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ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS - INSPECT, TEST, REMEDY
AIR CLEANER PURIFIER TYPES
AIR POLLUTANTS, COMMON INDOOR
AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT STRATEGIES
AIRBORNE PARTICLE ANALYSIS METHODS
ALLERGEN TESTS for BUILDINGS
ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION IN BUILDINGS
BACKDRAFTING HEATING EQUIPMENT
BLACK MOLD, TOXIC & ALLERGENIC
BLEACHING MOLD, Advice about
BOOKSTORE - ENVIRONMENTAL
CADMIUM in the HOME
CARBON MONOXIDE - CO
CARPETING & INDOOR AIR QUALITY
CAT DANDER in BUILDINGS
CELL PHONE RADIATION
CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS in WATER
COMBUSTION PRODUCTS & IAQ
DIRECTORY of MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERTS
DUST SAMPLING PROCEDURE
EMERGENCY RESPONSE, IAQ, GAS, MOLD
EMF ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDSRE
ENDOCRINE DISRUPTERS at BUILDINGS
FLOOD DAMAGE ASSESSMENT, SAFETY & CLEANUP
FLOOR TILE ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION
FUNGICIDAL SPRAY & SEALANT USE
GAS EXPOSURE EFFECTS, TOXIC
HEATING OIL EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS
HOUSE DUST ANALYSIS
HOUSE DUST COMPONENTS
HUMIDITY CONTROL & TARGETS INDOORS
INDOOR AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT GUIDE
LAB PROCEDURES MICROSCOPE TECHNIQUES
LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE
LEGIONELLA LEGIONNAIRES' DISEASE
LIGHT, GUIDE to FORENSIC USE
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MILDEW in BUILDINGS ?
MOISTURE CONTROL in BUILDINGS
MOLD ACTION GUIDE - WHAT TO DO ABOUT MOLD
MOLD CONSULTANTS / INSPECTORS
MOLD DETECTION & INSPECTION GUIDE
MOLD EXPERT, WHEN TO HIRE
MOLD RELATED ILLNESS GUIDE
MSDS Material Safety Data Sheets
MVOCs & MOLDY MUSTY ODORS
NOISE / SOUND DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
OIL, HEATING, EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS
OIL HEAT ODORS & NOISES
OIL SPILL CLEANUP / PREVENTION
PET ALLERGENS / PET DANDER
PET STAINS & MARKS in BUILDINGS
PLASTIC ODORS-SCREENS, SIDING
PLUMBING SYSTEM ODORS
PVC - VINYL BUILDING PRODUCTS
RADON HAZARD TESTS & MITIGATION
SAFETY HAZARDS GUIDE
SAFETY HAZARDS & INSPECTIONS
METHANE GAS HAZARDS
SEPTIC SYSTEM ODORS
SEWAGE BACKUP TEST & CLEANUP
SEWER GAS ODORS
SMELL PATCH TEST to Track Down Odors
STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING EXTERIORS
STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING INTERIORS
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
UFFI UREA FORMALDEHYDE FOAM INSULATION
URETHANE FOAM Deterioration, Outgassing
VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO
VOCs VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS
WATER ODORS, CAUSE CURE
Building odor & smell diagnosis & cure procedure: This article provides a methodology useful for tracking down the sources of odors in buildings. When you can't seem to find the source of an annoying building smell, we suggest using these investigation methods that include noting the time, weather, area, operation of equipment and similar conditions that will help track a building odor problem to its source.
How to find the cause of odors, odor sources, and how to find and cure the source of smells in building air, water, heating and cooling systems, or other sources.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2014 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
We offer below a list of smell and odor diagnosis clues 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 odor diagnostic checklist is in simple alphabetic order, not in order of probable cause, importance, or health risk, all of which can vary widely. A printer-friendly abbreviated PDF version of this smell diagnostic checklist is at
Photo at left: OdoBan™ is a dilutable-liquid product advertised for use in "elimninating odors" in buildings. This product was on display at a building supply store and is widely available. The container labeling advertises the product for use as a deodorizer that "eliminates unpleaseant odors on washable surfaces", as a sanitizer, a disinfectant, a mildewstat
We could not find the product ingredients on its label but the product's MSDS is readily available and indicates that principal ingredients (other than water) include isopropanol and Alkyl (C12-16) dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride. There the product is described as including a floral alcohol - its source of a more pleasant scent than the odor it is intended to ban. Indeed, killing bacteria (if that is the odor source) or washing a contaminated surface with a sanitizer or disinfect is likely to significantly reduce the contribution of that specific surface area as an odor source.
But as we comment at CHEMICAL ODOR SOURCES, because an odor reservoir can provide effectively a continuous source of smell, in our opinion the most effective means of odor removal in buildings is to find and remove the odor source. For this reason this article series focuses on methods to find the source of smells or odors in and around buildings.
Keeping a log sheet that records date, time, weather, operation of building mechanical conditions, sun, wind, etc. can help track down otherwise mysterious smells in or around buildings.
You can start tracking down the cause or source of an odor in one or more of several ways:
Continue reading at ODOR DIAGNOSIS SIX STEPS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
Suggested citation for this web page
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: rotten peach odor versus furnace salesman
(Mar 7, 2014) April short said:
My installer and furnace salesman insist this 'rotten peach' odour has nothing to do with the furnace. On the web, many others have complained about it. The installer says the furnace works perfectly although when we bought it last year they installed it incorrectly and had to come back for an entire year and many service calls to get it right. Now the smell comes through all vents when the heat comes on. It is not present when the fan alone is on. It is not present when the furnace is off. It was not present when the old furnace was on.
