Help me destink my parents' newly-bought house
February 17, 2010 6:56 PM   Subscribe

My parents have just bought a house and now realize it has a smell of unknown origin. Ideas on things to do or people to contact to help get rid of it?

My parents have just bought a house in Bellingham, Washington.

They were aware of a few ... odor ... problems with the property but now the sale has closed they are extremely aware of a very bad smell indeed that seems to be coming from the (attached) garage.

Luckily they have a few more weeks on their rental so they have some space to take remedial action.

They've gone over the whole place with a UV light and found a few minor spots on the carpets inside the house (which they intend to replace anyway) but the epicenter of the awful pong does seem to be the concrete-floored garage. Nothing shows up under UV in there.

The house has been vacant for a little while and owned by various realtors. The last residents did apparently have some combination of cats and dogs and the first thought was that a dog had been kept in the garage and allowed to relieve itself in there. But the lack of evidence under UV would appear to belie that.

Another possibility is one or more dead rodents trapped somewhere or other ... prior to the sale, rat poison had been left around and the property inspector made a comment to the effect that it wasn't a good idea as the rats would eat it and then go off to die and rot inside the house.

I guess my question is threefold:

1.) Any suggestions on better ways of tracking down the source of the smell?

2.) Assuming the source can't be found, are there ways of remediating an unknown odor? (I'm thinking air purifiers, activated charcoal ...what else?)

3.) I imagine there must be some "stink professionals" out there somewhere that could help with this situation. If the alternative is demolition/reconstruction, hiring even a spendy third party might make financial sense. Anyone aware of anyone in the Bellingham/PNW area that could help with this?

The sale has already gone through and as I mentioned my parents were aware of the problem beforehand - it's just a bit worse than they realized. They really like the house otherwise and are very secure, financially, so it's really a question of resolving this in the best way without hurrying into anything or cutting unnecessary corners.

(I really don't want to hear that they made a mistake: that may be so, but it's done now and I'm looking for solutions).

posted by geekgirl397 to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Could they leave the garage door open for a few days and try to air it out?
posted by cecic at 7:09 PM on February 17, 2010

Get carpet(s) steam cleaned. Clean every surface with pine-oil based cleaners, which also kills germs. Inspect and listen for rodents. Pull drawers out of built-ins and check behind. Vacuum out out those areas, then leave cedar shavings behind. Use bleach and water 50:50 solution on the concrete floor. Cedar oil repels moths and smells good, so while the house is empty, I'd use it liberally.
posted by theora55 at 7:20 PM on February 17, 2010

Start by getting a pest control specialist out there. They are trained to find the little holes that are entry points for rodents and other pests. If such a hole is found in or near the garage, cut into the drywall near the hole and see if there is a dead rodent in the wall. It may take a little bit of trial and error to find the exact spot where the critter dies, but opening up near the entry point should give you a whiff of whether you are on the right track.

Make sure all of the places that your specialist finds are plugged up, so you don't get more critters in the walls.

Strangely enough, copious doses of Fabreze work on things like concrete as well as fabrics. Buy the refill bottle (more economical) and liberally apply it to the entire garage floor. Spray it on the carpets in the house as well. I just de-skunked a house with a special skunk odor preparation and Fabreze.
posted by Old Geezer at 7:26 PM on February 17, 2010

Check the traps (sink, floor drain, etc.) to see if they dried out. Seconding Febreze also.
posted by Muted Flugelhorn at 8:02 PM on February 17, 2010

Once you figure out and eliminate the source of the smell and if you still have lingering smell on the concrete floor, you can try painting it with Kilz primer. Someone at work bought a house that reeked of cigarettes and they got rid of it by painting every surface with Kilz.
posted by bentley at 8:18 PM on February 17, 2010

My parents had a dead mouse in a closet. They lived with it with the help of some febreeze and an alcohol room deodorizer. The smell peaked after a few days, then began to dissipate. After about three weeks, the room smells fine, even to my bloodhound of a mother.
posted by gagoumot at 8:18 PM on February 17, 2010

If you have a friend with a dog, let it go for a supervised wander around the house. It might go to the source if it's a dead animal- my cats have found dead mice for me before. Maybe don't let it wander around alone, in case it eats a dead poisoned rodent, though?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:25 PM on February 17, 2010

Once you figure out and eliminate the source of the smell and if you still have lingering smell on the concrete floor, you can try painting it with Kilz primer

Unfortunately, no. Kilz is not going to stand up to the stresses of being on a garage floor for more than a few hours. It can't take water, it can't take abrasion, and it's not very solvent-resistant either.
posted by jon1270 at 1:42 AM on February 18, 2010

To follow up on the Kilz-primer line of reasoning, it is possible to get industrial-strength concrete sealer/paint that's meant to be driven on (Home Depot and the like carry this, I believe). Since the stuff is waterproof, it'd presumably kill any odors exuding from the floor itself.
posted by Bardolph at 4:31 AM on February 18, 2010

Hotels use ozone generators to deal with the smells that are left in some rooms. You can either buy an ozone generator, or hire someone to do it. Look under fire/flood restoration.

I have this one and it works pretty well. Bought it to remove smoke odors from some tenants.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 4:48 AM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bardolph: Thanks. I hadn't thought of the extra wear on garage floors.

psycho-alchemy: I once asked the front desk for an ozone generator when I found my hotel room smelled of cigarette smoke. (I used a different word: ozone something, I forget.) Front desk didn't know what I was talking about but said she would send someone. I don't know what she told Housekeeping, but, half an hour later, a man turned up with a clothes iron and a few hangers.
posted by bentley at 5:37 AM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Also meant to thank jon1270 above. Sorry.)
posted by bentley at 5:38 AM on February 18, 2010

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