Photograph of - damaged vinyl siding Guide to Plastic, Vinyl Odor Source Diagnosis - Vinyl Siding & Plastic Windows, Flooring & other Odor Sources
     

  • VINYL SIDING or WINDOW PLASTIC ODORS - CONTENTS: Guide to Diagnosing & Curing Sources of Chemical and Plastic Odors in buildings - how to find & fix the source of plastic smells.
    • SOURCES: Plastic & vinyl building products that may emit plastic or chemical odors & smells
    • CHECKLIST for Diagnosing Plastic or Chemical Smells in buildings - how to track down sources of plastic smells in buildings by noting area of strongest odor, time of day, sunlight exposure, and presence of particular building materials
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs on how to find and cure sources of plastic odors at building exteriors or interiors
  • REFERENCES

InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website.

How to find & cure plastic like odors and smells in buildings: this article discusses common odor sources, including indoor plastic odors or chemical smells observed at some installations of vinyl exterior building siding or in other plastic or vinyl building products such as windows and trim.

We describe common sources of plastic or vinyl type indoor odors and we provide a checklist that can help pinpoint the source of such odors by noting information about the building construction, building materials, HVAC systems, weather, sunlight, temperature, time of day, wind direction, and other clues.

We provide links to articles detailing possible health effects of exposure to indoor VOCs and plastic odors and smells.

Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2015 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.

Guide to Finding Plastic or Chemical Odors In buildings

Photograph of - damaged vinyl sidingA variety of common building products, coatings, and furnishings may exude odors that disturb at least some occupants. Most of these occur in new building products and dissipate fairly rapidly. Other building odors or "house B.O." may be persistent or may be intermittent but unpleasant.

Some of these plastic-like odor sources in buildings can be tricky to track down. Here we list some common building products that may produce chemical or plastic like odors. We provide some suggestions for tracking down these odor sources in buildings, and we offer suggestions for removing or curing these odors.

Siding, window, screen, & other "plastic" odors: We've investigated a number of reports of strange odors in residential buildings that were ultimately traced to vinyl or plastic which was outgassing. We've observed this phenomenon with vinyl siding, plastic or vinyl window or door screens, and plastic or vinyl windows.

A key diagnostic step in finding odor source was the observation that the odors were strongest when the material under investigation was exposed to sunlight or other sources of heat. [This article is under development, September 2007, and we welcome content suggestions or questions].

 

Some Common Plastic & Vinyl Building Products that May Emit Odors Include:

Vinyl replacement window may not be easy to spot (C) Daniel Friedman
  • Vinyl siding in certain product batches by some manufacturers may exude a plastic odor, especially when new or when exposed to heat or sunlight.

    See VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO

    and PLASTIC ODORS-SCREENS, SIDING.

    Also see
    BUCKLED or SAGGED or Rippled Vinyl SIDING due to Heat Damage - Barbecue Grille or or Nearby Fire.
  • Vinyl or plastic exterior trim in certain product batches by some manufacturers may exude a plastic odor, especially when new or when exposed to heat or sunlight.

    See VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO
  • Vinyl or plastic windows, such as plastic-clad or vinyl clad windows by some manufacturers may exude a "chemical" odor or smell, especially when new or when heated.


    A solid vinyl replacement window may not be so easy to spot during a building survey, as our photo (left) illustrates. The replacement window is covered by an aluminum storm and screen window, aluminum covered trim, etc.
  • Window or door screens, plastic or vinyl, sometimes smell, especially when new or when heated.
  • Vinyl flooring, especially when new, can emit a plastic smell or odor; some flooring mastics are also odor sources. Vinyl sheet flooring odors are discussed further in the FAQs at the end of this article.
  • Vinyl-covered furniture, especially when new, can emit a strong plastic odor, as can the clear vinyl coverings used by some folks as protective furniture covers
  • Vinyl or plastic clothing such as raincoats or even plastic storage bags, especially when new
  • Some glues and mastics used to apply flooring may off-gas a plastic-like chemical smell
  • Plastic vapor barriers such as poly used as ground cover or dirt covering in crawl spaces can give off very strong chemical odors that can, in our experience, take four to seven years to dissipate, depending on the level of ventilation in the area, temperatures, and exposure to sunlight (unlikely in a crawl space).

    Exposure to odors & gases from a polyethylene vapor barrier we were installing in a crawl space led to severe nausea and dizziness.

Checklist for Diagnosing Plastic Odors or Smells in buildings

We offer below a list of clues, focused on common sources of plastic-like odors, that any home owner, home inspector, or other investigator can follow in seeking to pinpoint the source of an annoying or obnoxious odor in buildings. Readers are asked to contact us to suggest additions or corrections to this list.

Often people's perception of odors varies with time and exposure or with a number of other site factors that make it hard to track down just where a smell is coming from. But if we think carefully about when, and under what conditions we notice odors, often that information is instrumental in tracking down an odor to its source and thus in helping us decide if an odor refers to a potentially dangerous or unhealthy condition.

