Locating the Source of a Foul Smell in House

It is not always easy to determine where a bad smell is coming from in your home. This guide is about locating the source of a foul smell in the house.

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Every 3 years we get this awful smell, like Parmesan cheese that seems to come through the walls on our stairwell. It is very strong and lasts for a week or two, then completely vanishes! We live in a pole home, so the underside of the house is exposed. I am wondering if there is some plant, or mould that could be causing this strange odour?

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    There may have been an animal that had died in your stairwell and the decay process definitely smells. That this has happened more than once may mean an animal has easy access to that area. You should have the stairwell area checked to see if there are any areas that an animal can crawl into. Next time the smell starts again, have a pest exterminator check the stairwell area to check and remove the dead animal. It is important to have the animal removed quickly as the decay process liquids leak into the wood framework and can damage and/or smell for a very long time.

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    I am experiencing a horrible smell in my house. I first thought it was from some carpeting that had been soiled by some of my pets. The carpet was very old. I tore the carpet up and tried cleaning the wood flooring beneath with different cleaners that contained antibacterials, and some with enzymes to get rid of urine smells. The smell is even worse now. It feels like it even leaves a burning feeling on my tongue and feel like I can taste it. The smell has made me vomit. I don't even know how to describe the smell because I haven't ever smelled anything like this. It has permeated the whole house. I can't find the source of the smell. It just keeps getting worse. Can anyone help me soon? I'm so desperate.

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      Hi! Thank you for your answer. I have thought of the smell possibly being a dead animal that may have died somewhere in the house. Unfortunately, I have no idea what that smells like. This odor is almost indescribable. It's almost a cross between some spoiled vomit and something that is so powerful smelling that you can actually taste it. It even feels like it leaves a burning feeling on my tongue and nasal passage. Almost like ammonia does, only not the smell of ammonia. I do have a deck that is connected to the house that has a small opening. I don't smell this odor when out on the deck. The odor has been going on since June, and only getting worse. I truly don't think it's the wood flooring anymore The smell has gotten worse since pulling up the carpeting. I really don't know how much more that I can take. I live on a disability budget and don't have any money to hire anyone to come and check it out for me. I don't know anyone that can come and help me try and find where it's coming from. I live alone and don't really have friends or family that can help me.

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      I noticed about a month ago that my guestroom started to have a chemical like odor. I looked for mold or mildew and did not see any. I removed the carpet and did not see anything. My dogs are not allowed in the room so there are no pet stains. The smell has since changed to a pickle-like smell.

      I painted the room and the smell went away for 2 days and has come back. We do not use gas here, so I know that too is not the culprit. My house is a 14 year old manufactured home. I have literally tried to smell every wall and the floor and cannot identify the source. The weirder thing is that when I have the fans on, the smell intensifies. Can anyone please shed some insight to my problem as my husband and I are at a loss at this point?

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        The reason for many odors are often difficult to find, however, from your description, there may be a dead animal in the wall, floors, etc., of the room. The odor change you describe may be the decay breakdown process of the bodyl. The best plan is to have a pest control service examine the area and remove the animal ASAP. The big problem, aside from the smell, is the decay process and resulting liquids from the body that seep into walls and floor. If the process continues, you may have to replace portions of the structure that are affected by the decay process.

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        I am a first time homebuyer and bought my 1097 square foot, low-level home last July. The home was built in 1974. Since shortly after buying the home and closing, there has been a strong sewage smell that plagues the residence. It was around this same time last year (August/September). It is intermittent. However, this smells deters me from inviting anyone over and it accompanies what seems to be an infestation of gnats.

        I can't sleep, sit, eat, or anything without a gnat aggressively attacking me. They help me do my hair, help me clean, help me cook, etc. It's driving me crazy. Last year I had the plumbers out because I thought it was a plumbing issue with setting water, but it's back again this year the same time or year with the gnats! I don't have a sceptic tank. I've also noticed like a week or so ago my plumbing backs up, of course my issue began long before this manifestation, but I don't think that helps the cause!

        Last year I did the vinegar traps and yes they caught many gnats, but there were equal amounts still living and the smell is still present. It seemed last year like it only went away when the weather got cold. It did not happen all summer, but with the season change it seems to be back in autumn. I've spent a lot of money on this house even after paying an inspector to catch the important stuff, but at this point I need to know where I can begin or what to do cheaply to address this and not deal with it every year around the same time? Someone please help me! What could this smell be with this accompanying infestation of gnats and what can I do to remedy this?

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          In my last apartment I had a lot of sewer smell to the point of feeling sick. I found when I flushed the toilet 3 or 4 times in a row the smell seemed to go away for most of the day. I decided to use the product 2000 flushes (blue puck) found in the cleaning aisle - didn't have any sewer smell after using that in the toilet tank. Last up to 3 months.

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          I recently painted a new wall with a 5 year old latex primer followed by 2 coats of paint. A very disagreeable odor emanates from the wall. I have never had this problem with "old" paint before. Where is the odor coming from?

