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How Can I Get Rid Of The Sour House Smell?

Q. Our house smells sour (motel room like) no matter what we do!! We are very clean people– got any suggestions on how to permanently get rid of the odor. I’m tired of covering it up with candles, sprays, etc. I’ve even tried baking soda in the carpets! I also have to be careful because my children have horrible asthma/allergies. Thanks, Heather :)

Dear Heather, I’ll bet that something (probably pet urine) is in your carpet pad. Cleaning the carpet only treats the surface, not the carpet pad. If you don’t want to replace the pad, try using a steam cleaner and add a scoop of Oxyclean to the cleaning solution. Good Luck, – Katie

Buy a large pump of “FEBREZE”…it works on everything. Smelly hampers, sticky rental cars, sleeping bags that reek of camp fire, you name the smell I have used febreze. You can get it at the supermaket. Another idea is to use a citrus odor neutralizing spray, I used this at a Salon I worked at to rid the place of perm smell. BB

If you have a forced air heating and cooling system with ducts, get the ducts checked. We have a 45 yr. old house that had mold and LOTS of build up of dirt and other nasty stuff apparently causing an odor. The ducts were rusting out and we needed to have them changed. The newer ones are much more energy efficient. We have saved money on A/C costs this summer. Get a company that cleans ducts to inspect them. Some have a camera that can show you what is in your ducts. But be careful who you get. Use a reputable company and check with the Better Business Bureau. Ask them for references. Some only clean a short way and spray a deodorizer. The estimate we got to clean ours was only $350.00 less than new ones cost us. This was not cheap but we have a grandson with asthma, too. We thought it was vital to his health to do this.

You may have a mold of some sort growing in your carpet or behind your wallpaper.  Create a bleach solution (1 to 10 to start, then up to 1 to 4 if it does not work) and gently wash down all of your walls and mop boards.  Rent a hot water carpet cleaner (I actually purchased one and I use it four times a year) and put a bleach solution into the reservoir rather than the soap they try to sell you  (add a drop or two of dish soap, but no more:  it is the water that cleans, not the soap.  Adding too much soap will actually make your carpet dirty because it does not rinse out of the carpet and soap bonds with dirt.).  I have never had this bleach solution discolor even a very dark carpet.  It kills “everything” that might be causing an odor and the hot water cleaning really helps allergies as well.  Keep babies off the rugs as breathing chemicals of any sort is especially bad for them. If after cleaning like this the smell comes back more quickly than you think it should, get a dehumidifier.  Dry out the living quarters first, and then clean out your basement so it is empty of anything that could hold moisture and run it down there as well. Make especially certain to remove cardboard boxes.  Never run a dehumidifier where you have an open window or you are trying to dry out the atmosphere!  An air conditioner actually works even better because of the filtering system in it, but it is too cold where I live to still be using one. Finally, one of those devices that produces ozone or air-born hydrogen peroxide can also work, but they tend to be expensive and may not get to the root of the problem.  Covering or filtering odors is always more costly than eliminating their source. – Judy

At our last house we had the same problem ! I too burned many candles and complained about the smell. It was the old shingles ! We replaced them and instant relief ! The 25 or 40 year olds shingles had been covered up for many years & had years to mold and smelled terrible!! Good luck….. Lisa

This is for Heather with the sour house smells. We also had house smells and allergies. I burned many a candle trying to get rid of it. We decided to pull up our wall-to-wall carpet and that is where is smells were. We completely got rid of it and the stinky tack board it was attached to. We cleaned and painted our cement floors and the smells are gone. We use area rugs in the rooms now and it has really helped us. – Robin.

To get rid of any unwanted odor in the home place a bowl of white vinegar in an out of the way place in the room where the odor is strongest. Within 24 hours the odor will be almost undetectable. Within 48 hours it will be gone completely. It does not mask the odor but gets rid of it.

Perhaps it’s because there is a moisture problem. You may have molds/mildew in hidden areas. You may have to have a professional evaluate this status. Check your crawl space or basement for molds. A dehumidifier (standing unit or an addition to your heating and air conditioning units) may eliminate the problem. However, existing molds or mildew would have to be cleaned. Molds and mildew can trigger allergy and asthma symptoms for anyone in the house. Another “quick fix” to odors is charcoal briquettes hidden in inconspicuous places or small bowls of white vinegar here and there.