This list is in simple alphabetic order, not in order of probable cause, importance, or health risk, all of which can vary widely.

  • Odors & Appliances: does the odor appear only when certain appliances are running: cook stove, air conditioner, heater, aquarium pump, fans, clothes dryers, clothes washers, dishwashers, or electrical devices such as TV's?
  • Odors & Building Structure: does the odor relate to presence of a nearby air movement pathway such as a building stairwell, elevator shaft, or heating and cooling duct system?
  • Odors & Chemicals Used in or around the building: what chemicals have been applied or used in or around the building that may produce constant or episodic (depending on temperature, humidity, sunlight, wind direction, operation of HVAC equipment etc) odors in or near the building. Examples of some odor sources that at least some readers describe as "chemical" in nature are given
    at CHEMICAL ODOR SOURCES.
  • Odors & Fans: while exhaust fans are often used to move odors out of a building, a little thinking and investigating may be in order: does the exhaust fan or whole house fan or attic roof vent fan cause odors, dust, or even mold to move upwards through the building? (Be careful that your whole house fan or other exhaust fans do not overpower and cause improper operation of your radon mitigation system if you have one installed).
  • Odor history: when was the odor first noticed? What date? For how long has it been observed? Who first observed it? Does the first occurrence of a smell relate to an event, change, or modification in the building? If so, what exactly?
  • Odor location: does the odor appear throughout a building or only on certain floors, in certain rooms, or at certain walls?
    • What is different about the room where an odor appears:
      • What side of the building is the room on? What conditions are different there such as sun exposure, wind exposure, nearby trees, prevalent wind direction, outdoor possible odor sources?
      • What side of the room, what wall, has the strongest odor: is it an exterior or interior wall?
      • What materials are unique to the odor-source room, such as carpets, carpet padding, drapes, window shades, kind and type and age of windows, screens, heat, air conditioning, pet occupancy, people occupancy, laundry storage, proximity to baths, kitchens, laundry, openings between floors?
    • What is different about the floor or level in a building where odors occur? Proximity to basements, attics, leaks, rodents, pests, animals, heating equipment, pesticide treatments

      On request we can describe a procedure that assists in pinpointing odor sources to a particular surface or piece of furniture or carpeting, using aluminum foil, paper towels, and simple masking tape.

  • Odors & neighbors: does the odor correlate with activities by building occupants or building neighbors? What about trash burning, level of septic system usage, use of woodstoves, coal stoves, home improvements, building projects.
  • Odors & occupants: does the odor occur when the building is occupied by large number of people, visitors, or specific individuals who may have brought something new into the building?
  • Odor perceivers: who notices the smells? Is the odor perceived only by certain occupants? Is the odor more noticeable to building occupants or to occasional visitors.

    People's sensitivity to many odors tends to diminish over longer exposure times as the odor-sensing neurons and brain response become desensitized. Such individuals may notice an odor only upon entry to a building and not after being indoors for a time; people can also become desensitized to an odor such that even after leaving and returning to the building they do not notice the odor as much as is noticed by visitors. This seems especially true with animal and pet odors for people who live with pets.
  • Odor strength: is the odor perceived as strong or mild?
  • Odors & time of occurrence: does the odor appear all of the time or only at certain times. For odors that come and go, does the time of the odor correlate with:
    • Time of day, sunlight, operation of heating or cooling equipment
    • Time of year, season, foliage, outdoor or indoor activities - building areas exposed to sunlight or shading
    • Heating or cooling season: changes in building heating or cooling that in turn heat or cool plastics such as siding, plastic windows, screens, trim, even plastics in or near heating supply ducts can affect the occurrence of plastic odors in buildings
  • Odors & local temperature: does the odor appear or disappear in relation to changes in building temperature?
    • Sunlight striking plastic window screens may make a distinctive odor only on the sunlit side of the building
  • Odors & weather conditions: does the odor correlate with weather conditions such as humidity, temperature, rain, snow, wind?

Health Effects of Exposure to "Plastic" Odors or "Vinyl" Odors

The jury may be out on this question. Plastics are used in an enormous range of building materials and consumer products, and plastics vary widely in their properties, chemical composition, tendency to give off gases, smells, odors, and in possible health concern.

One of the plastics that has received a lot of study are those using vinyl chloride. This product might be present in some common building products such as vinyl siding and vinyl windows or screens. The US EPA has classified vinyl chloride as a Group A, human carcinogen.

For details see PLASTIC or VINYL ODOR EXPOSURE - we have moved the plastic odor or burned plastic exposure discussion there. That article discusses PVC exposure and also more general
PLASTIC, BURNED ODOR EXPOSURE HAZARDS

Watch out: Vinyl chloride might be present in gas form as a colorless, flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor at levels of about 3000 ppm (the odor detection threshold). We provide the US EPA health report on vinyl chloride
at VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO.

