HELP! My house smells stale!

lisad71January 3, 2006

My house smells so stale and its driving me crazy. The only time it smells decent is if I'm cooking or baking. As much as I'd love to make brownies every day, that's not an option. LOL!

Here are the facts:

- South Florida location, so we're dealing with lots of humidity.

- Construction finished in April 2004

- One side of house has glass blocks instead of windows. This happens to be the side that contains both bathrooms and the laundry room. Who was the genius that thought up that!?!

- Tile floor throughout, which I mop with bleach and water once a week.

- No mold issues (at least not that I'm aware of)

- A/C is usually set to 76 or 77 degrees

I have tried everything from Plug-Ins to scented candles which only provide temporary relief.

Any suggestions would be most appreciated.


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I know it is humid, but open up the windows and get some fresh air in there.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 3:10AM
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Lisa - I am so glad you posted this question, because that is exactly why I logged in this morning. I have the same problem, and have had for some time. I notice it year around, so humidity and air ciculation don't have much to do with it I don't think. Here are my facts:

Central Illinois location. I do open the windows when possible in the winter, but I have this problem in the summer too, when I have the windows open all the time.

Small house (under 900 square feet) built back in the 50s I think. Wood construction,

Hardwood floors. A couple of area rugs but they're new. I thought the old ones might be the culprit so I replaced them. I don't clean the wood floors very often with a liquid cleaner, just vacuum and occasionally damp mop.

Mostly reed shades on windows. Some cafe type curtains which I wash fairly often.

LOTS of books. I'm wondering if some of these maybe the culprit if they're moldy, though frankly, the smell is more "stale" than mold.

I'm thinking at this point of washing down the walls and floor and dusting all the books. Kind of generally washing every surface in the darn house. It would take time but I could do it over a week or so. BIG job! Would it be worth it?

Has anyone ever had this before and dealt with it?

What would be the best cleaning product to use to do a big job like this?

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 5:51AM
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A tough battle, as very few houses are designed for proper ventilation; super-insulation without decent ventilation has made this problem worse..
Be generous with the baking soda and cedar chips as absorbers..
Track down any moisture.
Central vacuums are far better...
I do not know if the ionic air cleaners really work or not..

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 4:07PM
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Do you need a dehumidifier in the basement? I grew up in central Illinois in a 60 year old house located in a humid river valley. Never had a problem. Lots of fresh air to air out the house when it was needed. If you have forced air heat, change the unit's filters monthly. Be sure that you do not have leaky gas pipes or pilot lights. That contributes to smelly homes. Call the gas company and they can check for you. That service used to be free. Smelly old dogs can smell up a home too.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 8:05PM
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My mother's house stinks from lack of fresh air. She doesn't want the heat the summer or the cold in the winter. The best product I have found to freshen the air in my home is Odorcide. It is sold at Wal-Mart for $1.88. There is no sickening fragrance in it, it is in a pump bottle, after looking long and hard for it, I found it on the bottom shelf at walmart. It's wonderful. Also if you have smokers inside your home, set out a small bowl of vinegar in the rooms the smoker uses. I burn candles when I fry bacon or skillet fried meat, it helps.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 10:04PM
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How often do you change the filter on your air handler,if your system has one? That might be an issue.

I use ionic air fresheners in my house (I think they are from Sharper Image). In the winter, I heat with radiators, so I get no fresh air at all. They work well for me. They are expensive and you must clean the filters once per week.

I open the windows whenever possible, but in winter that is often not an option.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2006 at 11:31AM
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I have a few Sharp Plasmacluster air purifiers in my house, and they have been wonderful. They do a really good job of taking the musty smell from my house (it's old) and it just sounds fresh. They've really helped in the bedroom and in my kitchen. I found that they're more expensive than other air cleaners, but their filters last a lot longer, so it's not so expensive in the long run. If you'd like more info, you can check the Sharp website and also reviews on

    Bookmark   January 7, 2006 at 10:23PM
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Hi Again,

I don't have a basement, but a crawl space. I did have a mold problem in the past before I had the roof well insulated, so I know that smell and this is not it. I am also VERY familiar with dog smells :-) and that isn't it either. This is kind of a well - stale dirt smell. I know that sounds awful but it's true.

The filter on the furnace has recently been replaced, and I do open the windows and have them open today in fact. It's in the 50's here! I hate superinsulated houses too.

