duct cleaning in apartment to deal with grungy smell: will it work?
July 17, 2017 11:03 AM   Subscribe

I have a new apartment that smells kind of gross: dirty and stale, in a nondescript way. It's not urine or food or an animal in the walls; nothing so specific. It just smells grungy, like it hasn't been cleaned in forever. But I've cleaned, I've had cleaners in, they've washed the walls, etc. The walls were painted before we moved in--I checked. The building had a HVAC guy come to all the apartments in the building recently, and that made a difference, but the smell didn't go away completely. I'm wondering if the HVAC guy wasn't thorough enough and maybe I should hire someone. Could duct cleaning fix the smell?

If it matters: I live in a high-rise, condo-style apartment building with (I think) central AC. How do I hire a good duct cleaner? Is this even a thing for people who live in apartments? The last guy did replace the filters, and the old ones were *disgusting*. The previous owners didn't have pets, but did completely trash the place: apparently there were holes in the walls when they moved out. Replacing the filters helped but did not completely solve the problem.
posted by lotf629 to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, a grungy smell that won't go away is usually because a smoker lived in the apartment before me. You might ask the management about that. If so, cleaning the duct work would make a difference.
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:31 AM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding OrangeDisk. I moved into a place after a smoker. Cleaning the carpets and replacing all the window treatments helped the most.
posted by something something at 11:34 AM on July 17, 2017

Hmmm... a friend is going through this right now. The smoker was not a former tenant, but rather lives in the apartment beneath, and odors are finding their way in through the natural gaps and cracks inherent to any construction. As my friend puts it, "It's not a submarine."

That's right . . . the smell is coming from Inside the house!

He hasn't found a solution yet, as the contamination is ongoing. Plants from NASA's select air purifying list are helping. But it might help to look at your neighbors' behaviors.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 11:51 AM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

If it's smoke or something else coming in from neighboring apartments, figure out a way to maintain positive air pressure. Pumping in sufficient fresh air from outside (more than is being sucked out by the return air ducts) will push air out through those "natural gaps and cracks" and prevent the smoke/grunginess from entering. If you do have central air (rather than a heat pump type unit inside your place), you have supply ducts/registers and return ducts/registers. Achieving positive air pressure may be as simple as partially blocking the return air ducts so you are forcing the air to go out through the cracks.
posted by beagle at 12:35 PM on July 17, 2017

Is there a range hood? Those have filters too and they get gunked up with aerosolized cooking oils and fats. Have the kitchen cabinets been washed down?

Has the area under and behind the refrigerator been cleaned? The garbage disposal? Under the cabinets (was garbage stored in one of the cabinets? )

Are there en suite laundry machines? If so the area under, behind, and around it should be cleaned too.

Were the carpets cleaned? Would it be worth it to you to have them done again?

I'm afraid I don't have any advice about smoke abatement. I'm highly allergic to smoke and it's one of the main reasons I won't move, being in a less-than-ideal neighborhood but in a freestanding house.
posted by vignettist at 2:27 PM on July 17, 2017

You mention the central AC but not heat. If you have a wall heater, remove the grill and clean it. I put mine in the shower and spray it with degreaser and it melted right off. There will be lots of gross stuff to vacuum* up, too. My place instantly felt better.

When I moved in here I was a smoker, and it was getting into the neighbor's place. She thought maybe it was the bathroom vent, and it was. The fix was just keeping the door closed and using a draft stopper.

*This may not be safe, maybe use a swifffer.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:47 PM on July 17, 2017

Thanks, all--lots of fantastic ideas here that I will be following up on.
posted by lotf629 at 8:34 AM on July 22, 2017

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