps with suggestions at all.

I’m admittedly not very handy, but I don’t think we have any sort of crawl space under the house.

Anyway, thanks for these (and any more) suggestions!
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by sport »

whodidntante wrote: Thu Mar 08, 2018 9:08 pm Old carpet can get pretty horrible. Clean it. You probably need to do this anyway. I like to do it myself because I'm more patient when I clean my house than a contractor.
New carpet can have an odor, due to flame retardants or stain repellent.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by sergeant »

Where do you live? Not your address just the area. Some times these things can be figured out by your location. My buddy had a bad smell that ended up being dead rats in the wall. I suspect your smell is from the wall insulation or drywall. I wouldn't rule out a leak somewhere.
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123
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by 123 »

Did the flipper install any engineered wood flooring? There was an expose about chemicals/odors in flooring made in China sold by Lumber Liquidators a few years ago. I would think other brands could have the issue as well.
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GoldenFinch
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by GoldenFinch »

It’s possible the house once had a cat with behavior problems that led to it leaving an eternally bad odor in the floor. If true, the problem would be more noticeable when it was humid.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Shikoku »

Messner8000 wrote: Thu Mar 08, 2018 9:05 pm Central Air/Heating---not really sure how to check this, I guess I could have the ducts cleaned out.
You can have the duct inspected for mold by a camera, similar to the one shown in the following link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A91QuqJndas

The smell can also come from a moldy humidifier pad.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by WaffleCone »

My first guess is pet smells that weren't properly sealed by the flipper. High humidity makes them worse, but that itself is a problem you need to take care of. How high is high? 60% or more year round I'd want to find the root cause.

Did you have an HVAC guy test the system? The filter may be clean but the coils could be nasty and limiting airflow. He can also check the operation of your de/humidifer at the same time. If all checks out, I'd probably skip the duct cleaning and install a carbon filter which helps with odors.

You can do a few simple plumbing checks... make sure every sink has a trap that collects water. If you have access to the attic, make sure your plumbing stack vent goes through the roof. Run large amounts of water down the drain and listen for gurgling noises. This could be a sign of improper venting. It wouldn't be the first time that a flipper vented into the wall. There are so many ways to mess up plumbing, I'd never trust a bathroom done by a flipper.

If you think the smell is worst in the closet, that's an easy spot to take out a section of drywall and see what you find. Your patchwork won't be noticible there. This is an even better idea if the closet backs up to an exterior wall or bathroom.

Indoor air quality tests and mold testing seems obvious enough but I'm suspect of contractors in this area. Unless they can pinpoint the smell by some scientific measure and guarantee it will be eliminated (by the measure) after their work, then you may end up with a pricey remediation plan that doesn't help.
seawolf21
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by seawolf21 »

Corpse in wall like Mary Cerruti RIP?
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by jthokie4 »

We recently bought an older home that had a distinctive bad smell. We replaced the carpets, which helped somewhat. The installers said they were filthy, probably due to the dog from the previous owners.

However, we still noticed a smell. We traced it to some closet wood shelving, and an old wooden bath vanity adjacent to it. Not sure if it was old water damage or what, but we replaced them both and the smell is gone now.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by goodlifer »

Is your closet near your garage? We had a weird smell that I could only occasionally smell in the house but I could smell in our closet and on our clothes. It took a while to figure out that my husband's car was leaking coolant, and our garage is right below the bedroom. We also found a very small gas leak in the snow blower that was contributing to the smell. It was too small to leave a puddle but enough to be able to smell it, and the snow blower stays in the garage all year. Try to think of what is in your house that would smell like paint and go from there. I don't think a dead animal is going to give off the scent you are describing.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by unclescrooge »

We had a musty smell in out old mid-century home right by the front door.

The previous owners provided a 2 year old air sample report, so I guess it was a running issue.

Like the OP's case, half the people we asked couldn't detect it.