We have lived in several homes with disturbing smells. One was a trailer where cats had urinated in carpeted rooms and the carpet reeked especially on damp days. Cats also apparently loved to pee into your registers. We also once had a strange pile of goo in our vents that just reeked. We did end up moving, and replaced the carpet for the new tenants; we hope it solved the problem. Another problem could be mice in your vents. Finding the source of the foul smell is going to be tough. If you have pets, smell around your baseboards as you enter the house because pets have obnoxious habits. One house we had the previous owner had covered up a damp basement smell with a special type of cedar chip hidden behind light switches in the basement. We discovered in the spring there was a huge crack that leaked water into the laundry right into the drain. Cost us bucks to have it excavated and sealedIT was dry after that and the basement did not smell. Another home we found carpet hidden in a tiny basement room that reeked of cat urine. We dealt with that. Other problems we’ve encountered are unvented basement bathroom toilets, or wet vented plumbing. Or damp pantries. Or bathrooms with no windows or exhaust fan. Use your sniffer nose and go around each room to see it certain areas have a higher concentration of odor. Check your weeping tile drainage in the basement (a hole with a cover in your basement floor) to make sure it is flowing. Make sure your vent stack from your bathrooms is not plugged on the roof.

Sometimes carpets are steam cleaned unprofessionally and a lot of water remains. This causes mildewing and a related odor. Remove your carpets and put in hardwood or similar type flooring, with area rugs that can be cleaned outside of the home and dried before returning to the area. If your carpets are ten years old, it doesn’t hurt to remove them. Check for urine staining on the wood underneath. You can try disinfecting the wood, and then staining it to seal in the smell if you can’t bear tearing out the sub floor. Make sure your furnace is in good repair and is not leaking noxious gases, and check your natural gas lines for loose connections. Rule out all the smells one by one. Some cooking habits (ie curry, certain sausages, cabbage, etc.) leave smells behind that can be rather odious when you come back from being somewhere else. Good luck. RS

31 thoughts on “How Can I Get Rid Of The Sour House Smell?”

  1. So I moved into an Apartment and I’ve been at the same a apartment for about a year now. I am a non smoker and I smell a hint of cigarette smoke coming form the air and heat unit where the filter goes when my unit is off and I don’t know how to get rid of it…and my maintenance people are not very helpful…what can I do to rid the house of CIG smoke…?

    1. I live in a condo and smell the cigarette smoke from my neighbour’s condo – it creeps in the common air line that is used to vent the bathroom moisture to the outside.

      Think of it as a ‘Y’ connector with a line coming to the two bathrooms – one on his side and one on my side of the firewall between our two units. Unfortunately, when the fan is NOT running, the outside air pressure can force the air back into our two units. His smoke can find it’s way into our unit.

      My solution – short of keeping the bathroom fan running (very noisy and annoying) – is when I notice the smell is to spray the heaviest cleaning solution I can find – Pine scented or otherwise into the bathroom fan and turn the fan on to circulate the air OUT and take the smoke residue with it.

      I am researching an in-line booster fan to suck the air out of the condo. I suspect I will have to install this on the outside vent on the balcony to avoid expensive installation costs of putting it inside the ductwork.

      Not sure if this will help you. But I suspect you may have a similar problem. It sounds like you are sharing the smoke of your neighbours. And keep in mind, depending on how your apartment is designed and built, this may include your neighbours above and below you as well as on both sides of you.


    2. I just moved, and the previous tenant had cats and also smoked the; odors were throughout the house. The landlord compensated me for repainting all the interior walls, I added the Air-ReNu paint additive that a friend recommended and thankfully, the house stays smelling clean and fresh. One application works continuously and will last for 10-12 years.

  2. We have a burning smell came from outside by air vent I guess and now six days already I still smell the burning smell. Tried to get rid of it by opened windows and doors but the smell still comes back. What should I do?

  3. Hi I am driven mad by an unknown smell in my bedroom, I have smelt the carpet,curtains,in the wardrobe, the pillows , in the drawers!!!!!! All to no avail, it is not too bad in the day when window is open but in the morning after the window has been closed all night and the door shut its horrible like a stale sweaty shoe smell. It is driving me mad I live on my own so nobody else to blame !!!!!! I just wish I knew were it was coming from . Any ideas what I can do please?????????