          By George from Port St Lucie, FL

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          It could be your sheet-rock. Since 1997, many houses were built with Chinese sheet rock and they emit a "rotten egg" smell from the sulfur. This sheet-rock was recently recalled because it causes the wiring to tarnish and corrode quickly. If this is your problem, you will have to remove the sheet-rock! The sheetrock has been a real problem in Florida and the South due to the high humidity. The moisture in the paint also could have made the sheet-rock smell.

          If it's just the paint, you can cover the wall with one or 2 coats of Zinsser shellac and alcohol based primer (read the back of all the Zinsser primers) it's one of the lower cost primers that Zinsser makes. They use this to prime and seal hospitals, kitchens and schools. They use it because it's low odor. This primer will help seal in the odor of the paint, but won't help if bad sheet rock is your problem.

          Google: "Chinese sheetrock" or "Chineese wallboard" for more info.

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          If the smell is really disagreeable you may have to remove the wall entirely and sheet rock a new one. Maybe an animal like a squirrel or mouse died in between the walls. I sure wouldn't work hard to try to remove it or cover it up. I'd make a clean sweep. It doesn't sound good.

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          My home is clean, the trash is taken out, no dirty dishes, and I haven't cooked anything today. About a hour ago this foul smell filled up the entire house. I've checked all bathrooms and sinks to make sure that nothing was backed up and everything looked OK. I can't even describe what it smells like. I have no inside animals. This has been happened for about a week. It was so bad on Sunday that the smell woke me up and I sleep with a full face mask hooked up to a CPAP machine, but I could still smell it. I've done smell checks on all the kids. It is horrible. I have Crohn's so I smell things to the extreme, it's like I have the nose of a pregnant woman. I'll take any suggestions. I have hardwood floors, central air and heat, and all my air and water filters have just been changed.

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            That's a good point though. If you're not sure, have the gas company come out and check, for your peace of mind. It's a scary thought.

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            After one month I moved out of my house to sell it. The handyman called me on the bad smell coming out of the attached garage; it is like a sewage smell. Since then I have opened the sheet rock on 3 walls of the garage looking for a dead animal, not seen. I called the gas people, it is not a gas smell. I called the plumber, they did the smoke test, water pressure test, and used a camera down the drain and could not find what is causing the smell. This has been 9 months. Someone please help. Is there anything like a smell detector out there? The house is in Houston Texas area.

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              I was just reading another post about an alarm battery giving off a sulfurous smell in a master bedroom. Cable and internet companies also use these industrial strength batteries when they set up service. I know there is one in my garage right now. Just a thought.

              Good luck, I hope you find it. We had a terrible smell in our bathroom that we could never figure out. Months later, we found a desiccated mouse carcass under the dryer. Yuck!

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              We purchased a new home in December. All was OK, though we could smell the floor stain (Minwax and Fabulon). Around April we began to cut on the AC. Those of us who slept near the vents had sneezing fits constantly day and night for weeks. We thought it was pollen. Then we all began to get tired, nauseated, have ringing in our ears, fatigued, forgetful, blurred thought, etc. Anyone else ever have anything like this?

              The smell is like chemicals, reminds me of that stuff my dad used to clean his carburetor when I was a kid. Now it smells sort of rotten too. It's also sort of sweet like a perfumey sweet. It is all over the house. It is most chemically in the crawlspace and sweeter and more rotten inside the house. The crawlspace is air-conditioned like the rest of the house (stupid new federal government home design thing).

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                We just purchased our first home in February and have been experiencing the exact same things you are describing, Max. I have had plumbers, contractors, restoration companies out to inspect. No one can help, they all smell it but have no answers. We love our house but are heartbroken this smell is driving us crazy and we have actually discussed putting the house back on the market. Please tell me if you ever discovered what was causing the odor in your home?

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                We have had several dead animals under the slab foundation after a torrential rain. We had several holes around the house where we have seen rabbits and possums. How long before smell goes away?

                By Nova

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                It takes about 3 weeks for the smell of dead rat in the walls to go away. Your situation sounds a bit different. The moisture might make it a longer process.

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                I have an weird smell in the bedroom, only at night. The adjacent the room is the bathroom which also gives off the scent.The smell started after a four day none stop rain. I cleaned the whole house with Clorox and water and washed every piece of clothing, linen, etc. The smell still comes back at night specifically around 3:00 a.m. that's when the smell wakes me up. Now I have been stuffy in the mornings with mucous coming out from my nose. The smell at times is so unbearable that I sleep on the living room couch. Please help.

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                  I wonder if you have some sort of problem with sewer gas back up? If you had a dead animal in the walls, as DCA suggested, you would likely smell it all the time. If you have sewer gas, it may be worse at night because there is no activity -- no flushing toilets, no laundry being done, no one showering, etc. I would try to get a friend over to help identify the smell, and I think I would call a plumber first as I think it is more likely a sewage gas leak/backup.

