Why does my bedroom smell like #1?
September 20, 2011 6:30 AM   Subscribe

My bedroom smells like pee. Ew! Gross! But also: we don't have a pet, we don't have kids, we're scrupulously clean, and we can't seem to find the smell's origin despite much aggressive searching. What on earth can this be?

For the past few months, every few days, my boyfriend or I will walk into our room and be hit by the smell of urine. If we hadn't already torn the room apart looking for the source of the odor, I'd have guessed it was coming from the mattress or a forgotten towel in a corner. But no: the mattress is new and encased in protective latex (which, yes, we've removed in order to do the sniff test), there's no soiled fabric forgotten in any corners of the room, we don't use a humidifier, and neither of us wets the bed or has an incontinence issue. (I swear. We're honest with each other about this sort of thing.) We do have a bathroom right next to our bedroom, but the sniff-test doesn't place the odor in there.

Just to be safe, we've washed and/or thrown away almost all our linens, bath mats, etc. Still the smell persists! Suspecting that we were maybe going insane, I brought a third party in just to confirm the smell: yes, it's real. She smelled it clear as day.

1. What do you think could be the source? AC/heating ducts? Urine from an adjacent apartment? Something in the wood floors? Something else?

2. If it's not pee, what is it? This is sort of weird, but sometimes the odor veers more towards smelling like cooked, unsauced noodles rather than urine.

3. How can we get rid of the smell? We've been spraying Febreze but I don't like the artificial-perfume smell. Are there other de-smellizing options?
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (36 answers total)
...Do you have a ginkgo tree near your window at all?...I know that that tree has an odor sometimes that is very, er, strong.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:31 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there an attic directly above, or a basement/crawl space directly below? Because maybe you've got a nest of rats or squirrels or something.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:34 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

Turn off the lights and use a black light to see if you can find the trouble spots.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 6:34 AM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

Do you clean with ammonia?
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:37 AM on September 20, 2011

you mention apartment, so I can only assume the smell is from a previous renter's pet. I would bring in your landlord and have them then bring in a cleaning service.
posted by zombieApoc at 6:40 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

As EC says, it could be a plant or tree. I had some kind of shrub outside my bedroom window years ago that I swear smelled like cat pee, to the point I thought my tenant's cat was peeing under the window.

Also, even though it doesn't seem like the odor is coming from the bathroom, it still could be. Natural airflow can make pinpointing odors tricky. So it's possible that you have a leak in the wax-ring area of your toilet. (I also had this happen once.)

(Or, maybe a cat is peeing under your window.)
posted by The Deej at 6:41 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

How long have you lived there? Did you notice the smell right upon moving in, or did it start at a particular time / season / etc?
posted by reddot at 6:44 AM on September 20, 2011

Do you live in a single-family home or do you live in an apartment complex with someone living above you? Are there any access hatches to bathroom plumbing in your bedroom or bathroom? Do you smell the smell in the bathroom as well?

If you live in a single family home, have you checked the attic for critters or roof leaks?

(Smells are one of the first clues of house problems; typically plumbing or ventilation problems or water leaks. I never try to cover up house problems with scented candles and whatnot; it's best to ALWAYS track the smell back to it's source.)
posted by SpecialK at 6:49 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Or, maybe a cat is peeing under your window.)

We had a smell issue like this, and it was indeed stray cats trying to get the attention of our inside cat (they had a love affair through the window).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:50 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is it like cat pee? There's a number of Australian wattles that really stink of that. In this part of the world it's often Karri Wattle (Acacia pentadenia also known as Catbush). The smell of a dense patch of it can carry for hundreds of meters, or even kilometers if you're downwind from a Karri forest at the right time of year.
posted by Ahab at 6:52 AM on September 20, 2011

How old is the house? Has it had major changes to its floor plan? One old house I knew had moved around bathrooms, and the owner said that for years after that, on hot days he would sometimes get bathroom odors.
posted by salvia at 6:57 AM on September 20, 2011

It doesn't really smell like urine but overheating insulation or plastic bits in faulty electric wiring and fixtures sometimes gives off a distinctive odor similar to ammonia.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:02 AM on September 20, 2011

Narcissus can smell like concentrated cat piss, and there are some types that, as autumn bloomers, will be growing right now (in the northern hemisphere). Maybe there is some outside your window?
posted by elizardbits at 7:07 AM on September 20, 2011

I take care of my 105 year-old grandma and her 2 piss-crazy little male dogs. Despite shampooing the carpets on a (mostly) weekly basis, there is still a residual smell problem and this is how I deal with it:
Wonder Wafers

They last a long time (months if not exposed to sunlight) and I've got 10-12 spread throughout the 800 sq ft area where the problem is concentrated. My favorite is the vanilla.
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:08 AM on September 20, 2011

Link to Wonder Wafers
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:09 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have wood floors, I bet some previous renter's pet peed on the floor, and you smell it when the humidity is just right. It's really difficult to get cat pee out of floorboards. You can douse your wood floors with Nature's Miracle, really soak it into the wood. They sell it in gallon jugs for this reason.
posted by juniperesque at 7:14 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