    1. Do you live on a slab or conventional foundation? If you are on a conventional foundation the smell could be coming from your crawl space. We have noticed that smell too. For us, it is coming from the places where they cut the pipes in the master bathroom. You can look under your sink and see if the smell is greater. In our case that hole is letting in the smell of the crawlspace.

      Or, you could have a leaking sink. We had one and I used JB Weld to glue the hole shut. I had been leaking in the bathroom cabinet. Fortunately, we had lined it with newspaper so it didn’t ruin the cabinet.

      Hope that helps.


    2. Hi, I have a similar sweaty laundry basket smell in my bedroom even though nothing in there seems to smell up close. I believe it is my flat-pack wardrobe/drawers furniture – sounds ridiculous I know, but at my last house I had the same issue, then ended up moving bedrooms due to noisy Rooks living in my chimney (right above the master bedroom). I moved most of the furniture including drawers, but left the main wardrobe where it was as the other room had built in cupboards, and the smell stopped. I had all but forgotten about it until a year ago when I moved house and the same smell came back – the wardrobe is back in the bedroom! I’ve since gotten rid of my main wardrobe unit and only kept the corner unit which is inconvenient. The smell did get better but it’s still there, I think I need to get rid of the whole set, but even flat-pack furniture is too expensive!

      1. The stench is still there! The smell has been there 5 years ( the time I have lived here). I forgot I’d even posted this. The wardrobe is a 1940s one I got off a friend and 2 years after I moved in so the smell is not the wardrobe. The bedroom stank even when there was just my bed in it and a clothes rail with my clothes on when I first moved in. I don’t know what a slab or conventional foundation is. I’m in the UK and it’s a small 3 1/2 roomed house. It can smell downstairs too sometimes but the bedroom is the worst. Now the mad thing is my neighbour next door is in the same type of house, has 2 dogs that are in the house nearly all day, boils up meat for them and she smokes yet her house doesn’t stink like mine.
        I have lived in one roomed studios where there’s a kitchen area and cooked in there and never known such a stink as this house. it really smells like rancid old laundry has been left there for years, and I hasten to add I am a spotlessly clean person- shower morning and night, laundry isn’t left festering in the bathroom, bed linen changed weekly, windows open, incense and oil pots going etc.
        I have had a leak in the house since this post but that was downstairs- the smell was here when I moved in.
        I do get mice from time to time, but so did my neighbour, and she has no stench.
        The only thing I can think of is the carpets- she has no carpets in her house but laminate flooring. I was told the carpets were new when I moved in but maybe they’d been kept in a cellar beforehand as I know the land lady keeps stuff in
        It’s so bad I hate going up to bed at night.
        I am waiting to be re housed by a social housing project ( as I am poor, not in paid work)- I can’t wait to get put of this stinky house!!

        1. Open your cold air return and smell inside, I think some water from the air conditioner drain backed up in there because mine smells horrible. I had it cleaned but it still smells so I put two trays of charcoal bricketts inside and now I don’t smell the stink eveytime I walk through the living room where that vent is located.

        2. Please listen to me and please believe me!

          You need to convert another area in your apartment to your sleeping area and abandon your bedroom!

          You could even buy a cheap Air Mattress and sleep elsewhere in your apartment tonight!

          BEEN THERE DONE THAT and you will wish you had done it from the beginning.

          It is too bad that you can not rip up the carpet and investigate that.

          Also, if there is anything beneath with materials like Particle Board … that keeps Foul Odors like a sponge.

          I AM SO SORRY FOR YOU! I am a Christian and I just prayed for you!

          I am experiencing a terrible odor problem in my current apartment that is in all of the kitchen cabinets & drawers & closets. It is a LOOOooong story. In my case here, I live in the bedroom with an Air Cleaner. I did not notice the smell when I first saw this apartment but the windows and everything were wide open. My first night here is when I discovered this FOUL odor! It smelled like dead bodies and other horrible smells. The neighbors told me the odors from the previous tenant were so bad that they could smell it in the hallway. Furthermore there was a terrible Roach infestation. Lastly, everything is made with cheap very old Particle Board which is nasty like an odor sponge. Obviously I did not know any of this when I moved in! I have never used my Kitchen because the smell is so offensive. I eat prepared foods and raw vegetables directly from the Refrigerator and eat in the bedroom. my computer and everything is in the bedroom! I too am ow income and had a very difficult time finding any place to live. I am a Military Veteran, 60 years old, disabled, low income … so finding another place is going to be very difficult.

