• Michele Wright-REALTOR®

Are You Nose-blind? Funky Odors In Your House Only Your Guests Can Smell

Ever hang out in your house for hours thinking it smells like home, only to go run an errand or check the mail and upon your return smell something... off? Maybe it's last night's dinner, your gym shoes by the door, or just the stale smell of a home that has had the windows shut for far too long. Chances are, if you can't detect any of you home's most foul aromas, you've got nose blindness. (just like those ridicululous commercials...)

According to Dr. Richard Doty, Director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania, "You adapt to the smells around you." What?! Take a deep breath in your home, smell anything? Step outside for about 20 minutes and come back in to the same spot and take a deep breath.... smell anything now?

On a basic sensory level, your processing mechanism becomes less sensitive to the continuous stimuli of the smell. Smell is a response in your olfactory epithelium to a chemical stimuli (the odor particles). So in other words (from my former Science Teacher self), your body, in an effort to prevent overstimulation, becomes numb to the smell... hence, nose-blindness. Some people can even become so used to the smells and basically learn to ignore them. So what do you do about them with the impending holiday season's guests or even potential buyers from turning up their noses to the smell of your home? Here are some of the most common nose blindness culprits, and how to eliminate them from your home:

Mustiness Poor old Aunt ______.... You know the one I'm talking about, the one we all have.... the one that seems to be completely unaware and unaffected by the stout mustiness emanating from her home when you go for a visit. If you're home has taken on a musty smell, there could be a few culprits. One, like poor Aunt Bess is probably a result of a home that just needs some fresh air blowing in from the outside. (maybe the cool fresh air is a risk for her health?) Open the windows, turn on the fans and leave it be for a few hours. If that doesn't help, a whole house deep clean might be in order. Change the air filters, vaccum and carpet clean the floors. For chronic mustiness, you can even deodorize rooms by setting out bowls of vinegar, cat litter, baking soda (like you do for foul fridge smells), or — as crazy as this sounds — an onion also will do the trick. Cut one in half and let it sit in a bowl in the room. The onion smell goes away in a few hours, and so will the dankness. In some extreme cases, an ozone machine and fresh paint and maybe even carpet might be the answer.

The other cause of mustiness is caused by mildew and mold, which — for better or for worse — your eyeballs can easily detect as well. Do a careful inspection of your basement and wet areas (laundry rooms, garages, and bathrooms), from the darkest corner to the surface of every cardboard box or bookshelf. If you find gray or white splotches anywhere, it's probably mildew. If it's fuzzy or (gasp) black, it is likely mold.  If you find these offending aroma producers, you'll want to remove the offending items and then attack the space with some elbow grease with a regular household cleaner to scrub away mildew. I have found that using a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar with a drop or two of dawn dish soap is a great cleaner for this. Then, you'll want to assess the mold situation. It may even be necessary to call for a professional opinion as there are varieties of mold that can actually be detrimental to your breathing. And remember that bleach isn't necessarily the cure-all for mold (for some strains it can actually make it worse!) After eliminating the issue, it's time to turn your focus to prevention. To prevent mildew and mold from returning, consider running a dehumidifier or improving air circulation and sunlight exposure in the affected area if possible. Smelly Bedding No one likes to talk about it, but your bedding can be a ripe smelling spot and source of overall "off" smells in a house. Similar to pet odors, knowing if your mattress could smell is easy: Do you have a human body with skin and oils? Do you sleep on it? I kid, but eventually, all the dead skin and body oils you shed while sleeping are going to build up, and stink they will, especially if your bedding is older. (you know, more than 8 years old?? Did you know mattresses are heavier after years of use than new ones? Now think about why that is..... ewwww). What if your bed isn't 8 years old and you've washed the bedding, but still want to "clean" your mattress. You can't exactly toss your mattress in the washing machine, so you'll have to deal with it where it lies. But it's an easy fix: Sprinkle baking soda on it, let it sit for an hour or more, and then vacuum up the soda. (This works for memory foam, too.) Add a couple drops of essential oil to the soda (drip directly into the box and shake it well to mix evenly) for a pleasant smell. Notice any sweat or other stains? Make a light paste from baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and apply it to the stained area. Scrub it in and let dry, then vacuum it up. (Side tip: Hydrogen Peroxide is a great little helper for cleaning blood stains--hello nosebleeds-- as it helps break down the enzymes that allow blood to hang on to stuff. I've even read somewhere that the paste you make with baking soda can even help with dingey armpit stains....)

