Oh god, the smell! The horrible horrible smell!
August 25, 2008 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Oh my god. Worst smell ever, of all time, in my kitchen. Best I can describe is a combination of fermented rice, lots of fish sauce, maybe a bit of turpentine...really horrible. Basically we waited a couple of days too long to empty the garbage, something fermented and leaked in the bag, then it got all over the floor when we tried to take the bag out. How do I get the smell out?

Any ideas of what the actual smell might be (i.e. chemically)? The strange thing, the smell almost smells like something that would be diluted several thousand times and then used as a key ingredient in cologne or something.

But yeah, mostly we just need to know how to get rid of the smell. It's impregnated into the garbage can (rinsed it out thoroughly with hot hot water and soap, still stinks). It also seems to have gotten into some of the lovely hardwood floor of our kitchen. I've wiped it off, soaked it down with kitchen cleaner, and wiped it off again with minimal results.

I can no longer smell where the spill in the kitchen was unless I put my nose close to the floor (mostly because I'm used to it by now) but when I do put my nose down there I want to puke...reminds me of the more pungent sections of an Asian supermarket, but in a bad way.

Also, I kind of am fascinated by horrible smells. Really horrible smells sometimes smell so bad that they also smell...good? If that makes any sense. So I would love to know what some of the sources of the smell might be. Obviously some of the smell may be food items in and of themselves, but I think we're seriously smelling the results of some kind of unholy chemical reaction
posted by Deathalicious to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: The third component isn't turpentine exactly...it's a very sweet-smelling, kind of tangy smell. Sorta sports-drinky?
posted by Deathalicious at 3:53 PM on August 25, 2008

Vinegar and coffee grounds are excellent de-smellifiers. Maybe a vinegar wash (and clear water rinse) then a sprinkle of coffee grounds left overnight?
posted by macadamiaranch at 4:00 PM on August 25, 2008

I have no idea, but the other day I tossed some mushrooms that were getting spongy and the next morning I woke up and I swear it was like an animal had died in my kitchen and had been sitting there decaying for a week. Had any mushrooms recently?
posted by phunniemee at 4:02 PM on August 25, 2008

I got a nasty urine smell out of a cement foundation with a paste of baking soda and water, but I don't know if you want to try this on a hardwood floor. It should work fine on the trash can though. Best of luck to you!
posted by Daddy-O at 4:10 PM on August 25, 2008

Simple home deodorizers here.

Seven all natural home deodorizers here.
posted by mdonley at 4:11 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For the garbage can, try CitraSolve, an amazingly strong solvent made from orange peels. (Test it first to make sure it won't dissolve the plastic of your garbage can - a few plastics are susceptible.) It smells quite nice, so it will help mask the stink while you're working.

Dunno if this would be OK for your hardwood floor - it might strip the finish or uglify the wood. Test it in an inconspicuous spot if you dare.

Your comment about fish sauce reminds me of the time I went to visit a fish sauce "factory" in Malaysia, which consisted of a few cement vats on a riverbank where the fishing boats docked. The day's catch was sorted and the worthless fish were tossed into a vat, where they sat and rotted in the tropical sun for a few days. The sludge was stirred now and then, salt and water were added, and eventually the clear liquid was drained off the top and bottled. At some point somebody shoveled the sludge into the river and the process started over. The place reeked to high heaven and put me off Thai food for quite a while. (I'm over it now, thank goodness, and use fish sauce with abandon.) But that was the worst fermentation I've ever smelled!

To answer your tiny question, the chemical reaction you're thinking of is our old friend fermentation. Beer, bread, wine, fish sauce and stinky garbage all owe their fragrance to the hard work of countless microbes. High protein things like meat and fish contain a lot of amino acids, which are broken down to various amines during fermentation. Stuff with lower protein content gets broken down without generating as many amines. Amines generally smell pretty bad to humans, which is why rotting fish reeks yet your vegetable compost isn't bad at all.

As to why some things like fish sauce smell disgusting in high concentration but appetizing at lower concentrations ... dunno, can't help you there.
posted by Quietgal at 4:14 PM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: With a user name like Deathalicous, I've got to wonder about your table scraps. I agree about the fermentation diagnosis, but fermentation is a pretty broad term. The turpentine thing reminds me of the smell of cooking some wild mushrooms.

One of the most amazing products I've ever used for stank is the Febreeze line. I hate to sound like a product endorsement but the stuff does work pretty well. Just used it to neutralize the smell of a spilled 1/2 gallon of milk in our car.

