Eight common sources of household odours


If you’ve ever been stumped by just what is that smell coming from some mystery location within your house, you’re not alone. It can be embarrassing, but it’s important to locate the source of the bad odours as they can be an indicator of further damage.

Here are eight of the most common causes of bad odours in the home.

Probably the most common source of bad household smells, mould is a species of fungus that lives on plant and animal matter including building materials and carpets. Like all fungi, mould relies on a supply of this matter and moisture in order to reproduce and spread.

“Mould is not always easy to recognise. It often looks like ‘fuzz’ or appears to be a stain, smudge or discoloration. The most common moulds are black, green or white. However, mould can be many other colours, ranging from grey to orange to brown and can also change depending on age or life stage,” the Victorian government’s Better Health Channel advises.

Make sure to dispose of food scraps right away and regularly clean appliances that come into contact with organic matter such as dishwashers and washing machines.

New furniture
Less well known as a source of questionable odours is new furniture. You may be thinking ‘but I love the smell of new furniture’ and it’s true new furniture does have an alluring scent … at first.

What you’re breathing in when you take a satisfied whiff of that couch are chemicals being released into the air in a process known as ‘off-gassing’.

“It’s the airborne release of a chemical, a chemical in vapor form. Whenever you smell a product, it’s off-gassing. It happens the most when a product is new,” Architectural Digest reports.

“But many products or materials continue off-gassing even after the ”new smell” has gone away – the fumes are just much more subtle.”

After the new smell fades, chemicals can continue to pour into your home and over time can add a musty odour, especially when the scents of multiple furniture pieces combine.

The carpet in your home acts like a giant sponge, absorbing food scraps and various spilled liquids. Regular vacuuming and steam cleaning are important to keep the smells at bay.

“Carpets are just big filters capturing contaminants. If they aren’t flushed out regularly, odours could occur,” carpet installer Shawn Trevino says.

“Usually, it’s neglected carpets that have odour issues.”

It’s not uncommon to forget that tub of yoghurt or packet of sausages at the back of the fridge, but it should be one of your first points of call when trying to locate a bad smell in your home. Make a habit of cleaning the fridge out completely at least once a month.

But it actually may not be leftover food in your fridge causing the smell. CNET reports that bad odours can actually be absorbed by plastic, so it may be the plastic in the fittings of the fridge itself causing the issue.

Sewer pipes
Correctly fitted sewerage pipes should ensure that none of the nasty bathroom smells make their way back into your house, but issues arise when these pipes become clogged and blocked.

“Hair, food scraps and other material can build up in the S-bend of the kitchen or bathroom drain. If the smell is coming from inside the house, you may have a blocked toilet or sewer,” says Hunter Water.

“Sewer odour can also occur because the S-bend has dried out, causing the water seal to become broken. Breaking the water seal allows odours from the sewer main to enter the home via the toilet, floor sinks and drains.”

Stale sheets
Like carpet, sheets absorb a lot of dirt, oil and moisture from our bodies while we sleep. Changing bedsheets regularly is a great way to eliminate the smells than can come from that, but even clean sheets in the linen cupboard may not be safe.

“Cotton is hygroscopic, this is a fancy word that means it can absorb water from the air,” says home maintenance blog Home-Ec 101.

“So even though your sheets are perfectly dry when they are placed on the shelf, they absorb the humidity in the air providing a great environment for bacteria and mildew. The organisms’ waste is the source of the musty smell.”

Pets are part of many homes and most pet owners couldn’t imagine life without their furry friend. But your precious pooch or kitty could be leaving a smell behind that you can’t detect because you’re used to it.

“The main culprits for pet smells in our homes are the upholstery found on chairs and furniture, plus carpets and rugs,” cleaning company Cleanhouse Melbourne advises.

Hot water heater
You might’ve heard people reporting the smell of rotten eggs coming from their taps when using hot water. The cause is usually a leak of sulphide gas from the water heater.

“By far the most common reason your water smells this way is because there is hydrogen sulfide gas in the supply,” bottled water company Beloka Water advises.

“Often, people find that the smell of eggs is only present in water coming from the hot water tap. This means that the hydrogen sulfide gas is entering the supply as a result of what your water heater is doing to it.

“This problem can be fixed, but not by yourself. Instead, the best thing to do is call up a local boiler specialist and they can remedy the situation.”

Have you had any problems with household smells? What did you do to fix it? Let us know in the comments.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

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