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                  I just moved into a townhouse. I didn't notice a smell at first. Now when I leave the house my clothes reek of what smells kind of like mothballs! The weird thing is you cannot smell the mothball smell in the house very much, at least not to the extent of when you take the items out of house and or on my clothes and other items when I leave the house.

                  There is an Indian couple who live next to mine could this be a curry or smell or is it mothballs? I have a fire wall between the houses and do not share any air ducts or anything with either neighbor. I have checked the attic for mothballs and nothing was found. I have brand new carpet and flooring and newly painted walls! Where could this smell be coming from? And how do I get rid of it ASAP! Oh and I also have bought and used my ozone generator a few times and I feel like the smell is coming back. I can't even bring my clothes back into house until it's gone.

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                    I have a little bit of experience with mothballs because the two times I used them, I found them so nauseating that I never used them again. I used them in a camper to keep out mice (I later found that parking the camper near to where our outside cats lived was a much better solution), and even after I removed the mothballs (which disappear over time, so you may not find any), the camper stunk of mothballs. I aired it out and put in branches of eucalyptus and dishes of coffee grounds and baking soda to absorb the smells and cover the odor. Eventually we could stand to be inside the camper again. When you are in a house that smells, your nose becomes used to the smell (the Febreeze commercials are calling this "nose blind"), and so you don't notice it after awhile. You need to investigate, and find out what causes this smell. If it is the new paint and carpets off-gassing, you may need to contact the builders. I don't think they should smell this much. If it is a mothball stench, you need to try methods to get rid of that stench, as it is poisonous. And if it is termites, you have another problem. Good luck.

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                    I have had a foul odor in my master bedroom for about a month or more. I live in a 117 year old small house with no central heat or air. I have an indoor cat and dog that's had free run until this mysterious odor appeared! I have shampooed the carpet and that helped for about a day and it came right back. It definitely does not smell like cat urine, however I haven't denied it possibly being dog urine, but my husband emphatically disagrees. He doesn't think it's either one. We have a window unit air conditioner that I've cleaned the filter on so many times it's just ridiculous. I put down 20 Mule Team Borax and Carpet Fresh last night and let it stay for about two hours then vacuumed it up. Then I removed all items from under the bed, sprinkled Borax and Carpet Fresh and left it over night. The smell is back again today.
                    Any help or suggestions is appreciated.

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                      I'm with Dinah. There is something in your walls, air ducts, or under your floor.

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                      I've had a terrible smell in my master bathroom and closet for almost 3 months, and at first I thought it smelled like sewage. The smell kept getting worse, primarily in the closet so I steam cleaned the carpet (only place in that area that is carpeted), but it made no change. It was horrible over the weekend - would make you gag, but almost went away on Monday.

                      The smell came back by Wednesday so I had plumbers out to run a smoke test. They re-set the toilet, even though there was no smell in the water closet. It made no change. Since then we have flushed the AC unit, had the roof checked and checked the attic. There is no smell in there. The smell changed from a sewage smell to a pungent musky smell and primarily stayed in the closet and bathroom but you could also smell it in an adjacent hallway and even in the garage.

                      My parents came over and was certain in smelled like a dead mouse in the wall. I called exterminators and they agreed it was a dead smell, and assured me that it would fade over two weeks.

                      We did a full exclusion service last year. We did find an area where an AC hose enters the brick that was chewed up. We fixed it and sealed the gap. That was 2 months ago and since the smell gets better and worse. The odd thing is that in the last couple of weeks the musky smell has returned to a sewage/trash type smell and has intensified. Also, although it pretty much stays in the closet/bathroom area it still "moves". Last week it was in the garage, and today it's even by the toilet (water closet).

                      It's driving me insane to have to deal with this stinch! Odor eliminators don't even touch the smell. We're clean people and it disgusts me to think of something rotting behind my walls. But then, dead things don't move. Suggestions on where to go from here?

                      By Stacie D

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                      I have had this smell too, it is a dead animal, probably a mouse. I had it in another house in the kitchen but luckily enough I found the body, in the bottom of an old toaster! We also had it about 4 months ago in my daughters bedroom, I stripped the place and searched everywhere but never found the body, it took about 4 weeks for the smell to fade and then I completely redecorated.

                      Yesterday the smell appeared in my downstairs bathroom, which is small and very clean. I removed everything, steam cleaned it, put bleach in every opening. The smell is much worse this morning, even with the door closed it has pervaded into the hallway. I am just hoping it too will fade.

                      The very first time this happened I called out the exterminators and they put down poison that kills the mice and it dries the bodies out in a way that does not leave a smell. I guess now I need to get them out again to rid the house of the little critters completely, because everytime one dies this is going to happen. Good luck and I smell your smell!

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                      We have a odor in our basement which we only noticed about one month ago. The smell is very bitter and to begin with I thought it was the herb, dill, but as there is nothing like that downstairs. It wasn't that and it seems to be getting stronger as time goes by.

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