We had a similar issue, and it turned out that water was getting behind the siding of our house and rotting one of the support beams. We thought it was a tree, and we thought it was previous pets; then we realized it was worse when it rained. We figured out finally when we took the cover off an outlet and stuff was clearly not right back there.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:17 AM on September 20, 2011

Are you a heavy drinker? If you are, you may sweat in your sleep, and the alcohol-specific toxins that your body expels this way smell like urine when they dry in large quantities.
posted by bfu at 7:25 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ooh, I've been here. For me, it was because all the neighborhood cats started using the area under my window as a toilet when the guy who lived in the basement started keeping a kitten.
posted by phunniemee at 7:29 AM on September 20, 2011

Just to add to the "it could be a plant" brigade, boxwood smells exactly like pee to me and strong pee at that. It would help to know where you are and what kind of apartment this is - new or newish complex? Old complex? Converted from an old house? High rise? Are you upstairs or downstairs? Pee does soak into things and takes forever to get out. Bleach helps as does nature's miracle.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:29 AM on September 20, 2011

Rat piss in the ductwork?
posted by flabdablet at 7:34 AM on September 20, 2011

By the way: the smell that Dr Dracator is talking about that comes from urea-formaldehyde resin breaking down in old light fittings is usually more rotten-fishy than pissy.
posted by flabdablet at 7:36 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

For much of the summer, I kept smelling what I thought was urine in the vestibule by the back door, and was driving myself crazy trying to find the source. Turned out it was my partner's cap--he runs in it and the sweat smell had morphed into something horrid.
posted by RedEmma at 7:45 AM on September 20, 2011

Is the smell stronger closer to the ceiling or the floor? I live in an apartment and something in the insulation between my floor and ceiling of the apartment below me recently became less insulating. As a result, I can smell every scent form the apartment below me as clearly as if it was in my own living room. Maybe your upstairs or downstairs neighbor has a peeing cat?
posted by cheerwine at 8:09 AM on September 20, 2011

In an apartment I'd also check neighbors. We lived upstairs from a cat hoarder who was secretly keeping 40 - 60 furry friends in her apartment. Once a pipe under our apartment leaked a little into her bathroom and a plumber had to come open our floor/her ceiling to get to the pipes. I still have nightmares about that smell.
posted by merocet at 8:14 AM on September 20, 2011

We get an powerful (and initially puzzling) pee-smell in the basement of our house. It took forever to locate the source but finally we discovered that the smell increases in strength after a particularly heavy rain. Moisture seeps through a section of our basement wall just below where a bent gutter dumps a ton of water that saturates the ground, and the damp patch of the wall gets a remarkably sour and distinctive urine smell--maybe as a result of something it picks up while seeping through the wall? Dunno; never figured that part out. But until we figured it out, we really did think that mysterious animals were peeing in our basement. Eventually we'll fix the gutter.
posted by bassomatic at 8:54 AM on September 20, 2011

Arborvitae and anything related to juniper smells like pee.
posted by peep at 9:14 AM on September 20, 2011

Does your bedroom have a damp problem? Black mould can smell like pee.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:38 AM on September 20, 2011

If you have central air/heating, it could be an animal near the compressor unit.
posted by BiffSlamkovich at 9:43 AM on September 20, 2011

Agree that dried human sweat can smell like pee. My ex's baseball cap? Oh man. So, is there a wristband bracelet or watch in the picture that could be emitting a smell? A hemp necklace? Anything made of fibre that touches skin for long periods of time and is infrequently laundered?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:00 AM on September 20, 2011

I'd get the plumbing checked.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:21 PM on September 20, 2011

I agree with bassomatic (I had the same experience): I don't know in what part of the country you live (if in fact you are from the US), but if you are on the east coast and recently experienced the extraordinary amount of rain that fell here over the course of many days, and this problem began during that time, and your bedroom is on the ground floor, it could very well be caused by ground moisture seeping into the house. A bunch of 'ifs.'
posted by SixteenTons at 2:38 PM on September 20, 2011

Oh, never mind--I see upon re-reading your post that it's been going on intermittently for a few months.
posted by SixteenTons at 2:40 PM on September 20, 2011

2nding Coobeastie and bassomatic. Our basement guestroom had this exact problem and we were convinced it was our cats. Then we spotted black dusty spots(maybe the size of a #2 pencil lead), which led to pulling off the baseboard. The back was covered in mold as was several feet of drywall.
posted by specialnobodie at 2:52 PM on September 20, 2011

White vinegar removes pee smells pretty well, and other smells, too. Use it as your carpet/floor cleaner, window washer, wall cleaner, etc.
posted by theora55 at 3:02 PM on September 20, 2011

One more possibility: there is a variety of red oak that is commonly called "piss oak" for the obvious reason. Dp you or any neighbors have any new wood furniture or flooring? or a wood pile outside?
posted by Corvid at 3:25 PM on September 20, 2011

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