Turns out, it was rotting plants in the planter next the front door. It was outside, but somehow the smell was only detectable indoors. It was covered, so got no sunlight, and didn't drain anywhere either.

Put in spider plants and stopped watering, and that solved the problem.
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Watty
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Watty »

It would be good to double check to make sure that your carbon monoxide detectors are working just in case there is something like a problem with an improperly vented water heater.

Water heaters can also generate smells if they get bacteria growing in them but that is more a rotten egg smell.

There have been several threads about using ozone generators to eliminate smells that you can look up but without knowing the source of the smell I doubt that would help.

It does not sound like a Chinese drywall problem but you might read up on that.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_drywall
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Pacific »

Messner8000 wrote: Thu Mar 08, 2018 8:18 pmWe’ve asked about 20 people (professionals and just friends) if they can smell the odor, and about half say no, and half say yes . . . for the moment I just really want to solve this mystery!
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by daveydoo »

To me it all depends on the type of smell. "Chemical" smell or organic smell -- like mold or sewage? I'd be more worried about the latter.

Our spec house had the "new house smell" for over a decade, thanks to a high-VOC enamel trim paint, I'm sure. (And this was right before that type of paint was banned in our municipality.) Even re-painting may not make this go away since it will probably have permeated everything, but should eventually fade.

If it was a flip, it could be the floor refinishing (i.e., if hardwood) or adhesive.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Mudpuppy »

Messner8000 wrote: Thu Mar 08, 2018 8:18 pm I am completely at a loss for how to figure out the source of the smell. I looked into hiring an industrial hygienist, but they said all they could do was an air sample test, which they said would give us a read-out of the most common chemicals in the air, but would very likely not help us locate the source of the smell. I even googled hiring one of those people with amazing noses (that I've read alcohol companies hire to detect imperfections in their spirit storing techniques)---but I didn't get very far with that (apparently crazy) idea.
Since you're dealing with a flipped house, it might not be a bad idea to get an air sample analysis. It wouldn't pinpoint the source, but it might help in narrowing in on possibilities. A spike in formaldehyde is going to come from different sources than a spike in mold.

And this has all the signs of shaping up into a classic thread like the old noise in the attic thread:viewtopic.php?f=11&t=62092. Maybe Cody could share some house-sleuthing tips.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by CurlyDave »

Another vote for the air sample analysis.

I am a Chemical Engineer, and I know that the results can point you to some potential sources and away from others. Plus you really want to find out if it is toxic.

Just as a question have you considered sources you brought into the house in addition to the house itself?

Empty out the closet in question of everything moveable, including the shelves and closet rods. See if the smell follows the contents or stays in the closet. There could be something hiding in the pocket of a seldom-used coat. Or in a box stored in the closet.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by bungalow10 »

This thread sounds like it could get fun!

OP - can you answer a few questions?

1. Does the house have carpet? Did you put it in or the flipper? Can you peel up a corner to see what is underneath?

2. Do all drains have proper traps? Have you had them unclogged by a pro - something may be in there that still allows water to pass but is causing smell. A potential hint might be that the smell is more noticeable if the sink in question isn't used for a period of time. Have these cleaned by a plumber - it's good prevention anyway.

3. Do you have garbage disposal? Check to see that this isn't trapping water or holding waste. Also have plumber check this, or just replace your disposal with a kick butt new Waste King if yours looks sketchy.

4. Have you replaced your toilet wax rings? They cost about $6 and user-replaceable if you have a strong back (or a spouse with a strong back). We do this every five years or so... they get so gross! A failed wax ring can start allowing a sewer smell into the bathroom, it sneaks up on you. You could also have the plumber do this...

5. Washing machine - is it draining entirely? Next time you finish a load, give the machine a shake and see if there is water in it. A machine that doesn't drain can cause sporadic stink issues that can be hard to pinpoint - the machine itself may get a smell if you haven't run it in a few days. Also, if you go a few days between loads the clothes washed in the stinky water from the last run can get a musty smell to them, which can then permeate to closets, etc. Pumps can be replaced pretty easily yourself for about $100.

