Ambient bad apartment smell?
June 11, 2007 2:28 PM   Subscribe

We just bought a house with a separate, finished apartment. The apartment turns out to have a smell, and we can't figure out where it's coming from. The smell is bad: part must, part mildew, and part warmed catfood. So my questions are: 1. Does this smell sound familiar to anyone? (As in, "Oho, that's plainly mildew he's talking about; he should check the blah blah!") 2. Ways to pinpoint an ambient smell? I am going under the apartment this afternoon :( but if I i don't find any carcasses under there, I am out of moves.
posted by everichon to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does it have carpet? Even if it was cleaned, some odors can linger...
posted by Liosliath at 2:30 PM on June 11, 2007

I had a small apartment with a similar smell that turned out to be mold in the ductwork for the furnace. A superfund site's worth of bleach later, and there was no more mold.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:36 PM on June 11, 2007

Not sure what the smell might be, but for tips on how to pinpoint the source, check out this previous thread. It's also got some suggestions of possible weird household smells.
posted by vytae at 2:39 PM on June 11, 2007

A water leak in the wall, even a very very slow one, will cause an odor like that you describe. Figure out where waterlines are likely to be in the wall and feel around for damp or soggy drywall.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 3:09 PM on June 11, 2007

No thoughts on what the smell might be, but if it were I faced with a malodorous apartment I would start with a fan or two blowing fresh air into the space for awhile. After that you can sniff-test around the apartment to see if any area smells stronger than the others, or if it's evenly distributed (which in my mind would point to the carpet.)
posted by EmptyK at 3:10 PM on June 11, 2007

Could be a dead animal trapped in wall, under floors, inside duct work, over any suspended ceiling you might have, etc. The smell you describe could well be, "mummified member of the rodent family."
posted by availablelight at 3:14 PM on June 11, 2007

We had a smell like that in our house recently. It turned out a pipe had broken and the garbage disposal was just dumping the crud into the crawlspace under the house. The smell was part mildew, part unhealthy-compost-pile.

If this is your problem, it will become obvious when you get under there up close to the pile of rotten food, maggots, etc. Have fun!
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:54 PM on June 11, 2007

Another vote for dead rodent in the walls/floor/ceiling. We had that problem once, not much we could do about it but live with it until it went away.
posted by missmagenta at 4:15 PM on June 11, 2007

If there's any sort of dampness or mustiness, you can get bags/cartons of absorbent material at Home Depot/Loews that sometimes help. I moved into a house with a particularly 'wet dirt' smelling basement, and kept a couple of these around, seemed to help a great deal.

Also helped when I left the windows on my truck cracked and the whole thing got rained on. Oops.
posted by pupdog at 5:33 PM on June 11, 2007

Response by poster: I have now been under the apartment; the crawlspace door has been off for who knows how long. The odor? Cat poop--cat poop all over the crawlspace. Or some kinda poop, anyway. *sigh* I look forward to some delightful hours with a shovel and a five-gallon bucket this weekend. Thank you all for the ideas; moisture could still turn out to be a factor.
posted by everichon at 7:12 PM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Everichron, you should be really careful when cleaning out that crawlspace. Get a good mask, at least.
posted by Liosliath at 8:36 PM on June 11, 2007

Wear a mask, and wash up carefully.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:37 AM on June 12, 2007

Another source of such odors in places like this is a dried-out drain trap. If the place has been empty, the water in the U-joint (trap) under a sink, tub or shower, could have dried out, which then allows sewer odor to come up from the drain.

(I know problem solved, this is for posterity)
posted by Goofyy at 6:54 AM on June 12, 2007

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