I am getting nausea, dizziness and headaches. We have an oil furnace. They say I am imagining the odour even though one installer could smell it. I can use any help I can get. We have had extra air returns put in, a new condensation mat- anything the installer could think of to no avail. I am home all day and getting ill from the fumes.
April, there is just not enough information in this text exchange to allow speculation on the odor source you describe; what's needed is an onsite expert to assist you. It may be helpful however to keep a log of odor observations and time of day and relationship to equipment being on or off.
I've suggested elsewhere that especially with warm air heat (you describe a "furnace" that's a warm air system) odors can be transported in ductwork from one building are a to another.
For safety be sure you have working, properly located and installed smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
Question: industrial cleaner odor in hallway
(May 22, 2014) Michael said:
We have a strong 'industrial cleaner' odor in our entry hall way. 3 level home, the odor is on 1st floor, ground level. The smell almost seems as
Michael I'm not sure what company, among those who would claim they could solve your problem, could actually do so reliably and economically, especially if the only approach is to apply more chemicals in form of a "dedodorant".
Usually it's best to track down the smell to its probable source using someone coming up from fresh air away from the site and who has a good sense of smell, combined with visual inspection for likely odor sources. Sometimes our SMELL PATCH TEST KIT approach (very inexpensive) can help.
If you call industrial hygienists, IAQ consultants, or home inspectors who offer the service discuss their experince and their approach. I would not hire someone who's just going to stop by and "do some tests" without a thorough inspection.
Question: employee complaint about food odors
(June 17, 2014) Don Brewer said:
I have a client who has employees complaining about food-related odors, specifically a spice that seems to be very cuisine specific. I suspect the odor is being generated by an EMPLOYEE heating up food in the microwave. Any idea on how to test for this spice odor ?
A simple approach might be to use the smell patch test procedure - see the article link above
Question: odors in a high rise building hallway
(June 25, 2014) Arlene said:
I live in a high rise building (more than 30 floors). Since February, there has been an odor in the hallway outside my neighbor's apartment and now also outside my apartment and sometimes coming into my apartment.
Others smell this, too. But I seem to be the only one having a reaction (I can feel it on my tongue and in my stomach).
The building did a test for organic compounds (unfortunately when I was away). I have the "negative" results, and the building intends to do nothing else.
The smell is intermittent. Sometimes it is as if it was never there. Sometimes it is weak. Sometimes very strong. People think it is a chemical odor; some think it seems like strong cleaning materials. The building management denies any responsibility for the odor.
There were 2 times that wallboard was breached in repairs since I moved in over 2 years ago: (1) to deal with some leak that was not in my apartment but apparently originated within a chase in my apartment that caused a leak of a fresh water pipe in the storage room; (2) repairs in the ceiling outside my apartment; I am unsure what was fixed. I cannot tie the origin to either repair but cannot rule them out. My understanding is that it is possible that the repairs breached fire stops that were not repaired.
I do not know what to do next. The smell makes me feel ill. I cannot figure out what we are smelling or what the path to my area of the building might be.
Unfortunately, doing a "test for organic compounds" may have been a bit of an unreliable shot in the dark, as the chemistry of gases and odors can be complex so that choosing a rather specific test may not give an assurance that "nothing is present".
Keeping an odor log that relates smells to various changing factors such as weather, occupancy, operation of equipment, and using a smell patch test approach can usually narrow down the source.
Keep in mind that elevator shafts, stairwells, HVAC systems, vent systems and other mechanical means can transport odors in tall buildings.
Question: sewage backup odors
(July 7, 2014) J. Frost said:
My septic tank had overfilled. the plug was not in the bathroom sink. I have a brown stain on the glass shower doors. does anyone know how to clean this off? I have tried TSP, bleach, Mr Clean...with no success - thank you
Watch out: because health hazards are involved, sewage backups are cleaned using household cleaners and disinfectants. If a large area of was contaminated you probably should hire a professional.
A single sewage backup would not in my experience make permanent stains on a glass shower door, but perhaps there was a pre-existing mineral deposit that resists cleaning. In that case you need a cleaner that removes mineral scale deposits or iron deposits - readily found at your supermarket or building supplier in the cleaner section. Sometimes even vinegar will do the trick.
Question: BO smells treated with bleach
(July 27, 2014) LKW said:
I have lived in my home for ten years. About five years ago I used a cleaning service that used bleach to clean my bathrooms. About three days after the cleaning, I would smell a scent that smelled like body order to me. This continued even after I no longer used the cleaning service. It has become worse over the years. I have a glass tile window above the bath tub with vinyl shutters over. it. The window faces west and it seams that the heat causes the fumes to come either from the window or the shutters. I wonder if cleaning either of these with bleach could remove a protective coating or cause a chemical reaction with the heat causing the smell of (body order to me) or a hot chemical smell (to my husband).
Can anyone give me any information about this condition?
In the More Reading links just above please click on the article titled
PLASTIC ODORS-SCREENS, SIDING
to read about the odor source you suspect.
let me know if questions remain
Question: gasoline smell remediation
There is a strong odor of what I believe to be gasoline coming from my outdoor shower. The previous owner had a motorcycle he kept in the vicinity. What can I clean it with? The shower water drains onto a wood floor and out into the dirt below.
First we need to know accurately where this odor comes from: a spill, adjacent equipment, or (dangerously) in the water supply itself. For surfaces you can try the SMELL PATCH TEST KIT we recommend above - easy and nearly free.
If gasoline or other petroleum product spills occurred onto nearby soils the soil may need to be removed or encapsulated.
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.
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