6. More about the house.... Is your basement finished? Is there a crawl space under any part of the house or garage? Is the garage attached? Is there a fireplace with a chimney?

7. Do you have kids? Pets? Are you missing a pet?
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by pfrank »

Don’t forget to look at the drywall itself. When was the house built/renovated? There was a huge problem with Chinese drywall in the mid-2000s. The cheap drywall was toxic and off gassing. In addition to the smell, the emissions were damaging electrical and plumbing systems in the walls.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by mouses »

daveydoo wrote: Fri Mar 09, 2018 1:50 am To me it all depends on the type of smell. "Chemical" smell or organic smell -- like mold or sewage? I'd be more worried about the latter.

Our spec house had the "new house smell" for over a decade, thanks to a high-VOC enamel trim paint, I'm sure. (And this was right before that type of paint was banned in our municipality.) Even re-painting may not make this go away since it will probably have permeated everything, but should eventually fade.
If I were worried about paint, I'd use one of those blocking coatings, like Kilz, and after allowing it the unusually long time it takes to dry, paint over it.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by JBTX »

No idea. We’ve had dead rats in attic before. Those smells will eventually go away in a week or two. Apparently they eventually just rot away until there is nothing left but tail and some fur. A larger animal may take longer to dissipate.

One time there was a smell in my kids room closet. I could never figure out what it was. About a year later I noticed the same smell in the hall. There was an an RF electric car sitting there and that was the source of the smell

Do you have an attic? Can you smell it in there?

If it is concentrated in a room I’d empty the room and see if it is still there.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Liberty1100 »

Do you know if they used spray foam insulation?

I have heard of improper installations of the spray foam insulation where the insulation was still curing when the drywall was applied. This caused the foam to outgas and cause a hazardous chemical odor.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Ninnie »

Our first house had an unusual smell. Turned out to be the DIY refinishing job the previous owners did on the hardwood flooring. Went away once we had the floors professionally redone.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by elcadarj »

Chemical smell in 60-year old house suggests to me maybe old spilled or leaked fuel oil. Did the house use oil heat? If that stuff was absorbed by the concrete or dirt basement floor or into wood framing or flooring it’s in there forever.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by fishandgolf »

Certainly not to make light of your situation, but this thread reminds me of the "Noise in my Attic" thread from 2010......can't wait to find out the source.

I do hope the matter is favorably resolved soon.


viewtopic.php?f=11&t=62092
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Messner8000
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Messner8000 »

Wow – I woke up this morning and couldn’t believe the number of responses with ideas – thanks! At this point I think I need to triage my sleuthing options and go item by item to I find the problem. In response to some of the questions:

1. Does the house have carpet? Did you put it in or the flipper? Can you peel up a corner to see what is underneath?
Answer: It is a one story house with a basement. The entire main floor is 3/4inch solid oak. I had the company who refurbished the floors for the flippers come out to the house, but he said he couldn’t smell anything (and that in any event, they wouldn’t have applied anything that would have created a smell). Of course, if they had he may not have admitted it. Not sure what else I could do on the floor front to confirm it isn’t the floor.

2. Do all drains have proper traps? Have you had them unclogged by a pro - something may be in there that still allows water to pass but is causing smell. A potential hint might be that the smell is more noticeable if the sink in question isn't used for a period of time. Have these cleaned by a plumber - it's good prevention anyway.
Answer: Never heard of drain traps until this post. But I don’t think so because the smell is strong when you enter the house (which isn’t by a sink) and in the closets (which aren’t by sinks). If we take any shirt out of the closet that has been there for a while and walk outside, you will "smell the house" on your shirt. Maybe I should try repainting the closets?