Odor Diagnosis Strategies:

You can start tracking down the cause or source of an odor in one or more of several ways:

  1. ODOR DIAGNOSIS SIX STEPS - taking an orderly approach to odor source tracking
  2. ODOR DIAGNOSIS CHECKLIST - an easy checklist of stuff to examine or test
  3. ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE - includes a catalog of places to look when tracking down an odor source
  4. SMELL PATCH TEST to FIND ODOR SOURCE - procedure for testing specific surfaces or items to see if an odor souirce of if they have absorbed and are re-emitting an odor

Chemical Odor / Solvent Odor Complaint "Solved" 12/09/2013 - Vinyl Siding, Trim, Windows Odor on Attached Outdoor Covered Porch or "Florida Room" or "Lanai"

Florida room vinyl products suspected as odor source (C) InspectApedia P.O.D.

I have very good news... finally! :) We continued to leave the windows open during the first 3 weeks in November. The odor still lingered, but less so because of the fresh air exchange.

So, feeling somewhat confident that it had dissipated sufficiently to allow a potential buyer to come in, we put the mattresses back in and started to put house back together for sale.

Even so, I was still a bit apprehensive that the odor would return as soon as we closed it up.

As I worked inside the house, my husband tackled the lanai outside, which has vinyl windows, screens and an unfinished concrete floor.

He used a heavy mixture of clorox on the concrete floor and the house siding to remove any mildew that had built up during the summer.

Florida room vinyl products suspected as odor source (C) InspectApedia P.O.D.

Incredibly, the solvent odor actually seemed to have disappeared when he was done! We gave it the closed house test for about an hour and it never built up before we left. Any other time, the odor would have been heavy within 10 minutes.

It really appears that the odor had absorbed into the concrete floor in the lanai and was somehow seeping into the house. When I got home that night, I googled "concrete absorbs solvent odors," to see if that was possible.

It actually pulled up your site where you note that it definitely can pick up chemical odors.

[See CONCRETE DUST & ODORS]

I'm not sure if I read that before, but if I did I guess it didn't strike me as a possibility because I was so focused on the inside where I used the polish. Your site is awesome and has so much useful information

I was in shock... lol, but not quite sure whether to trust that it was really gone. We went back to the house the next day to see if it was still clear and it was. This was very fortunate because someone requested to see the house the very next day. The people came in, there was no smell and they bought the house... it was that fast... :) That was about two weeks ago, and we close on Dec. 20th.

I truly believe the odor had permeated the concrete and was seeping into the house all this time. And we had actually put off washing down the lanai all summer so we could work on the odor first... go figure! I have attached some pictures of the house so you can now see what we were dealing with.

I appreciate your guidance and assistance during the past few months. I am so relieved that we can finally put this nightmare to rest. P.O.D 12/09/2013

Follow-up:

I am so happy to hear this odor problem has been put to bed. And thanks for the helpful photos. Just to be sure I understand correctly, "Lanai" as you use it refers to the attached porch along one side of your home, right? A couple of questions remain about why the odor is gone and what one might expect in the future.

1. I have had many reports of odors traced to vinyl products - plastic trim, siding, even window screens. Is it possible that the odor cure is actually because of lower temperatures or closing windows between the house and the actual odor source: the outside vinyl?

See VINYL SIDING or WINDOW PLASTIC ODORS for details.

2. Can we figure out why we didn't figure out why the odor was coming from outdoors? - Ed.

Reader Reply:

... the vinyl siding is a very good possibility also. There is one wall of vinyl siding on the house inside the porch. The screens in the porch are fiberglass and the windows are vinyl. The vinyl siding was washed down with Clorox and water at the same time as the concrete floor when the smell dissipated. My husband did not spray the vinyl windows and screens with Clorox.

Something I don't think I ever mentioned, and is probably an important clue, I used to smell the odor from down the street as we were driving up to the house, whether the vinyl windows in the porch were open or closed. My husband always thought I was imagining it 'cause he couldn't smell it. It's possible it was coming from all the vinyl in the porch. The odor was very heavy inside the porch whenever we walked in.

Inside the house always smelled whether the windows in the house or the porch were open or closed. The concrete floor does not extend under the house, it is just dirt under there. But it must have been seeping into the house somehow. I believe that opening the windows and airing out the house helped over time, but it did not go away until [we] used the Clorox, at which time it virtually disappeared. - P.O.D. 12/9/2013

 

Continue reading at PLASTIC or VINYL ODOR EXPOSURE or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.

Or see ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE

Suggested citation for this web page

VINYL SIDING or WINDOW PLASTIC ODORS at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

More Reading

Green link shows where you are in this article series.

...




Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Click to Show or Hide FAQs

Ask a Question or Search InspectApedia

Questions & answers on how to find and cure sources of plastic odors at building exteriors or interiors.

Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.

Search the InspectApedia website

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...

Technical Reviewers & References

Publisher's Google+ Page by Daniel Friedman

Click to Show or Hide Citations & References