stinky radiator

lalalaAugust 14, 2008

Hi all,

We have gas steam-heat radiators in our 1936 massachusetts house, which we moved into last fall. In the living room they are decorative built-in radiators, flush with the wall with a space behind them. It's very difficult to get into that space. Just recently I have noticed a kind of sweet musty smell coming from them. It's hard to describe: not just an ordinary musty/dust/mold smell, but a distinctively sweet dusty/musty smell. I hate it! I didn't notice it in the winter when the radiators were actually on. It seems like it wafts in on a draft sometimes--like the radiator has bad breath. I *did* smell the exact same smell in a closet of our old apartment from the same approximate era. It's not the smell of gas. I will try to clean behind them, but I know I won't be able to get very good access.

Any suggestions as to what that smell is exactly and why it might have just shown up recently? ...and of course, what I should do to get rid of it?


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You won't notice it this coming winter either, I'd guess. I know JUST EXACTLY the smell you are describing. You can duplicate it by turning on a very dusty steam iron. LOL. I get it sometimes too on hot water heat radiators or around our heating system in summer. Dank, sweet, dusty smell. Humidity, dust, confined air flow. You can get those long, pliable feather or some mircle fibre dusters to back into the labyrinth, or set a dehumidifier or fan near the units for a couple of days to dry out the wall area behind it. We turn our whole system off in summertime (no sense keeping the boiler cranking), but if you have the ability to kick it on without too much trouble for an hour or two in the evening, you may want to do it. Take the opportunity to bleed out the air from the lines at the risers. I have had a riser stuck open (we have the older ones fashioned very like a bicycle tire valve). It seeped water just enough to make the area damp by the radiator, and of course we got 'that smell'. Good luck.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 7:04PM
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Thank you for validating my sense of smell! Your explanation makes a lot of sense, especially since we've had an incredibly wet and humid summer. I'm sure there's at least some condensation back there. I have a fan trained on the radiator right now and will see if I can bleed out the air.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 10:32PM
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