3. Do you have garbage disposal? Check to see that this isn't trapping water or holding waste. Also have plumber check this, or just replace your disposal with a kick butt new Waste King if yours looks sketchy.
Answer: Had the garbage disposal checked a few days ago. Like many things, the hose connecting the dishwasher to the disposal was installed wrong. They fixed this, but it has not decreased the smell (which I didn’t think was coming from the kitchen anyway).

4. Have you replaced your toilet wax rings? They cost about $6 and user-replaceable if you have a strong back (or a spouse with a strong back). We do this every five years or so... they get so gross! A failed wax ring can start allowing a sewer smell into the bathroom, it sneaks up on you. You could also have the plumber do this...
Answer: Perhaps a good house maintenance item. But the smell doesn’t seem to emanate from the bathrooms.

5. Washing machine - is it draining entirely? Next time you finish a load, give the machine a shake and see if there is water in it. A machine that doesn't drain can cause sporadic stink issues that can be hard to pinpoint - the machine itself may get a smell if you haven't run it in a few days. Also, if you go a few days between loads the clothes washed in the stinky water from the last run can get a musty smell to them, which can then permeate to closets, etc. Pumps can be replaced pretty easily yourself for about $100.
Answer: We smelled the smell when we first moved in, when there was no washer and dryer in the house, and so I think it’s unlikely to be that.

6. More about the house.... Is your basement finished? Is there a crawl space under any part of the house or garage? Is the garage attached? Is there a fireplace with a chimney?

Answer: Trying to think what is relevant. It has a finished basement with high humidity (55+) that we combat with a dehumidifier that we empty daily in the summer. No garage. I don’t think there is a crawl space. We have new blown insulation in the attic, but the smell existed before we did that.

7. Do you have kids? Pets? Are you missing a pet?
Answer: No pets.

Questions/Next Steps:
• If I get air sampling done, should I get just mold/formaldehyde, or should I get the fancy and expensive “Top 10 VOCs in the air” test? And should I do it myself (much cheaper), or have a professional industrial hygienist do the testing (I was quoted about $1000 for the test).

• Is there anyway to test if it is the drywall or wall insulation (if we have any, which I don’t think we do---I’ve taken the temperature of the walls and they get really cold)? How would I know if that’s the source since I obviously can’t just replace all the walls as an experiment? Is there a fancy reader that can detect the presence of mold or other substances behind walls?

• Any ideas to test whether it is the floor (other than just sticking my nose on the floor)?
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Messner8000
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Messner8000 »

I'll add that the house used to have an unfinished basement and we know they had some flooding at some point. The flippers finished the basement, so we have no idea what is behind all the drywall down there. That said, my (guess) is that its' not a basement issue because the smell exists primarily upstairs (and is strongest I think when you enter the house and in the closets).
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by bungalow10 »

Repaint the closets.

Also (not knowing just how strong the smell is), I've had good luck with vinegar. I have taken a musty-smelling dresser (it had athletic shoes in it) and put a bowl of white vinegar in it (being careful not to spill) and let it sit for a few days. Musty smell gone. No idea why it works.

Maybe your closet used to store someone's lucky hockey pads or something... not washed for years!!! :sharebeer
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Messner8000
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Messner8000 »

Yeah - repainting the closets is currently my front-runner for "next big step to take to try and solve this problem." Especially since I know for a fact (based on the clothes) that the smell is in the closet. My only hesitance it that to do it right will be quite the project---4 closets (each painted nicely), each with double doors, molding, shelves, and walls to paint.

In light of all the above responses, I'm currently weighing whether to first repaint the closets, or test the closets (for mold/formaldehyde/VOCs).

Looks like so far the boggleheads vote is: Air Testing (2) vs. Repainting Closets (1).
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by mrc »

If you can elicit the smell by rubbing the shelving surfaces, repainting with a stain blocker primer like Zinsser/Bullseye could help.

If not, I wonder if limited air circulation enables something to grow.

