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Living Space: Is your home a stinker? Common sources of odor, how to eliminate smell

July 28, 2011 at 2:28 a.m.

Household odors may come from owning pets. Depending on severity, different surfaces may require professional treatment.

By Kathryn Weber

Have friends and family been declining invitations to your house? It could be your home's smell is a turn-off. Odor is a sensitive issue - a home's equivalent of bad breath. But there's something more worrisome than the social implications of a smelly house. If you have frequent headaches or breathing problems, the odor could be the cause. Pervasive odors, especially from mold, can quickly morph from merely bothersome to dangerous.

PLAY ODOR DETECTIVE

The biggest obstacle in conquering a smelly home is the diagnosis. Because you live with it, you may not notice a persistent odor. To check things out, if you're away from home more than six hours, take a good long sniff when you walk in. If you detect an unpleasant smell, don't excuse it away because the house "has been closed up." Odor is a sign that something's wrong. If you don't trust your own nose, ask your most candid friend. If you're house is for sale, ask your Realtor point blank if the place stinks.

ODOR SOURCES

Common sources of odor include cooking, water, pets and smoking. Typically, cooking odors are short-lived, but if your home smells like last week's dinners, chances are the kitchen ventilation isn't adequate, or the vent hood filters for the stove need cleaning. If cleaning the filters doesn't handle it, upgrade the hood.

Realtors will tell you that pet issues are among the biggest obstacles for home sellers. Pet odors spark concern that once a smell is present, it can never be eradicated. Keeping litter boxes scrupulously clean is a good first step. Concrete or wood floors that have been saturated with pet urine may require professional treatment, including removing soiled carpet and padding. For spot treatment, products like Odoban (odoban.com) or Stanley Steemer's Odor Out Plus (stanleysteemer.com) help block both pet and human odors.

WATER DAMAGE

Smells, especially musty ones, often come from water. Check all sink and bath drains for odors at the drain traps. Leaking sewer or water pipes may also be a source. A plumber can help correct the problem. Air conditioning condensation can leak, generating smelly mold. There could be a roof or siding leak, where water is infiltrating, triggering mold growth. Air ducts can trap dust and mold, making the air smelly. If you need help isolating an odor, call a home inspector.

MAN-MADE SCENTS

Of course, smells can also originate from people. In the home of a lifelong smoker, the drapes, wallboard, carpet and upholstered furniture may all have to be replaced. If the odor is caused by illness or some other physical condition, regular cleaning and washing of cushions, sheets and clothing is a must. A can for soiled clothing with a tight-fitting lid will help contain odors.

Overuse of home scents can be as off-putting as pet odor. Work to create a fresh-smelling home versus one that's heavy and overly perfumed.

The last rule of home odors? Never try to spray a smell away. If your home has a smell, it has a problem, and fixing the problem is better than perfuming it.

Kathryn Weber is a home and decorating columnist and publishes the Red Lotus Letter feng shui E-zine. For more information, contact Weber through her website, www.redlotusletter.com.

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