I was discussing smelly carpet with my nephew the other day. He works for Shaw carpeting, which has a new line of carpet with a waterproof backing. I had just shown a house that had a funky smell, possibly pet urine, in one of the bedrooms. It got me wondering if it’s even possible to get such a smell out.

There is nothing more off-putting than walking into what you hope to be your dream house only to find it smells terrible. That’s something you can’t tell from pictures. The possible sources include pet-related smells, smoking, cooking grease, mildew and general filthiness.

There was a time when it was not possible to get most of these smells out, but today there are a lot more cleaning options. The waterproof backing on carpet has helped; now offending substances can’t make it down to the sub-floor level. Such carpets can be cleaned with special enzymes (read more here) instead of ripped up and replaced.

While we can eliminate most smells, including cigarette smoke, pet-related, cooking grease and general filth, there are other smells which should get your attention. Mildew is one of them.

That smell should make you sit up and take notice. Where there is mildew, there is – or was – a water problem. It should be investigated and the source eliminated, then cleaned. In fact, the source of any offensive smell should first be investigated. If it can’t be eliminated, how else can it be mitigated? Do you need to rip a wall down or flooring out? Are you willing to do that?

If you’re a home seller, you’ll want to eliminate offensive smells before you put your house on the market. Enlist the help of an objective friend to sniff out any trouble if you can’t smell things yourself.

If you’re a home buyer, don’t turn your nose up at a home just because it smells bad. But closely investigate the potential causes and whether you can mitigate them during the inspection phase. You don’t want to buy trouble.

But you don’t have to wait to sell your home to get it smelling nice. Here are some common smelly spots you can clean up today, even if you’re “just” a renter.

  1. Smelly garbage
    If you haven’t washed recently your trash cans out after taking out the garbage, maybe it’s time. Use hot soapy water to remove smelly bits and debris, and dry with a clean rag or paper towel.
  2. Funky food smells
    Your refrigerator, stove, microwave, and dishwasher can all be sources of lingering food odors. Don’t cover up, wash up with soapy water. If needed, add a little baking soda or lemon juice to help clean and deodorize. Check for old food in the bottom of your sink or dishwasher and scrub it out. Wipe down the walls with white vinegar to get rid of odor — or if it’s really strong, consider an enzymatic cleaner. Look in the cracks between the stove and counters or next to the refrigerator and clean out any crumbs. If there is a strong odor, especially a mildewy or other funky smell, you may need to enlist the help of a professional.
  3. Not-so-fresh bathrooms
    Scrub everything regularly with a cleaner that not only gets rid of germs but cleans. There is no real need for deodorizer if all the surfaces are clean.
  4. Pet smells
    To get rid of pet smells, keep your pet clean and all of his or her toys, and blankets. If you can’t get your pet washed frequently enough, use a dry wash freshener or sprinkle your bet with baking soda, rub it in then brush it out.
  5. Musty Matters
    A musty smell is a clue that something is too damp. If possible, dry it out. If you can’t, maybe you need a dehumidifier. If things have gotten to the mildew stage, you may need to replace them.

Whatever the smell, the key is to eliminate the root cause as quickly as possible and keep everything smelling fresh.


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  Sep 21, 2017
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