Pet Smells There's one easy way to tell if your home smells like pets: Do you have pets? If you answer yes to this, then more than likely, there is a small amount of pet aroma. (even for the most vigilant and compulsive cleaners). The aroma could be from pet urine (hello, puppies!), but more likely it's just hair, gunky ears, and weeks-old slobber on their favorite toy or bed. 

The first step to cleaning up pet smells is bathing Max/Butch/etc. Bathe and groom them regularly with a pet specific shampoo or one that a vet recommends. Some pooches have serious skin allergies to human shampoos and soaps that can actually irritate their skin and allow excess sebum to be produced which results in dermatitis or other nasty infections. And if your pet is a cat, then extra caution and guidance from your vet is necessary.

Then, vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. If they have a favorite couch or cushion, cover it with a blanket and run it — and the cushion cover — through the wash weekly. Every time you vacuum, start with a hearty sprinkle of baking soda on the carpet. Baking soda is a cost effective odor neutralizer. And use that crevice tool liberally; pet hair loves tight spaces like the border between the carpet and the wall, the edges of your steps and that little crack of space between the stove and your cabinets. (Don't have a crevice tool? Try using an old toilet paper roll. Attach it to the hose with a rubber band tightly and then fold the cardboard to a narrow slit.) If by an unfortunate chance it is urine or dried urine, use more of that baking soda followed by a half-water, half-vinegar solution to neutralize the odor. Refrigerators It's your fridge and freezer's job to keep your food fresh, but they need a little help staying fresh themselves. Itty bitty food bits hang out long after you've tossed the item from which they came. Although you might not notice the odor creep, you may notice your ice starting to taste funny or see those food morsels start to accumulate in the corners of your fridge shelves. Or maybe you're like me and sometimes throw a crockpot insert or caserole dish right into the fridge with only a glass lid or a flimsily put on foil cover... and then the fridge smells strongly of the dish. To rid odors from from your freezer and fridge, your first line of defense is to leave an opened box of baking soda and hope it resolves itself quickly. If you want to tackle it in a more aggressive manner, unplug the machine and empty it to do a thorough cleaning with a mix of hot water and baking soda (it really is a magic cure all). Additionally, you can sanitize the appliance with a solution of one tablespoon bleach to one gallon of water. Let it air out for 15 minutes. Try wiping it down with vinegar for extra odor eliminating, or even leave the door open for a few days if it is particularly rank (ie after a power outtage)


Trash Cans

If your home smells like garbage, it could just be the trash can. There are a few quick tips to rid the smell. First and foremost, take out the trash! LOL. Okay, so that's common sense, but lets also think about what you throw away regularly. If you're not one to recycle, then simply rinsing out your cans and containers as if you were going to recycle, will help eliminate the smells they can produce while hanging out in the can for trash day. Additionally, having a composting process available will eliminate a large portion of food waste from making its way to the can and releasing its noxious fumes as it breaks down. A little tip I learned from the internet, lay a dryer sheet in the bottom of the can before setting the bag in. Nowadays, trashbags with febreeze are readily available.

What if you have all that and it still smells? Then it's time to give the can a bath. Baking soda also has your back when it comes to odors. If your trash can is giving you grief, give it a good wash with hot water and soap or just as you did for the fridge, baking soda and hot water and wipe it down--inside and out. Then replace the bag with a fresh new bag and sprinkle baking soda inside of it.

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