We had a "stale" closet for years after moving into our house. It's much less noticeable now on linens stored there, but now and then it's strong. Less of a bad smell, than a chalky/dusty feeling. I think it's something growing in the dark undisturbed air of the closet.
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Elsebet »

I have a 1950's house where a lot of work was done improperly. We have a light "old house" smell that I notice if I am away from the house from a time, but earlier this year it became very strong, had a new septic odor, and became more dank. We found out the laundry room plumbing was ancient and had been leaking behind the drywall for quite some time. It had lost the water seal so that's where the septic smell was coming from. We also had a lovely patch of mold growing back there. Had the plumbing entirely replaced for $750 and the drywall entirely torn out and redone for about $1500, then DIY paint, floor, and finish maybe for $200. Worth every penny! I can now run the washer without gagging. :)
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Mudpuppy »

Keep in mind that the smell may not actually be concentrated around the front door and closet. You can become accustomed to certain smells if regularly exposed to them and you just stop noticing those smells. Your nose will reset when you've been away from the smell for a while, so when you first walk into the door after a reset, you'll really notice the smell again. Likewise, you may notice the smell on your clothing when outside of the house simply because your nose starts resetting once it's away from the main source of the odor. This might also explain why half the people don't notice. If it's a common odor found in houses they may be accustomed to the odor too.

There's a quick test to see if this is an issue with you getting accustomed to the smell after entering the house. Can you smell the odor on the clothing while you are inside of the house or does it only become apparent when you have been out of the house for a while?
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TxAg
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by TxAg »

Mudpuppy wrote: Sat Mar 10, 2018 1:40 am Keep in mind that the smell may not actually be concentrated around the front door and closet. You can become accustomed to certain smells if regularly exposed to them and you just stop noticing those smells. Your nose will reset when you've been away from the smell for a while, so when you first walk into the door after a reset, you'll really notice the smell again. Likewise, you may notice the smell on your clothing when outside of the house simply because your nose starts resetting once it's away from the main source of the odor. This might also explain why half the people don't notice. If it's a common odor found in houses they may be accustomed to the odor too.

There's a quick test to see if this is an issue with you getting accustomed to the smell after entering the house. Can you smell the odor on the clothing while you are inside of the house or does it only become apparent when you have been out of the house for a while?

Good post
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Messner8000
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Messner8000 »

Good point. I just did some experimenting, and once I am in the house for a little bit I do not smell anything (either in the air, or on my clothes in the closet). So it is definitely something I get accustomed to. Of course, I think that it probably not good news since that just means (I think) that the smell may not be localized to a particular location....
mrc
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by mrc »

Messner8000 wrote: Sun Mar 11, 2018 3:03 pm Good point. I just did some experimenting, and once I am in the house for a little bit I do not smell anything (either in the air, or on my clothes in the closet). So it is definitely something I get accustomed to. Of course, I think that it probably not good news since that just means (I think) that the smell may not be localized to a particular location....
Maybe not. Could be olfactory fatigue so you can't detect the smell any more no matter the concentration or location.
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Mudpuppy
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Mudpuppy »

Messner8000 wrote: Sun Mar 11, 2018 3:03 pm Good point. I just did some experimenting, and once I am in the house for a little bit I do not smell anything (either in the air, or on my clothes in the closet). So it is definitely something I get accustomed to. Of course, I think that it probably not good news since that just means (I think) that the smell may not be localized to a particular location....
Since you're dealing with a flip, this could be anything from plumbing problems to poor quality materials to poorly masked old odors (smoke, pets, fire, etc). And there are other possibilities too, these are just the top three in my mind when I hear "flip". That means the source may be localized (plumbing problems) or it may be all over the house (poor materials or poor masking of old odors). An air sample analysis would still be helpful to pinpoint chemical vs biological sources, but it sounds like the cost is a bit high for you.

