The Blob
December 16, 2008 6:55 AM   Subscribe

What is this orange goo dripping from my walls?

I live in a well-maintained apartment complex. About a month ago I noticed a tan-orange waxy substance dripping from the top of some of my walls. It's limited to the areas closest to my bathroom door, heater closet, and thermostat. Under normal conditions the goo is waxy, solid and transparent, except for the bulbous end of the drip, which is opaque. When I take a shower, the goo is warmed up and becomes viscous to the point I could wipe it off without much effort. (I haven't yet.) It also speeds up its crawl towards the floor. It's extended its coat a few inches in the past month.

What is this stuff? I've reported it to my landlord, who is normally attentive to these matters, but I could detect the incredulousness in his voice.

If I had a camera not attached to my laptop I'd supply pics.
posted by spamguy to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Something that sounds similar to this was happening in my first house. I assumed it was due to a smoker having lived in the house before us and the "goo" was the gunk that collected on the walls from the burning cigarettes.
posted by dforemsky at 7:11 AM on December 16, 2008

We had orange goo in the house I lived in as a child. I don't remember it very well due to being 5 at the time, but my parents tell me there were bees in the wall and waxy byproducts were seeping through. This still kind of freaks me out, mostly because I'm scared of arthropods.
posted by crinklebat at 7:17 AM on December 16, 2008

When I smoked, I would do it in the bathroom only. After a time, I noticed exactly what you describe after taking a nice, steamy shower. If you or any previous tenant smoked, it's probably tar.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:18 AM on December 16, 2008

Does it look like it's coming out of the wall, or does it look like it's been deposited onto the wall and is running off?

I worked in a pizza joint where the LP-fueled oven wasn't hooked up to the chimney, so all the soot slash pizza grease ended up on the ceiling, much as you describe.
In your case, I think the proximity to the heater closet is telling. My guess is either [A] the heat is causing the goo that was already there to melt and run down the wall in drips or [B] the goo is coming out in the hot air, aerosol-style and depositing on the upper walls and ceiling, possibly due to incomplete combustion.

What kind of heat do you have?
posted by dunkadunc at 7:26 AM on December 16, 2008

I have the same goo in the bathroom of my apartment, but it is caramel colored. When it is really active it almost looks like a can of Coke exploded and ran down the walls. I have scrubbed the walls and ceiling with a bleach solution and it is still there, so I don't think it is residue from any previous smokers.

The goo drips only appear after steamy showers. I would guess that there is heavy rust in the water. As it condenses on the walls and drips, the rust becomes concentrated and visible. I leave the bathroom door open when I shower to minimize condensation.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 7:49 AM on December 16, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, caramel would be a better colour description. It is definitely being deposited at the top of the wall and allowed to drip down.

Tar seems like a reasonable idea if the previous tenant smoked in stealth. (Smoking is prohibited under the lease, I believe.) Also, the walls were repainted before I moved in.

Can rust water condense into a waxy solid?
posted by spamguy at 7:58 AM on December 16, 2008

We have some orange streaks of that nature in our apartment, never coming down from the ceiling, though. (Actually, they don't move at all.) I've always assumed they're remnants of the polyurethane coating that was done on the hardwood floors before we moved in. We also have wood frames around the doors, windows, and floors that were done in the same manner.
posted by greenland at 8:14 AM on December 16, 2008

I noticed this going on in poorly ventilated bathroom in an old apartment. I always assumed it was minerals/chemicals/whatever left behind from moisture that evaporated off of the walls. It comes off easily with a rag and a little windex.
posted by als129 at 8:17 AM on December 16, 2008

If there's any old gloss paint on the walls or elsewhere it could be linseed oil migrating out of the paint. Linseed oil has quite a distinctive smell.

Or, as Greg Nog and dunkadunc mentioned, cooking fumes or old wallpaper glues can also produce this kind of substance (although if it were glue, it probably wouldn't be appearing just at the top).

It's not rust (unless you have leaky pipes in the ceiling that are also leaking some kind of oil - and rust doesn't get carried around by evaporating/recondensing water).
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:21 AM on December 16, 2008

Also consider oil-fired heating equipment (kerosene heaters), oil-burning lamps, candles, etc.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:26 AM on December 16, 2008

Best answer: This got asked a while ago and the answer there was surfactant leaching. From the best answer in that thread:

Surfactant Leaching:

Concentration of water-soluble ingredients on the surface of a latex paint, typically on a ceiling surface in rooms that have high humidity (e.g., shower, bathroom, kitchen); may be evident as tan or brown spots or areas, and can sometimes be glossy, soapy, or sticky.

Possible Cause:

All latex paint formulas will exhibit this tendency to some extent if applied in areas that become humid (bathrooms, for example), especially in ceiling areas.


Wash the affected area with soap and water, and rinse. Problem may occur once or twice again before leachable material is completely removed. When paint is applied in a bathroom it is helpful to have it dry thoroughly before using the shower.

If you have an exhaust fan use it regularly and if possible open windows.

posted by greycap at 8:29 AM on December 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

The paint in our bathroom used to do something like that, it was because of the heat and moisture on the type of paint. We had to have it repainted. I don't remember if it was latex and we had it redone in oil or vice versa, but one of them was bathroom appropriate and one was not. It might not be the problem, since yours sounds a little more severe than ours, and ours leached out a little more all over the walls than just at the top (but it did run in obvious rivulets), but it's something to look into.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:30 AM on December 16, 2008

I had something similar to this in the swamp-like bathroom of my old apartment. I have no idea what it was, but after the room was all steamy from showering, I wiped it off with one of those Mr. Clean Magic Eraser things. I had to scrub a little in some spots, but it mostly wiped right off and never came back.
posted by mjcon at 10:10 AM on December 16, 2008

I have this in my bathroom, too. I'm not entirely convinced of the latex paint theory, although it does sound reasonable. The problem with our bathroom is that we get the same orange goo collecting in the bottom dome of our tube light, which is isolated away from the paint.

My mom lived in the house before we did and smoked very heavily a few feet away from the bathroom for years and years. I assumed it was tar.

No wallpaper residue. No hardwood floor residue. I'm not sure what it is after reading this thread, but I know I want it to go away.
posted by bristolcat at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2008

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