We use the fabric spray, rather than the air freshener, if it makes any difference. It's also the non-aerosol version and we're kind of crunchy that way.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:24 PM on August 25, 2008

New stainless steel trashcan with a step lid. I can't really offer much advice on the hardwood floor. We get not-so-infrequent pet accidents on our floors and we use Nature's Miracle with good results. Though from what you describe, I think I'd prefer the odor of cat urine..
posted by desjardins at 4:27 PM on August 25, 2008

Also, Oust is great stuff for airborne odors.
posted by desjardins at 4:28 PM on August 25, 2008

I've found OdoBan (I get it a Sams) is really good at getting rid of odors. Also, Simple Solution is great for urine--it may work for your situation.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 4:40 PM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: When my plastic garbage can won't give up the funk, I put in in the tub, fill it up with water, and add a few tablespoons of bleach and let it soak for a couple of hours.

I spent the weekend trying to salvage my failed worm composting project. (A note to potential vermicomposters out there: two inches of reddish-brown liquid on the bottom of the bin means you've got anaerobic decomposition going on, which is not what you're going for.) I started by drilling a drainage hole in the side near the bottom, which made the bin into a sort of mystery-liquid fountain pointed right at me. (I should have started with a wider jar.) I added a lot more holes along the sides and bottom and after the bin finished draining on the porch I returned it to the kitchen floor. I put some thought into it and placed it on wax paper sheets, just in case there were any more drips. Only there was plenty more liquid to come, and apparently waxed paper will dissolve if left to soak for too long. Yesterday I resigned myself that the system had gotten beyond my control and I needed to start over. Of course, because I'm thrifty and stubborn, this meant separating the worms from 30 pounds of fermenting gunk, by hand.

So Deathalicious, I'm very familiar with the odor you describe.
posted by hydrophonic at 4:49 PM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: Seconding that mushrooms have a peculiarly strong solvent-y yet musky funk. Also seconding soaking can in dilute bleach.

How well-finished is the hardwood floor? New hardwood or old floors (knowing you live in Philly, here, I suspect the latter, which means that you've got softer wood and seams into which there could be seepage.) Vinegar and baking soda -- don't rub, just let it sit, rinse with a very wet mop with more vinegar, rinse with water? And don't put your nose on the floor.
posted by desuetude at 4:59 PM on August 25, 2008

Nthing giving vinegar a try, it's like the super wonder deodorizer (you wouldn't think so, because it smells, er, vinegary, but it does work awesomely). Worth first shot before you get into buying any specialty products.
posted by brain cloud at 5:03 PM on August 25, 2008

A rotting potato can smell like decomp. Check and see if one rolled somewhere untoward and set about rotting. The nice thing is, if it's a potato- get rid of it, wash it up with water and vinegar, and the smell miraculously disappears!
posted by headspace at 5:12 PM on August 25, 2008

Bicarb soda. It's absorbed rotten milk smells for me from from car carpeting, among other things. I would sprinkle it on your floors and just leave it for a day or so. A paste in the garbage bin will take care of that too. If the room itself smells and you can't open a window for a while, leaving a box of bicarb out in the open helps with that, too.
posted by jozzas at 5:15 PM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: Concentrated garbage juice -what a wonderful smell you've discovered! I've had luck banishing any and all garbage juice and peecat smells with vinegar and baking soda - and bonus! It foams up just like a grade school science fair volcano,
posted by grippycat at 5:37 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a trashcan leak watermelon juice into the back of a closet once, producing a stench so bad I cried. Vast amounts of Dr Bronners peppermint soap was what I used to defunkify it. I imagine the eucalyptus flavor would work as well. And seconding desuetude that whatever you use should sit on the wood for a while. An old Philly hardwood floor will tolerate a soaking. Good luck.
posted by 8dot3 at 5:41 PM on August 25, 2008

Vanilla is a pretty good deodorant as well. You might like to try some vanilla essence after the vinegar/baking soda combo.
posted by minus zero at 6:06 PM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: Activated Charcoal.

You should be able to get this in a pet store. (it's used for aquarium filtration).

Whatever the source of the smell, the reason you smell it is that there are particles of the smelly substance in the air. Activated charcoal (carbon) will adsorb these smell molecules. Over time, even if you can't remove the smell source (e.g. from the floor) less and less of these particles will be released: meanwhile, a tub or dish of activated charcoal placed in the stinky area will grab and bind up the smelly.

many of the other suggestions just cover up the smell with another smell - in fact, what that does is to exhaust the scent receptors in your nose, so you only smell the coffee or vanilla or whatever and can no longer detect the stink. But it's still there. Activated charcoal will actually remove it.

I believe it is what is commonly used by professional cleaning companies that deal with the aftermath of fires or violent crimes. It worked for my father when he returned from a trip to find a dead rat rotting onto the guest room carpet - so I hope it will work for you!

best of luck.
posted by geekgirl397 at 7:53 AM on August 26, 2008

Response by poster: Time cures all, including smells apparently. The smell is gone. Thank you for all of your help. Best ansies all around.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:17 PM on August 28, 2008

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