Just throwing an oddball idea out there, but how about getting a paint fume respirator and putting it on before you come back into the house. Then walk to various parts of the house, take off the respirator and see if you notice the smell. It might take a few days to a week of doing this to get a "scent map" of the odor. But if you end up having to paint, you'll need a respirator for that anyways. And a respirator is a lot cheaper than an air sample analysis.

Edit: And hopefully it isn't old odors. Those are some of the hardest to eliminate, particularly if this was a flip of a pet hoarder house or of a chain smoker. I keep up on my pet maintenance, and even I walk back into my house after a vacation and immediately smell "CAT!". I don't notice the cat smell much after coming home from work, but after being away for a week or so, I do notice it (although maybe that means my pet sitter is not as good at the cat maintenance as I am).
Last edited by Mudpuppy on Sun Mar 11, 2018 4:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Shikoku
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Shikoku »

Program the HVAC system to run its blower for at least 15 minutes every hour to avoid pockets of stale air. Make sure your HVAC system has a fresh air intake.

Read: Why Does The Air In My House Smell Stale?
https://blog.warnerservice.com/blog/why ... mell-stale

Put some Zeolite rock in few places in home.
https://www.amazon.com/Rechargeable-Odo ... 015CPK4G2/
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by azurekep »

Messner8000 wrote: Thu Mar 08, 2018 9:05 pm
It is a year-round smell. I know our house has relatively high humidity levels, if that helps with suggestions at all.
People in high hunidity areas often have problems with mold in the closet. They move into a house, fill their closet up with clothes, then when they prepare to move out and remove all the clothes, they find that the entire back wall of the closet is black with mold. The remedy is to clean the wall with bleach and that gets rid of the visible mold on the wall. Unknown (to me) is if the mold penetrates to the back (non-visible) side of the wall, and whether or not there is an odor. But people in high-hunidity areas soon learn to use DampRid or a similar drying product to keep the humidity down in closets. You might want to do that as a preventative measure regardless of whether the odor is caused by mold.

Good luck finding your answer. Hopefully this thread will not be as long as the "noise in the attic" thread and you find your answer sooner. Mudpuppy's idea of smell-mapping is a great one.
Last edited by azurekep on Sun Mar 11, 2018 4:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
simpleman1
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by simpleman1 »

Messner8000 wrote: Thu Mar 08, 2018 8:18 pm I thought I would draw upon the collective boggleheads brain trust with a totally random question.

Since I purchased my home a few years ago there has been a strange smell and we can’t tell where it is coming from. At first we thought it was the smell of new paint, but when we repainted the interior with an odor absorbing paint, the smell stayed the same. We’ve asked about 20 people (professionals and just friends) if they can smell the odor, and about half say no, and half say yes, and of the yeses, half say it smells bad and half say it is a “new house” smell (although our house is 60+ years old). We always notice the smell when we open the front door and walk into the house. And we can always smell it on our clothes that have been in the closet for a while. (And no, the front door is not by the closet). We think it kind of smells like paint, but who knows at this point.

I am completely at a loss for how to figure out the source of the smell. I looked into hiring an industrial hygienist, but they said all they could do was an air sample test, which they said would give us a read-out of the most common chemicals in the air, but would very likely not help us locate the source of the smell. I even googled hiring one of those people with amazing noses (that I've read alcohol companies hire to detect imperfections in their spirit storing techniques)---but I didn't get very far with that (apparently crazy) idea.

Obviously my main concern is making sure it isn't something harmful. But since we don’t have any illness symptoms, for the moment I just really want to solve this mystery!
Thank you very much for your post. We experience the same issue. Ultimately it was the carpeting, but we also did find a dead bird up near the top of the fireplace.
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Messner8000
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Messner8000 »

Thanks for the smell-mapping suggestion. It looks like paint respirators are really cheap, and so I think I will try to "map" the house in the way you suggest, and, if it works, that could also help me decide where to take air samples (since it costs hundreds of dollars per area of the house where I would to take a sample). Once I do this I'll post back on this thread so others know whether the idea worked and can use it themselves!
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Veiled
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by Veiled »

