How can we deal with the dead-animal smell?
June 25, 2010 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Something (probably a lizard) has died in a pipe behind a wall, and it's stinking up our house. It's bad and it seems to be getting worse. What can we do?

There are a lot of lizards here and I know the smell of dead, trapped, decomposing lizard from previous experience; but it's usually been under the couch or the sink and I've been able to dispose of the rotting carcass.

This one appears to be stuck in a large pipe that has a lot of electrical cables leading to our fuse box. I've seen the other end of the pipe (in the attic) and it doesn't smell at all (but I could drop something in there if that would help).

From the end where the smell is I can't see anything and I can't get anything (like a wire hanger for example) in there to poke around because, well, all the fuses are in the way.

Please help, it's getting to the point where we start gagging as soon as we walk through that corridor.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Your best bet is to call a licensed electrician. If lizards are common where you are, he or she has probably done this sort of thing before. Don't endanger your health by poking around in your fusebox. Just call one up, and say, "Something died in our fusebox."
posted by juniperesque at 7:06 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding the call for electrician - if there's enough room in the conduit, you could probably fish the carcass out with something thin and non conductive, but that's not a really good place to go poking around.
posted by jquinby at 7:19 AM on June 25, 2010

I am an electrician in South/Central Florida. We have lizards and more all over the place. I am on the northern edge of the Everglades.

I have seen many little lizards roasted inside a load center (fuse or breaker box). I have seen nor heard of one causing a smell as bad as you describe.

First, if you are going to stick something into an electrical conduit, use something that is non-conductive. Sticking a wire hanger up the conduit is nuts - what if there is a 50A short up there? You could fry yourself! Turn of the main breaker, killing all power to your house, before you start messing around in that pipe.

I have encountered some strange smells - but not from roasted lizards. Lizards are tiny, even de-composing they don't cause that powerful of a smell. But an electrical short, burning against some type of insulation, or plastic, or whatever - that can cause interesting smells.

Do not drop anything into the conduit without a plan for getting it out. That conduit is fire rated, and dropping things into can cause hazards. Lowes and Home Depot sell electricians fish tape. You might try running fish tape down the conduit, but again turn off the power before you do it, and be careful. Do not force it. And tape the front end up, so it doesn't get caught in the pipe.

If you can afford it, call an electrician. Electricity is dangerous. I have seen people go to the hospital by not respecting it. I myself have experienced some nice electrical burns.

Be careful.
posted by Flood at 7:20 AM on June 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

If the creature is totally inaccessible, you may have to wait for the decomposition to stop before the stench goes away. That will occur when carcass has completely dehydrated.

You can try forcing warm air down the pipe to accelerate the process, but that won't immediately save your nose. There are some very effective odor removing products available. One is Zero Odor. I found it completely removes fecal odor and other very strong smells. I think if you spray this down the pipe you'l have immediate relief. BTW, I'm assuming there are no exposed electrical wires or contacts. If that's the case, I don't recommend forcing any liquid down the pipe.
posted by Hilbert at 7:20 AM on June 25, 2010

Be careful what you spray do that pipe - if it is flammable in any way, and there is a live short inside the pipe, it might not go to well.
posted by Flood at 7:24 AM on June 25, 2010

I've seen the other end of the pipe (in the attic) and it doesn't smell at all

It's a pipe and it's causing gagging in the general vacinity at one end and nothing at the other? I bet it's somewhere else.

Sounds like you need someone who can positively ID the source of the smell. Pest control companies often offer a find and remove service. I hate to spend money on things I could do myself with a little knowledge, too. But you may need to do it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:47 AM on June 25, 2010

From your explanation, it appears you are not at all familiar with electricity and electrical wiring/panels, etc. This is dangerous territory. I suggest you call an electrician. My guess is that the creature crawled up behind the fuses (breakers?) and got fried. These odors have a way of traveling in indistinct routes, so where you think it is coming from is not the true source. The electrician can poke around in the non-public parts of the fuse box and pull whatever is in there back out. Ask him/her if putting foam insulation in the top and bottom of the pipe might keep creatures from running down out of the attic into the fuse box.
posted by Old Geezer at 10:04 AM on June 25, 2010

Thanks, I think, for the tips and advice. Electrician confirms that it's in that pipe, there's nothing he can do to get at it, and once the smell is gone he'll come back and seal it up in the attic to prevent it from happening again.

Flood - would have called you but I live further south, perhaps our lizards are bigger than yours. :) In any event, the smell gets worst in the afternoon, after the temperature hits 35 Centigrade. It could be a mouse or rat too of course.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 6:15 AM on June 28, 2010

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