Getting rid of leak-induced smell in my apartment
April 1, 2007 4:06 AM   Subscribe

A toilet two floors above me overflowed, resulting in a deluge of foul-smelling water. What can I do about the unholy stench?

The tenant above me got hit the worst, but I still had a considerable amount of water pouring down. Luckily it wasn't over my bed or my books. Anyway, the smell is appalling and it permeates everything.

Does anyone from a similar experience have a magic bullet for horrible leak-induced reekage? All my smell-reducing experience is for specific surfaces or small contained areas -- faced with an entire apartment that smells, I don't know where to begin. Moving and/or sticking it to my landlord are not options at the moment.
posted by Marit to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
Response by poster: (I should clarify -- I'll ask my landlord for help obviously, but I'm not counting on any miracles from that quarter, or even a timely response -- so I want to know what I can do myself.)
posted by Marit at 4:19 AM on April 1, 2007

Best answer: If enough water has leaked from 2 floors up to affect your apartment, you have a bigger problem than you can likely mitigate, by yourself. There is a lot of flooring and structural material above you that has been soaked, beyond what you can see directly in ceiling drywall, or plaster work.

To dry properly, that space, and the space above the apartment above you needs to be opened (by cutting large holes in your ceiling, most likely), and forced air circulation supplied, until all the water is dried out (could be several days). That's just basic. Once that's done, chemicals like chlorine bleach and hypochlorite solutions can be applied as needed to kill smells and disinfect the floor joists and sub-flooring in the units above you. Then, repairs can be made to the drywall/ceiling plaster, and painting can be done.

This is far beyond what the average apartment dweller can take on, and without the proper tools and materials, you can damage the building, or hurt yourself trying. Mop up whatever water has dripped onto your floors, put out buckets or pans to catch additional drips, and let your landlord know immediately that there is water coming into your unit. You have a basic duty in most apartment leasing situations to notify the landlord of problems which could affect the safety or habitability of the structure, so that steps can be taken to prevent further damage.

Just because you think no action is forthcoming, doesn't relieve you of the responsibility to report the problem for your unit. Just be factual about the damage in your own unit, not what you've heard from others about problems in their units.
posted by paulsc at 5:29 AM on April 1, 2007

Response by poster: paulsc, thanks for the thorough reply.

I should clarify my clarifaction -- by "asking my landlord for help," I meant help with the smell. They are already aware of the flood. I immediately notified maintenance when I woke up and realized water was pouring into my apartment. A guy came and stopped the overflowing toilet on the third floor, used a wet vac on the second floor, and then came down and checked out my ceiling. He said nothing could be done until later this week.

So my question was not so much 'should I notify my landlord?' (because I did) but 'what can I do about the smell in the meantime?' From your response it looks like I'll just have to cope until they come.
posted by Marit at 5:43 AM on April 1, 2007

Pull all your furniture and carpets away from the wall and off the floor, so they don't mildew. If it's warm enough, open the door and put a fan in the window. Light candles, run an airfilter, spray the walls and floor with dilute bleach if they're wood/sealed, or with febreze or lysol or something if it's carpet.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:09 AM on April 1, 2007

hydrogen peroxide
posted by peace_love_hope at 8:58 AM on April 1, 2007

I would insist that my landlord hire a company such as ServiceMaster (not an endorsement - I have no personal experience) which I believe specialize in cleaning up big messes like yours, fire damage, etc. I would also insist that they put me up in a hotel or another apartment until the problem is fixed. I know that goes against the move / stick it to the landlord restriction but you shouldn't have to live in unsanitary conditions.

I'm with paulsc (who, btw usually has awesome answers) that this will not be a trivial matter. Besides the smell of sewage that you have now, you also have the problem in the future of mold growing in the walls and ceiling.
posted by SteveTheRed at 10:21 AM on April 1, 2007

Ozium. It is a temporary solution, and sometimes the citrusy-flowery smell is also overpowering, but it is much better than crap.
I get tiny cans of it at my local grocery store, but you might want to look in Target, Kmart or *eghh* Walmart.

(BTW- I got the suggestion for Ozium from AskMe some weeks ago. Thanks AskMe!)
posted by oflinkey at 10:23 AM on April 1, 2007

Maybe try products designed for "pet odors?" Nature's Miracle works well, at least to scrub on any surfaces that got wet. Leaving out bowls of baking soda or coffee grounds will also absorb odors. I'll also second candles (or better, fragrance oil burners) to help mask it the smell, and open windows if at all possible.
posted by AV at 10:45 AM on April 1, 2007

what stevethered said.
your landlord has breached the covenant of quiet enjoyment inherent in all rental agreements. this is a broad covenant which covers everything from intentional acts to being inadvertently doused in shitwater from another unit. if i were the tenant, the landlord would be doing everything in his power to accommodate me, including putting me up in a hotel and hiring professional cleanup, or i would sue him and recover beaucoup $$$$. your situation is unsanitary now, you don't know if those people have hepatitis, so don't spend another night in the apartment until it's been pronounced safe by experts.
posted by bruce at 11:39 AM on April 1, 2007

i would make a call to your local residential tenancies board/landlord tenant board. most have some kind of hotline that you can call to find out your options, in detail.
posted by wreckingball at 1:14 PM on April 1, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice -- I tried the bleach water, moved everything to avoid mildew, and put out bowls of baking soda. I looked for Ozium while I was out, but no luck. Today was nice enough to open all the windows. The smell is still present but it's much more tolerable now. Or maybe I'm getting used to it?

I realize I'd probably be within my rights to ask to be moved temporarily, but I just can't deal with it right now. Full-time job, grad school at night, interviewing for other jobs in other parts of the state, blah blah whine whine. If the landlord doesn't follow the procedure outlined by paulsc, I'll re-think that. Thanks again for the suggestions.
posted by Marit at 4:03 PM on April 1, 2007

If things are slightly damp, you might want to look at geting/renting a dehumidifier.

Pine incense works for me to cover smells, its not chemically and the smoke and pine smells work pretty well to hide oders.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:32 PM on April 1, 2007

If you have a local Walgreens store, they carry Ozium behind the counter in the section with the pipe tobacco, etc.
posted by mrbill at 6:10 PM on April 1, 2007

Contact your local tenants rights organization. Usually you can pay your rent into escrow until the problem is fixed and get a reduced rate for the period that you didn't have full use of your place.
posted by electroboy at 7:28 PM on April 1, 2007

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