PTF. I read this thread and the epic noise in the attic thread and I realize that houses are just about as complicated as computers. :shock: Hoping I can learn a little as this situation evolves.
Pardon me as I read these one hundred and fifty-seven SP vs LLC vs Scorp threads...
DesertDiva
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by DesertDiva »

I had a “funky smell” issue at a previous residence. After weeks of investigation I traced the source down to the filter in the range hood in the kitchen. After cleaning it with a vinegar/water solution, the odor was gone.
jltjenn2003
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by jltjenn2003 »

Did you ever find out what the mystery smell was? I'm having the same issues at my house and can't figure out where the smell is coming from. My house was built in 2012 but it has a strong "new house" smell that is overwhelming when I return from a trip. My eyes burn and the smell is driving me crazy.
greybags
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by greybags »

I have exactly the same problem. I've pulled all the carpets up but the chemical smell still hits me as soon as i walk in the house. I don't notice it after a while, however, it sticks to my clothes!!!!!! Trying all sorts of things but no joy.

Have you made any progress mate?

Many thanks,

Graeme Brown
ARoseByAnyOtherName
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by ARoseByAnyOtherName »

Messner8000 wrote: Thu Mar 08, 2018 8:18 pm I thought I would draw upon the collective boggleheads brain trust with a totally random question.

Since I purchased my home a few years ago there has been a strange smell and we can’t tell where it is coming from. At first we thought it was the smell of new paint, but when we repainted the interior with an odor absorbing paint, the smell stayed the same. We’ve asked about 20 people (professionals and just friends) if they can smell the odor, and about half say no, and half say yes, and of the yeses, half say it smells bad and half say it is a “new house” smell (although our house is 60+ years old). We always notice the smell when we open the front door and walk into the house. And we can always smell it on our clothes that have been in the closet for a while. (And no, the front door is not by the closet). We think it kind of smells like paint, but who knows at this point.

I am completely at a loss for how to figure out the source of the smell. I looked into hiring an industrial hygienist, but they said all they could do was an air sample test, which they said would give us a read-out of the most common chemicals in the air, but would very likely not help us locate the source of the smell. I even googled hiring one of those people with amazing noses (that I've read alcohol companies hire to detect imperfections in their spirit storing techniques)---but I didn't get very far with that (apparently crazy) idea.

Obviously my main concern is making sure it isn't something harmful. But since we don’t have any illness symptoms, for the moment I just really want to solve this mystery!
Paging Messner8000, how did this end up??? Inquiring minds want to know!
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celia
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by celia »

I see this thread re-started a year after it originally started (two posts above this).

I want to suggest a dishwasher that has a removable filter to catch "garbage" being washed off the dishes. When we bought our current dishwasher, we were informed that this is the most common "problem". After people buy one, they use it for a few months, then start noticing the smell and return to the store to complain. The salesperson asks what model they bought (can be looked up by their phone number) and sees if it has a removable filter. Solution: remove and clean out the filter!
Last edited by celia on Tue Sep 03, 2019 8:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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newcollegeman
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Re: Need Help Solving A House Smell Mystery

Post by newcollegeman »

We've had 2 houses in Mississippi with weird smells:

1) A 1970's Brady Bunch house with strange sickly sweet smell in one bedroom, which was caused by boys years before who were secretly using snuff & pushed a hundred snuff boxes between the concrete wall & the drywall, from an understairs "lair" that they had outfitted with most interesting of items....

2) A 1920's era clapboard rural home with a 1950's era carport with tool room off the back. Sickly sweet & moldy smell caused by the fact that the tool shed was on top of an old cistern that had previously collected rain water. They filled it with sand & poured concrete on top of it: but they failed to punch holes in the bottom. Only God knows what was growing below ground in that tank of horror!

Very glad to get out of both places,

newcollegeman
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