Last week I started with the bathroom, washed down the walls and floors and washed the rugs and shower curtain - and now that room is nice and fresh. I think I have to tackle the many old books I have, get rid of many and dust all the others. Big job but I guess I won't have to go to the gym for awhile for exercise.

I like the idea of trying an air purifier. Thanks for that aesop and cindy.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2006 at 1:39PM
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I agree, an air cleaner is a great idea, but the ones from Sharper Image are useless, they ranked very poor in all Consumer Reports tests for every year they have been out. You need a HEPA filter air cleaner, Sears has a great selection and has good sales right now. I suggest a Kenmore or Honeywell, both make excellent products.

Also the dehumidifier is a good idea too, especially where you are. Opening windows whenever possible is good too.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2006 at 3:27PM
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Maybe try half a lemon in a cup here and there.
Supposed to absorb/kill room odors. If it works well enough for you ,,, maybe plant a lemon tree, or two and freeze some.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2006 at 7:58PM
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I read that fresh coffee grounds will also absorp odors.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2006 at 9:16PM
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The construction of this house may be the cause of the smell. Crawl spaces are a problem as the ventilation may be poor.
Then, as I recall, a layer of heavy polyethylene sheeting should be placed on the soil...

Funny thing, however - my kitchen, and the neighbors, is situated over a semi-crawl space of clay soil and was totally un-vented..
As this area was very dry, I now use it for some stotage..But I could not get over how pleasant the air smelled, I thought it would stink, instead it smelled great !

    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 12:35PM
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Have you tried spraying furniture and carpets and other fabrics with Frebreeze? This takes out odors and leaves a clean fresh smell.I even spray it on beds when I change sheets.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2006 at 9:02PM
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I see others have suggested a dehumidifier which would be my suggestion as well. It couldnt hurt to freshen your drains.
Dump a bunch of baking soda down them. Then pour some white vinegar in. It will foam like mad, let it sit and work its way down.
After you get a dehumidifier you might rotate some of your funiture outside to sit in the sun for a bit. UV light kills bacteria, pound your cushions and get some fresh air in there. It is hard on your AC though because your funiture will absorb moisture your AC will have to take out.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2006 at 6:08PM
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I also have had a rotten smell in my townhouse recently, only in the past 3 or 4 weeks. The smell is hard to define, something between a damp towel that has laid around for days, and something rotting in the garbage. My house is only 2 years old. The smell is concentrated in the walk-in closet which lies between my bathroom and my bedroom. It seems to be coming from between the walls in the doorway between the bathroom and closet, where there is a pocket door. I have tried everything from cleaning the bathroom, disinfecting the drains, and steam cleaning the rugs in the closet and bedroom to no avail. I have an attic above the closet and have gone up there with a flashlight thinking that there was perhaps a dead animal up there or mold but didn't see a thing. I have even borrowed a flexible scope to look in between the walls where the pocket door is and could not see any mold either. Unfortunately, the only way to completely remove the pocket door is to tear the mouldings off of the door frame, or create a hole in the drywall. Interestingly enough, there is a breeze which blows out of the door frame that seems to carry the smell. I am at a loss for what the smell is and where it might be coming from, and I don't know what type of professional I could contact for advice (ie. can't just open up the yellow pages under smelly houses)!!! Any suggestions would be welcome....


    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 3:08PM
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Our mothers/grandmothers/great-grandmothers, etc. aired out their homes on a daily basis (weather permiting). Have you ever noticed windows in closets of older homes? Yep, they opened them up and aired out the closets.

They aired out the rugs, and shook out "scatter" rugs daily and if possible, laundered them weekly. They also ran a dust mop on hard-surfaced floors at least once a day and swept the kitchen floor after every meal. Curtains got laundered regularly (at least once a month). Every wall and ceiling was washed thoroughly at least twice a year (spring/fall). Bedding was aired, including the mattress. Even though we have many more conveniences in the way of labor-saving devices (vacuums and all the rest of the gadgets), we don't do even half the cleaning they did.

According to manufacturer directions, my wool area rugs are supposed to be taken out twice a year and placed in the sun.

I'd also suggest with our houses being so air-tight that you leave the furnace/air conditioner fan run constantly (it's also easier on the fan motor to leave it on constantly). And to change your furnace filter at least once a month.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 9:11AM
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I agree with the fresh air club. I have an old house and if I don't open the windows (in Northeast winters too) it gets very stale. Also, I have noticed that by dusting and HEPA vacuuming more frequently (at least 1x/week) even if it doesn't look like it needs it, helps a lot.

