Why does my kitchen smell bad?
August 14, 2018 7:49 AM   Subscribe

A week ago I moved into a new apartment within a very old house. The kitchen always smells bad. I've tried all the likely fixes (details inside)but no luck. Any ideas for troubleshooting/fixing?

I've taken out the trash and recycling a few times. I've done all my dishes and emptied the sink strainer. (There is no disposal.) I've wiped down all the surfaces with a new sponge and soapy water. I had the window up, but I think bugs were getting in despite the screen. I've checked all the cupboards and haven't found anything rotten. I left out a dish of baking soda and flushed the drain with baking soda and hot water, then lemon juice.

As I said, this building is very old, but the apartment has been consistently occupied.

I'm unable to use bleach or most scented cleaners or air fresheners. (Essential oils are okay.)

I'd rather find the source than just cover it up. At this point, though, I'll take either.

What else can I do?
posted by mermaidcafe to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Can you describe the smell - moldy and damp, dead animal-y...?
posted by amro at 7:51 AM on August 14, 2018


That grotty thing under some refrigerators where water collects and slowly evaporates can become a gross mold pit. Here's how to find it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:53 AM on August 14, 2018 [20 favorites]


If it's musty-moldy, maybe there's a spot under the sink that's damp and is growing mildew. I had that problem in my kitchen once (high humidity in summer plus a very tiny leak), and a simple tub of DampRid did the trick.

(Note: i'm not saying you may have a leaky sink, that was just what contributed to the damp conditions in my own kitchen. the Damp-Rid will work regardless of why things are damp.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:56 AM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


It can also be the floor UNDER the grotty thing under the fridge. That was the case in my Mom's old place. Something fell and the cats knocked it behind/under the fridge. It rotted. Then it was this layer of ooze. We had to move the fridge and wash the floor, and then the smell was gone.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:59 AM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is there a dishwasher? I discovered that mine had a food trap underneath the spinny thing at the bottom which could only be accessed with a screwdriver. It was FULL of moldy grossness, having not been cleaned for at least four years and probably much longer. Before I cleaned it, the dishes were still getting clean but the machine smelled bad when it was sitting idle, especially when it was hot.

(That being said, it's always possible you have a dead mouse in the walls somewhere.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:59 AM on August 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


The smell is kind of rotten or moldy.

f it's musty-moldy, maybe there's a spot under the sink that's damp and is growing mildew. I had that problem in my kitchen once (high humidity in summer plus a very tiny leak), and a simple tub of DampRid did the trick.

(Note: i'm not saying you may have a leaky sink, that was just what contributed to the damp conditions in my own kitchen. the Damp-Rid will work regardless of why things are damp.)


Oh! There is or was a leak under the kitchen sink. I'll try the DampRid there.
posted by mermaidcafe at 8:11 AM on August 14, 2018


If it's a rotten smell is there any chance you might have a gas leak?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:19 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh! There is or was a leak under the kitchen sink. I'll try the DampRid there.

That is sounding more and more likely that this is the issue.

I had the same problem a few years back - something smelled funky, I'd narrowed the location of the funk to the sink vicinity and was going nuts trying to clean/clear the drain and the pipes to no avail. My super suggested the DampRid actually - it was about six bucks from my hardware store, and was a plastic tub of dessicant crystals that I just opened and placed under the sink, tub and all. That dried things out enough to kill off the mildew - and in a couple weeks I simply poured the liquid down the sink. I think I put down a fresh tub one more time that lasted about a month until it needed to be discarded; I waited to see if the smell came back before buying a third tub, but it never did.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:25 AM on August 14, 2018


If that doesn't work, you might try scrubbing the kitchen sink drain with a disinfectant cleaner and a stiff brush that can fit in the drain opening.
posted by sarajane at 9:00 AM on August 14, 2018


On electric stoves that have burners, lift up the burners and holders; I've seen puddles of greasy crud, clean with a scraper, then liberal use of ammonia (excellent on grease, never, ever, mix with bleach, ever). In any rental unit, it there's a fan above the stove, or an exhaust fan, it will be nasty; soak in water, dish soap, ammonia. Agree with pull out the fridge, clean behind & under. Also, ask the landlord to manage any wetness or rot under the sink.
posted by theora55 at 9:01 AM on August 14, 2018


In my old house the undersink area had a horrible rancid smell, probably from years of a previous leak. I cut a piece of plywood to form a new cabinet bottom. I caulked around the edges and around the pipes.
No more smell.
posted by H21 at 9:01 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Total longshot, but is there a floor drain hidden under an appliance? If so, its trap could have dried out allowing sewer gas to come in. Pour a litre of water down it to fill the trap & block the sewer gas. This happened in our utility room.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 9:28 AM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


If the smell is fairly mild, it may just be the way the place itself smells.

The condo I live in used to be my grandparents and it always smelled kinda funky to me (the whole building really). Now that I live here I notice it less, but if I stay somwhere else and come back I notice it. It has something to do with the building materials the plaster/drywall throughout the building, the decades-old carpeting -- even the wallpaper, I suspect. And in my kitchen the composite/chipboard-cabinetry -- it's all standard issue late 60's early 70's stuff.

Basically, it smells funky because it IS funky and if that's the deal it kinda sucks as all you can do is clean surfaces regularly to try to mask it, use fresheners etc, and keep the windows open or the ventilation fan on.

If it's sulfurous, like rotten eggs, my Mom worked as an exchange prof once and when I visited her we were mystified by a developing stench in a school-provided apartment. It turned out to be standing water in a vase on a high shelf. some left-over plant matter had provided food for whatever microbes etc were producing the smell.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:04 AM on August 14, 2018


I think EmpressCallipygos and H21 are on the right track; it's probably the sink leak and the materials under your sink could be ruined from a long-term leak before you moved in.

If you try their solutions and it's STILL nasty, you'll need to consider that there might be a concealed leak in one of your water lines somewhere, most likely the sink waste line inside the wall / floor. In which case, you'll need to get the super and a plumber involved.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:34 AM on August 14, 2018


If the damprid under the sink doesn't help, another idea is to wash the floor. I moved into a place that had a bad smelling kitchen and washing the floor made a big difference.

You might add a Bad Odor Sponge to your under sink arsenal. I know a lot of people swear by those.
posted by purple_bird at 12:06 PM on August 14, 2018


Perhaps this is sewer gas. If there is a vent stack behind the sink, might it be blocked or venting into your wall? Seal around the sink drain pipe, so that no air passes through that area.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 12:36 PM on August 14, 2018


When you think you've identified the problem and fixed it (eg DampRid around the old sink leak), do a wipedown of the area with white vinegar. It's a reasonable cleaning compound and an excellent olfactory reset. By the time the kitchen doesn't smell like vinegar anymore (several hours, for me), the presence/absence of the Bad Smell will be a pretty good indicator of whether you've fixed the source or if it's still creating more bad smell.
posted by aimedwander at 1:27 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


If the vent pipe is plugged, or non-existent, this could cause all the water in the trap for the sink to get sucked out, letting sewer gas up through the drain.
There is a trap, right?
posted by rudd135 at 6:30 PM on August 14, 2018


Make sure there is a high loop with the tube that drains the dishwasher to the drain; otherwise whatever you rinse in the sink will go to the dishwasher and stay there until you run the dishwasher.
posted by SillyShepherd at 8:09 AM on August 23, 2018


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