Healthy Home: Reasons Your House Stinks

Front-loading washing machines may smell musty because they are reservoirs for growing mold.

Front-Loading Washing Machine

Musty-smelling mold often grows on this type of washer. It can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and skin. It can also lead to allergic reactions and asthma attacks. Leaving the door open between loads can help keep mold at bay. Regularly drying and cleaning the rubber gasket also helps.

Your garbage disposal can be a source of odors in your kitchen.

Garbage Disposal

Odor-causing bacteria can live in your kitchen sink and drain. More can grow from garbage disposal scraps. Do this once a week to clean: Put 6 ice cubes, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 3 thin lemon slices, and 1 teaspoon of bleach into the disposal. Add 6 more ice cubes and turn it on. When the grinding stops, run cold water for 30 seconds. The ice helps knock food particles loose. Bleach kills bacteria, and lemon slices help with odor.

New furniture emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that affect indoor air quality.

New Furniture

The sofa or cabinets you just bought might be releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. VOCs are gases -- like formaldehyde and toluene -- that can irritate your nose and throat. They can also cause headaches and dizziness. Some VOCs have been linked to cancer. Open windows to get air flowing if you can. And look for low-VOC products to limit your exposure.

Carpet traps dirt, dust and pet dander so HEPA vacuum it frequently throughout the week.

Dirty Carpet

It can catch dust, dirt, and pet dander or pee. Carpeting can also trap mold spores, leaving your home with a musty smell. To ward off odors, vacuum at least 3 times a week with a machine that has a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. Deep clean your carpets once a year using dry steam cleaning.

Clean up spills in your fridge right away so they don't allow smelly bacteria to grow.

Funky Fridge

Spoilage bacteria is a type of bacteria that makes food taste and smell bad. It can grow in low temperatures. Wipe up spills right away using hot, soapy water to keep your fridge fresh. Avoid cleaning products -- they may make your food taste like chemicals. Go through the fridge once a week and toss anything that's expired. An open box of baking soda can also help with odors.

Wash your towels at least once a week to inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Wet Towels

If you don't wash them often enough, they'll start to breed bacteria and smell like dirty gym socks. One study found that a type of bacteria called Moraxella osloensis is the main cause of stinky laundry. Wash your towel at least once a week -- more if you live somewhere hot and humid. Spread it out on a towel rack to dry instead of hanging from a hook.

Animals nesting in your attic or other areas of your home may lead to odors.

Dead Animal

A faint smell that slowly gets stronger and stays for days or weeks could be a sign that a wild animal has died in your attic, inside a wall, or under your deck. It's also possible they're still alive, and you're smelling their pee or poop.

Wash your sheets at least twice a month to get rid of odor-causing bacteria and dead skin cells.

Stale Sheets

You shed dead skin cells every night while you're asleep. Both odor-causing bacteria and dust mites love dead skin cells. That's why you should wash your sheets at least every 2 weeks. Try to do it more often when the weather's hot or if you sweat at night.

Clean the filter in your dishwasher to remove food particles that may lead to bad smells.

Smelly Dishwasher

Food particles could be trapped in the filter. Once a week, take the filter out and scrub it with a soft brush under running water. Wipe up other residue inside the appliance with a sponge. You can use dishwasher cleaner to get it super clean. Or you can put a bowl filled with vinegar in the bottom rack of the empty dishwasher and run a cycle.

Mold growth in walls, air ducts, under carpet or ceiling tiles can lead to musty smells and health problems.

Hidden Mold

If you smell mold but can't see it, it could be growing behind drywall or wallpaper, under wood paneling, or in walls near pipes. It also could be under carpeting or ceiling tiles, or inside air ducts. Mold grows where there's lots of moisture, like under a sink with a leaky pipe or in a poorly ventilated bathroom. It's best to call a professional if you think this is the problem. Trying to fix it yourself could release mold spores.

A dried-out P-trap in a drain pipe may lead to a buildup of smelly sewer gas.

Sewer Smell In the Basement

This is often caused by a dried-out P-trap in a drain pipe. A P-trap is a section of pipe that normally stays filled with water -- this blocks sewer gas (hydrogen sulfide) from entering your home. Breathing hydrogen sulfide can irritate your eyes and throat, cause shortness of breath, and lead to fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. Pouring water into your floor drain may be enough to fix the problem; if it persists, call a plumber.

Pet urine and feces may contain bacteria and parasites so clean up promptly after your pets.

Pets

Dealing with poop and pee is part of living with a cat or dog. But there are reasons other than odor to be careful about cleanup. A recent study found that dog urine isn't sterile, or germ-free -- it has several types of bacteria. And both cat and dog poop can carry things like roundworm and hookworm that can spread to humans. Be sure to clean up accidents quickly, scoop poop out of kitty litter every day, and wash your hands after.

Sulfur smell when you turn on the water may indicate a problem with your water heater.

Hot Water Heater

If your water smells like rotten eggs, sulfur bacteria is probably the cause. It isn't harmful on its own, but it can make hydrogen sulfide gas. This can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat at high levels. It can also cause nausea and headaches. Your hot water heater is likely the problem if you smell the odor only when you run hot water and not cold. A plumber can replace parts and turn up the temperature to kill bacteria.

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REFERENCES:

  • EPA: "What does mold smell like?" "Mold and Health," "What is the difference between Mold and Mildew?" "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home," “Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality."
  • Consumer Reports: "Mold in Your Washing Machine: The Mystery & the Menace," "How to Clean a Dishwasher," "5 Easy Steps to Clean a Smelly Dishwasher," “How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal."
  • Tufts Now: "Why does rotting food smell bad?"
  • American Lung Association: "Carpets."
  • International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "Do Carpets Impair Indoor Air Quality and Cause Adverse Health Outcomes: A Review."
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Refrigeration and Food Safety."
  • Applied and Environmental Microbiology: "Moraxella Species Are Primarily Responsible for Generating Malodor in Laundry," "Microbial Diversity and Putative Opportunistic Pathogens in Dishwasher Biofilm Communities."
  • Cleveland Clinic: "How Often Should You Wash Your (Germ Magnet of a) Bath Towel?" "Here’s How Often You Should Wash Your Sheets in the Summer -- and the Disgusting Reasons Why."
  • Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management: "Identifying and Responding to Wildlife Odors."
  • Scientific World Journal: "Emission Rates of Volatile Organic Compounds Released from Newly Produced Household Furniture Products Using a Large-Scale Chamber Testing Method."
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Mold Allergy."
  • CDC: "You Can Control Mold," "Formaldehyde in Your Home: What you need to know," "Cats," "Dogs," "Toxic Substances Portal -- Hydrogen Sulfide Carbonyl Sulfide."
  • City of Kerrville: "Why Do I Have Sewer Odor In My Home?"
  • Illinois Department of Public Health: "Hydrogen Sulfide Gas."
  • PLOS One: "Characterization of the urinary microbiome in healthy dogs."
  • The Humane Society of the United States: "Preventing litter box problems."
  • Harvard Health Publishing: "Simple steps for avoiding infections from dogs and cats."
  • Minnesota Department of Health: "Why Does My Water Smell Like Rotten Eggs?"
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