Oooh that smell.
April 6, 2008 1:55 PM   Subscribe

What is the strange smell emanating from certain areas of our apartment? It's very strong and sour, like boiled cabbage...and it's confined to the front hallway and the bathroom.

Initially I thought it might be cooking smells from other people's apartments--there's a lot of that in the stairwells--but no one's cooking smells like this. And if that were the case, why would it smell that way in the bathroom? The smell is strongest when the heat has been on or it's hot outside, and it seems to be concentrated by the bathroom sink and (oddly) inside the hall closet.

We've lived in the same apartment for 4 years now, and the smell's aways been here. Pre-war multifamily (30+ apartments) rental building that's not well maintained. Yeah.

After reading through the other stinky-apartment askme posts, I suspect the source is something not so benign. So what nasty substance is the culprit? Is it mildew? A cockroach colony? Cracked pipes? (I doubt it's a dead animal, unless there's a special rat burial ground in our walls.) Even if it's something we can't fix on our own, I'd still like to have an idea of what it could be before I approach the landlord about it. Thanks folks.
posted by cowboy_sally to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
I'd dump a load of bleach down the bathroom sink and any other drains in the bathroom, just to rule out any stinkiness there.
posted by chiababe at 2:03 PM on April 6, 2008

It very well could be mildew or mold inside the wall behind the sheet rock.

By all means tell your landlord about it. Black mold (Stachybotrys) is toxic.

How to Check for Mold Inside Walls.

How to Find Mold.
"Odors can often be the first or only sign of a potential mold problem, since mold commonly propagates in places not normally in view. This does not necessarily mean that you definitely have a mold problem, but it should prompt you to look for the other signs, or to look for the mold growth itself. In some cases, mildewy smells will only be evident when the air conditioning or heat is turned on, or it may just be much more evident when the HVAC system is running. If this is the case, then it is very possible that you have significant mold growth within the HVAC system." *
posted by ericb at 2:12 PM on April 6, 2008

My apartment sometimes smells like garbage because my downstairs neighbor likes to keep hers. Rule out the neighbors. The easiest way is to just ask them if they have any smelly issues.
posted by uandt at 2:15 PM on April 6, 2008

Are there rats/mice/squirrels around? This same cabbagey rotten smell happened at my parents house when a field mouse got in the walls and died. You pretty much have to wait out the decomposition. Sorry.
posted by pieoverdone at 4:00 PM on April 6, 2008

could be a stack vent that isn't venting to the outside (you're smelling raw sewage. smells cabbagey)

is there an unused sink or toilet somewhere? pour some water in it to refill the P-trap.

or maybe it's just lingering from St Pat's day?

talk to your neighbors. diaper pail anywhere?
posted by KenManiac at 5:24 PM on April 6, 2008

It's probably not something dead if it's been there for years. That was my first thought (an oddly sweetish, but sickening smell) but if it's been that long, it would be completely decomposed by now.
posted by Miko at 5:52 PM on April 6, 2008

I'm not sure if it was the exact smell, but we had a bad mold or mildew (not sure) due to a leak in our kitchen sink that smelled kind of like that. Maybe you have that in your bathroom? Check under all your sinks for growth and have the landlord fix any issues.
posted by SuperNova at 6:31 PM on April 6, 2008

Is there any linoleum, carpeting, or other nailed-down floor covering? Damp, rotting wood beneath such things can smell very much like garbage.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:48 PM on April 6, 2008

Thanks for your answers, you guys. They're all really helpful.

It wouldn't surprise me if there's a blocked stack vent (though I'm not sure if my building has one) because I've been in an apartment with one of those before and the smell was sorta similar. But I don't think that explains why it smells that way in the front hallway (particularly the closet) where there are no heating or water pipes. (Although there is a mystery door in the kitchen, which abuts said closet, that is spackled and painted shut, which could be connected to an old garbage chute that's filled with dead bodies...who knows.)

I think I can rule out diapers (no babies nearby) and dead animals (unless there's a steady supply of them). It's definitely not a sweet decomp smell--it's really tangy and robust.

It's looking like it's probably mold, but I'm not going to rule out possible garbage smells coming from the people downstairs. (Tune in next week for part two of this question: What's the best way to ask my neighbors if they're hoarding garbage?)
posted by cowboy_sally at 7:53 AM on April 7, 2008

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