How to make my house not smell (so badly) of decomposing critter.
September 17, 2010 12:27 PM   Subscribe

My house smells like decomposing critter. A critter died at a point in my chimney that it cannot be removed without removing the masonry and taking apart the chimney. (It died on the shelf above the damper.) The chimney dude recommended we just wait it out and said that with the average daily temp being 90+, it should be 'fast.' However, it's really damn disgusting and we're a week into a likely 2-3 week process. In the meantime, recommend any smells to help offset the stench?

We know how the critter got into the chimney and have since taken steps to ensure that won't happen again. I’ve tried laying out bowls of ground coffee as that helped with doggie-stink/funk but that’s not helping. I’ve also heard that a humidifier might help to speed up the process.
posted by lostinsupermarket to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Stuipd question: Did you close the damper? That should help.

I would think you want a *dehumidifier* so it'll dry out rather than being wet and disgusting.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:31 PM on September 17, 2010

How much access do you have to the chimney? Could you place some kind of large fan at the bottom to blow air up and out?

I might be wrong, but I'd have thought that a humidifier would make the problem worse. A dehumidifier would remove the moisture needed for bacterial decomposition, and basically mummify the creature.
posted by Solomon at 12:31 PM on September 17, 2010

This may be a stupid suggestion, but hot gas from a lit fireplace might help stinkcritter progress to a less stinky state.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:32 PM on September 17, 2010

A rat died in the walls of our house once (protip: never use poison. ever. all they do is die in the walls and stink). We hung a cinnamon broom in the general vicinity to cover a bit of the funk for awhile.
posted by jquinby at 12:33 PM on September 17, 2010

I can't stand the way they smell, but ionizers might help. If possible, you may want to also try to push the air away from where people are going to encounter it. Perhaps putting a fan towards the fireplace opening and seeing if you can direct it up and out rather than in.

Scented candles, etc. might also provide some aid, but I fear you'd just end up with a strong smell over a bad smell, which can often be worse.
posted by quin at 12:38 PM on September 17, 2010

I'm not sure how a humidifier would help in the house with the stink; you most definitely want your critter to dry up as fast as possible.

This isn't a pretty solution, but I'd put stick-on foam weatherstripping on the back of an appropriately-sized piece of plywood (to help make an airtight seal) and use something heavy to push it up against the fireplace, to block off any airflow into the house. If someone questions your unusual home decor, you can explain it's to offset your unusual air freshener.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:38 PM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Starting a nice, roaring fire in the fireplace would be what I'd do. It would not only put hot air up there to dry it out and make it mummify, but also create a draft of air going from in the house to the outside.

Of course, if it is 90 degrees, that sucks, but would you rather have it be hotter for a bit or smell bad?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:51 PM on September 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

I would build a tool capable of reaching it.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:06 PM on September 17, 2010

When a rat died in my wall and couldn't be retrieved, the exterminator put one of these bags as near to the source of the smell as he could get it. It seemed to work really well. (Either that, or the decline of the smell coincided with the appearance of the bag. I choose to believe, though.)
posted by mudpuppie at 1:12 PM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

if it is "in" the chimney (and, like everyone else I'm assuming a fireplace and not a furnace, let us know if we're wrong), I would suspect that a wad of wall insulation (or a blanket, or anything fabric that would fill the space) in a plastic bag stuffed up into the chimney will prevent air from flowing into the room. You won't be able to see it. Remove it in a couple of weeks. If you can still smell it after that, I would suspect that the chimney is compromised/cracked someplace.
posted by HuronBob at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2010

If your weather is still mainly dry, I might try putting a fan downstream from the body in order to suck air from the house to the outside. I do not know if this would work for you though. Pushing air from the house out the chimney from the bottom might help but not as much as pulling from the top.
posted by Danf at 2:04 PM on September 17, 2010

Sadly, a neighbor of ours died in his house a few years back. When we hadn't seen him in a couple of days, we called the police, who came out and did a cursory look around the property and left. About a week later we noticed the smell, and called the police again, who then broke into the house. After they discovered the body, they came over and asked to borrow some coffee, which they put in a pot *with no water*, and then placed it on the lit stove. They explained that your sense of smell will go first to the smell of the burning coffee, and will be less affected by the smell of the decay.

If your chimney is no where near your stove, I suppose you could use one of those things that people put aromatic oil in, with a candle underneath (is that considered an oil diffuser?, not sure). Maybe a heating plate or a very small "campfire" in the chimney with the pot on top would work. Be sure not to use a pot that you want to use again, I would think it would be fairly well scorched on the inside.

