Old houses can smell. Not always, but many do. Maybe your house had the crazy cat lady or a bunch of fraternity brothers who never cleaned up after wild parties. The older your house is, the more likely you had a dirty occupant at one point in its life. The best you can do is clean it up and pray it takes care of the offending odor.
I have to give credit to one of my readers, Ted Innes, for the inspiration for this post. I’m just glad I wasn’t there in person to smell whatever motivated him to email me about this topic.
Here are a few possible sources of that frightening smell and how to deal with each.
- Mildew/Mold – Kind of a musty smell. This one can be pretty dangerous for health reasons if there is mold growth. Have a mold inspector check if you suspect this issue. If it’s just too humid in the home, then a good dehumidifier will help. I even keep some packages of damp rid in our closets to keep the scent at bay. Also, if you don’t have a bath fan installed in your bathrooms, you are likely having excess moisture in those areas.
- Dead Critters – If your crawl space or attic aren’t sealed up properly, then you may have critters crawling around in your walls. They’ll leave excrement and occasionally die in your house and neither smells very good. Get some rodent proof wire mesh and spend a day in the crawl space sealing things up. It’s not fun work, but you’ll be happy you did it. While you’re at it, throw a couple pieces of rat poison in the sealed up crawl space if you think you have critters living there currently. The smell will be pretty rough when they die for about 2 weeks, but after that, your house will be much more human friendly.
- Stained Walls – Sometimes what the house really needs is a new coat of paint inside. From nicotine stains to dirt to old cooking stains, your walls and ceilings are likely covered with leftovers from the previous owners. A nice zero-VOC indoor paint on trim, walls, and ceilings can really make a difference.
- Old Pipes – Old plumbing has lots of corrosion happening inside of it. 80 or 100 year old cast-iron pipes are likely full of piles of rust. Or you could have a p-trap under a sink that isn’t functioning properly. A whole house repipe is expensive, but it might just be a section of the plumbing that is particularly bad off. Have a plumber out to take a peek and see what he recommends.
- Dirty Ductwork – I’ve had folks have a HVAC company come out and use pressurized air and cleaner to clean out filthy ductwork to really help improve indoor air quality. While you’re at it, change you air filters regularly and keep your system running smoothly. Properly filtered air makes the indoors nicer and saves money on the utility bills. A double whammy!
- Pet Stains – Pets Stains on hardwood floors are pretty much impossible to fix other than if you remove the damaged floorboards and replace them. (Visit our post How To: Repair Hardwood Floors where I walk you through the whole process) Until you remove the boards, it will continue to smell despite the claims of infomercial hosts touting amazing new products.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
5 thoughts on “My Old House Stinks!”
ours was actually to 40+ years of wallpaper! multiple layers over the years absorbing who-knows-what? removed the wallpaper and saw (smelled) an immediate improvement.
Some of those smells smell differently than others. I can tell, for the most part, when something smells “wet” or mildewy versus when something smells like pet urine or a dead animal. What I want to know is what might cause that “old musty house” smell. We repainted our old house, and took out all the carpet, but even still when we leave for the week to visit family, it smells like old musty house when we return, kind of like nobody has lived in it for a while. What do you think that is?
Also, keep watch for discoloration of your walls, especially in walls you know have plumbing behind them, like in the kitchen and the bathroom. You could have a leak, however small, that’s causing mold and mildew growth.
Great point Amanda!
Make sure all that dry sand underneath isn’t being used as a litterbox by some animal.