I have a Blueair air cleaner that works really really well, but only does one room at a time. Its pricey so I only have one, but would put them in every room if I could, it makes a huge difference in air quality. I rotate it around, or use it in guest rooms if I have company.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2006 at 3:14PM
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I recently ordered a product I read about on a forum called "BBJ FRESHDUCT Odor eliminator". You spray it into your return air vents while the ac is running. I haven't tried it yet. Just a thought. Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2006 at 10:15PM
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Our situation seems similar to bboop's. We have an odor that appears to be worse in the pocket door to a toilet room off of the main bedroom. The house is about 4 years old and is on a septic system. We know of no flooding history in the bathroom. The bathroom vent pipe is close to the exhaust fan outlet on the roof. The smell in the small toilet room seems to worsen when the pocket door is closed. It also appears to worsen when the eshaust fan is on and when there a lot of water is used. The house is on a slab. However, the whirlpool tub has a small crawlspace for the whirlpool motor and pipes. The air in that crawlspace seems similar (but less) to the smell in the pocket door opening. The smell appears to be somewhat more septic-related than overtly moldy. We did find some mold in our search that we removed with bleach.

Any suggestions would be appreciated. We haven't taken down the pocket door yet. We would also appreciate hearing followups from bboop and other posts above.

Sebastian and Linda

    Bookmark   December 19, 2006 at 2:52PM
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Check your Air Ducts

Check your Attic

Check your Basement if you have one (or crawl space).

There may not be mold, but their may be water damage????

    Bookmark   November 10, 2008 at 7:45PM
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Yes, check your air ducts. I kept smelling a yucky smell sitting on the couch and DH found that the return air duct was "broken" for lack of a better word and I was smelling the crawl space under this old house.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2008 at 5:39PM
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I bought a bag of volcanic rock stuff at Home Depot for a friend with 4 kitties and guess what? No litter smell!!! =)
Not spam, just cat poop.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 8:54PM
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I bought a can of "Bad Odor Sponge" and set it near my cats' litter box. That and daily scooping keeps the odor down.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 8:47AM
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I haven't read all the replies yet, but put some water in a pot, sprinkle generously with cinnamon and cloves, and let simmer all day. Keep adding water as it evaporates. It's not going to add much humidity to your house. But if it's not TOO humid and still hot outsdie, bite the bullet and open all your windows for awhile. Nothing beats fresh air.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2008 at 7:11AM
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Our bedroom used to get a musty smell from a small bathroom located next to it with poor air circulation. I got diagnosed with a allergies and have had to change the way I clean and how often I clean. Everything gets done at least once a week - every ten days max. That's dusting, vacuuming and general bathroom cleaning with natural cleansers ( bleach can aggravate asthma). We also change air filters monthly and have a HEPA filter in the room.
We got rid of most dust collecting items in the room too.
Pillows get fluffed in the dryer and bedding gets washed in hot water. It is a little extreme but I sleep through the night now and the best part is the room smells GREAT :)
Oh- we live in SW Florida too.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2008 at 5:28PM
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Coffee grounds. I have a couple of containers in our basement. Icky smells are gone. I use coffee from hotels (decaf since I've drank the REAL stuff!)

Replace every couple of months (throw old in compost please!)

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 11:08PM
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This is just a lead - I'd sure like to know too. Several years ago I walked into my mom's former house and was stopped dead in my tracks: It smelled so wonderful. Exactly what it smells like after a good rain. She had allergies and her husband smoked, so she was using some sort of air purifier. I'm sure it wasn't something as expensive as Sharper Image, etc., models. It might have been a good Honeywell. It was fairly big, roundish and white. Wish I would have taken note of it because now mom does not remember the name or model. Does anybody please know what makes this great "after-the-rain" smell?
. . . I kind of like the smell of Frebreeze, but am a little wary about what might be in it. All I can see on the container is "contains no phosphates."
Thank you,

    Bookmark   December 14, 2008 at 10:15AM
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Hey Susan-
I have a Holmes and like it. I like the way my room smells. It sounds like she had a Honeywell. I looked into a lot of them and ended up with this one as its price was right after having to purchase a HEPA Vacuum too.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2008 at 12:59PM
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