What's That Smell?! Possible Causes for Smells in Your Home

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What's That Smell?! Possible Causes for Smells in Your Home
Article Excerpt

Bad odors in the home could mean something is very wrong, or something just needs cleaning. Learn more about common odors and what you can do about them.

Our sense of smell can be an important guide to the condition of our homes. Few things in life are more irritating than a house that smells funny, but sometimes an odd smell can mean that something is very wrong. Homeowners need to know whether a strange smell means they need to grab a vacuum cleaner, call a plumber, or evacuate the house immediately. The following are seven common causes of bad odors in the home, along with what they smell like and what you can do about it.


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Natural Gas

Natural gas is highly flammable, but it has no odor or color by itself. Gas companies have added a chemical called mercaptan, which smells similar to rotten eggs, ever since a faulty gas line caused a massive explosion at a school in east Texas in 1937. If you smell rotten eggs in your home, there is a chance that you have a gas leak. Get everybody outside immediately, follow all other important safety guidelines, and call 911.

Sewage and Sewer Gas

If you smell sewage inside your home, you should first look to see if a toilet has backed up, or if your sewer line is backing up into a sink or bathtub. If so, you probably need a plumber.


You may also have a problem with the P-trap in one or more sinks. The P-trap — so named because it is shaped like a sideways “P” — holds a bit of water to prevent sewer gases from backing up into your home. If the water in the P-trap has dried up, you might be smelling gas from your sewer line. Running some water in the sink will hopefully block any more gas from coming in.

Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew are two types of fungus that you can find in your home. Both have a musty odor. Mildew tends to be white in color. It often grows on damp clothing, towels, or linens. Mold can be green, blue, red, or black. It also grows in damp areas, such as around unrepaired leaks in roofs and walls.

moldy wall

Mildew is mostly harmless except for the unpleasant smell, but mold can be dangerous. Exposure to black mold, in particular, can cause serious illness.

You can prevent mold and mildew by promptly addressing leaks and preventing water or moisture from building up. Cleaning up mildew can be as easy as washing the materials where the mildew is growing. Removing mold may require the help of professionals.


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Here, we are mainly referring to the lingering odor of smoke from cigarettes or cigars. If anyone has smoked inside your home, the smell may latch onto carpets, curtains, fabrics, and other materials. Residue from tobacco can even continue to release carcinogens, known as “thirdhand smoke,” long after the cigarettes were put out.

The good news is that removing lingering smoke smells is achievable, if not easy. First, no more smoking in the house. Next, you need to do a top-to-bottom cleaning of everything in the room, including scrubbing the walls, vacuuming and shampooing the carpet, and cleaning the furniture.


Animal Decay

Humans and their pets are not the only occupants of a typical house. Critters like mice may seek shelter inside walls and in attics. Should one of them meet an unfortunate end inside your home, the smell can be one of the worst you’ll encounter. If you can’t find the offending carcass, you may need professional assistance to look inside your walls.


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Certain pests can create pungent odors. Mice, rats, squirrels, and other small mammals may take up residence in an attic, which they will use as their restroom. If urine soaks into wood or drywall, the smell could linger for some time. Pest control specialists can help remove the critters without killing them and creating the odor problem discussed above.


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The animals we keep in our homes on purpose can also contribute to bad smells in the home. Dogs, cats, and other companion animals may have accidents on the floor, rug, or carpet. They may give off other odors, too, that can build up over time. Keeping your pets clean can help cut down on the odors they bring into the house. Regular vacuuming can pick up dander and other materials they leave behind.