Good luck.
posted by vignettist at 2:24 PM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Not to be dense but if you can't get to it why haven't you lit a fire? At the least the heat draw will pull the smell up and out instead of down and in.

If you're concerned about a chimney fire from said dead animal, well, I wouldn't worry. Or call a chimney sweep - have them sweep your chimney - and then have a fire.
posted by carlh at 2:51 PM on September 17, 2010

I nth building a hot fire, but I'd add a handfull or two of soaked wood chips to smoke the varmint as well.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:11 PM on September 17, 2010

I worked in an office that had a baby raccoon die in the wall :-( They couldn't figure out exactly where it was, so it wasn't removed in a timely fashion. The smell was horrible, and we used an ionizer. Be careful, as running the ionizer too much led everyone to get headaches and having to close the office early one day as a result. It also smells like chlorine. It did lessen the death smell a bit. If it's been a week with no problems, you're probably fine, but even after the dead animal was removed, we got this horrible infestation of giant flies. It was truly disgusting. Watch out for that.
posted by elpea at 3:24 PM on September 17, 2010

Thanks all!

To answer some questions: Yes, this is a chimney, not a furnace. Mr Chimney Sweep did not do the cleaning just cause we wanted to address the critter-in-chimney. Plus today's high was like 92 so I'm just not in the seasonal state of mind to do the chimney cleaning. Mr C. Sweep did say that he would not be able to get to where the critter is because of it's location on the ledge 'off' the damper. Due to the chimney cap it would be near unto impossible to construct "something" to get at it. It's this weird balance between not wanting to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get a carcass out against not wanting to be grossed out when I walk in.

I'm very intrigued by the thought of starting a fire just to speed up this damn process - my only reservation is about whether or not the 'heat' would get to 'it' on the ledge.
posted by lostinsupermarket at 4:08 PM on September 17, 2010

This exact thing happened to me--baby raccoons died on that shelf and one set of guys told me I would have to take the chimney apart. But I found an enterprising guy who used a shop vac and a mirror with a flexible handle to get the dead things out. I was the mirror-holding assistant. I think you should see if this works, because the smell will stay till the dead things are gone. Even after they were gone, the smell and the blow flies lingered for a few days.
posted by feste at 4:59 PM on September 17, 2010

The critter is getting gooey and wet as it rots, and that's why it stinks. With that in mind, I would try:
1. Lighting a fire. I think the hot air rushing up the chimney would help dry things out.
2. When the fireplace is unlit and cool, put some moisture traps in there (these are sold for $1 each at the Dollarama near my house; they aren't necessarily expensive).
3. Then put an electric fan in there, pointing in/up the chimney so it pushes air up the chimney.
4. Use an old shower curtain or trash bags and tape to plastic-wrap the fireplace shut so the smell can only get out the roof, not back into the room.

At least one of these ideas (maybe combined: fan + moisture traps behind plastic wrap) should help. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:45 PM on September 17, 2010

I've seen medical examiners on TV wipe under their noses with some minty paste before undertaking autopsies on decomposing bodies. No idea if this is something real ME's do, or if there's something special about mint smell that counteracts the smell of decomposition, but maybe try bringing in a few mint plants.
posted by lakeroon at 9:05 PM on September 17, 2010

Burn, baby, burn.

If the fireplace is safe enough to have a fire then have one for a couple of hours. Yeah, on a 90+ day it'll be a hassle. But less of a hassle than the on-going stink.
posted by wkearney99 at 9:55 PM on September 17, 2010

You don't need much of a heat source to keep a draft going in your chimney. A simple 60W light bulb is sufficient in most cases. Placing a lamp in the chimney at the bottom and leaving it on will at least get the smell moving up and out of your house. (make sure your A/C has sufficient make up to not depressurize your house).

Coffee places give away their used grounds, once dry they make pretty good odour absorbers.
posted by Mitheral at 12:37 AM on September 18, 2010

If Douglas Coupland is to be believed, cinnamon masks the death smell.
And Mefites seem to agree.
posted by indienial at 5:15 AM on September 18, 2010

Incinerate the bugger! Big fire, for as long as you can stand it, with a view to charring the critter and leaving as little as possible to decompose.

I must say I can't envisage a fireplace where you can't get at the smokeshelf, but I guess that is just a failure of my imagination :-(
posted by GeeEmm at 4:44 PM on September 19, 2010

I argue for building a fire, but a modest one. Nothing that will incinerate or heat your house up too much, just a couple-of-hour-long dry-the-critter-out fire. Or, as Mithreal suggests, but, heck, why not go for a 100 watt or one of those 500 watt task lights, a steal at $14.95.
posted by BleachBypass at 6:43 PM on October 1, 2010

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