          I pray the Lord will help you find a better place ASAP.

    3. Try vinegar and water on hardwoods I have the same issue.I also read that if you use 1 to 10 bleach and water ratio it won’t hurt Carpet just removes smell. Dry with fan adequately. Good luck to all!

  4. My basement started smelling from one side like cat piss. It looks like its coming from the wall’s.i have a small window there and it looks out to the street. I poured a gallon of fabulous thinking the cats might be peeing nearby. The smell has gotten worse

    1. A cat did pee on my basement window ledge that’s even with the ground. It was a bathroom window ironically! Maybe they smelled the toilet thru the open window and it inspired them? Cats hate the smell of ammonia, so I had to scrub the screen and all the window sill area with ammonia. It never happened again.

  5. This reminds me of how a guy got back at his nasty wife who got the house in their divorce. He stuffed the hollow curtain rods with shrimp parts just as he was moving out. It took a couple weeks to really do the job!

  6. It may be from one or more of the bathroom drains, if you have a shower you don’t use often. Sewer gas may build up. Run water regularly in all drains to avoid this. To get rid of the smell, pour baking soda and vinegar and let it sit. After a while run water. Gets rid of the small quick. Google online for more ideas, but this one works.

    1. DO NOT pour baking soda and vinegar in your pipes!!!!!!!! unless you want it to explod back into your face.Pour vinegar and boiling water to maintain all your pipes every 6 months.It will also break down mineral deposits

  7. We have a 15 year old house that smells when the air is not on. We’ve had the ducts and carpets cleaned, we have a cat and carpet pads with a moisture barrier, there is no wall paper or moisture leaks. Its a pretty sound house no wood exterior, brick vinyl.. Ideas?

  8. Shut off all your computers, TV’s, cable boxes, modems, etc. By shut off I mean pull the plugs out. Air out your house if possible. See if the smell goes away. It may take several days it you can’t open your windows to air out your house. This will eliminate any electronics as the cause. The hardest part of this will be living without those electronic devices for a few days. Go to the library and get a book, or talk to your spouse to pass the time.

  9. i got rid of some oldish cobwebs today-STINKY!!!!!!used febreeeze and
    eucalyptus oil. now the wait 48hrs…..summer cleaning leftover from spring….!!!!!!

  10. Milk got spilled in the back of my chevy equinox I have tried odor ban spray, baking powder an neither has worked. I even put air freshener in but still can smell it every time I get back in it. Please tell me what I can do to get that smell out.. Thanks!!

  11. Our stinking problem was because our drains were backed up and our septic tank needed emptying after 16 years. Actually, with our huge septic tank, it should be pumped every 7 years. Normal sized septic tanks are to be pumped out every 3-4 years.

    We called the septic tank service to pump it out and it smells a lot better here. The smells were coming up out of our drains, due to the heavy rains, even though there was a kink in every drain pipe. When it rains sewage water does not always drain down, it stands there in the pipes, stinking up the place. We were told to flush a product called: RidX or flush warm water and yeast down this eats the solids in the pipes and septic system. Horrible smell removed. Whole house smells better. Now to get rid of sour smell in computer room, the mystery is: is it high humidity and heat causing mold? So we are using a dehumidifier and ozone blasting that room to get rid of the hidden mold. That room has laminate floors and wood paneling walls and in the past eliminating humidity in these tropics, has often solved the problem for months.

  12. I’ve discovered a few reasons why my house stinks. The fireplace was leaking air back down the chimney, causing a smoke/ wet dog smell. The other problem is my attic isn’t insulated properly, causing the attic air to backdraft down the ductwork cavities, specifically, the cavity that brings the furnace and water heater exhaust pipe to the roof, is leaking air back down the cavity into the basement and other ductwork cavities. The other problem is our windows are old and made of wood. Years of condensation has caused them to smell musty.

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