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Help, My House... Is Smelly

August 21, 2017
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You threw out the trash. Scrubbed every inch squeaky clean. Even invested in an aromatherapy diffuser to lure others (and trick yourself) off the scent. But you know it’s there - that odd, pesky odour that seems to defy all housekeeping logic. Don't blame it on plain bad luck; when bad smells linger - it’s often your home’s way of telling you that something’s up. Here, we look into what causes 6 common household odours at home, plus tricks to get rid of them (and their smells).


If it smells like…

1. Rotten Eggs / An Unflushed Toilet

You know, like someone did major business in your bathroom, and forgot to flush it for days. Now, your whole house smells faintly of cesspit.

House Smells

Interior Designer: Thomas & Team Creation

What Causes It?

Have you been using your bathrooms regularly? Sewage smells may just be the result of a dried up sink/toilet bowl P or S-trap. These traps should be filled with enough water that helps to prevent pungent sewage gas from spreading up and out. Likewise, a broken or clogged pipe are potential culprits that may cause the stench to leak.

However, if you realise that your toilets aren’t causing the problem, and it’s a stronger smell, it could point towards something even more dangerous - a gas leak.

House Smells

Interior Designer: Design Chapterz

How To Fix It:

Thirsty sink or WC trap: Give it a flush or turn the tap on to get water flowing and filling up. It should get rid of the smell in the process. However, if it’s a broken or clogged pipe, it’s best to call a plumber to get it fixed or replaced.

Gas leak: Evacuate the area, turn off anything that’s combustible or flammable (like your kitchen hobs, lights) and call your gas provider to come down for a look.


2. That ‘Old’ Smell

Part stale, part musty, we’re talking about that odour that smells as if your home hasn’t been dusted or used for ages.

House Smells

Interior Designer: DB Studio

What Causes It?

Especially in Singapore’s warm, humid climate, the old, vintage-y smell is probably the result of mold and mildew spreading to your walls, plumbing, sinks. Basically, anywhere that may have contact with dirt and moisture. Also, any dark and damp places are potential mold hotspots.

House Smells

Interior Designer: Luova Project Services

How To Fix It

For small mould spots on non-absorbent surfaces like sinks, tile grouts or window crevices, scrub it away with soap water, a 25% water and 75% vinegar solution, or a 10% bleach 90& water alternative. For porous surfaces, like your air-con wall vents, you may need to replace them. To prevent further mould or mildew growth, always remember to ventilate your space well - or simply invest in a de-humidifier.


3. A Cat or A Dog (But You Don’t Have Any)

For anyone who’s ever stepped into a house with pets, you’d know what we mean. That distinctively animal smell that faintly lingers and reminds us of a farm (or zoo).

House Smells

Interior Designer: The Association

What Causes It?

If you’re pretty sure you don’t own any cat, dog or pet of the sort, it could be that some other unwanted critters have decided to nominate you (and your house) as their owners. Pests like rats may choose to settle down in dark, unused corners and may leave their faeces or waste about - thus causing the smell.

House Smells

Interior Designer: Thomas & Team Creation

How To Fix It

Check in places like your kitchen sink cabinets, your storerooms, or your rubbish chute vent areas. Don’t attempt to get rid of these rats with your own hands! They may be carriers of harmful bacteria or allergens. Instead, engage a pest exterminator to do the job.


4. Burning Smoke

Checked if you’ve turned off the stove? Alright - but if you’re still smelling like something’s on fire or food that’s burnt, it’s time to start looking.

House Smells

Interior Designer: KDOT Associates

What Causes It?

First, pinpoint where the smoky smell is coming from. If it’s coming from your built-in appliances like ovens, dishwashers or refrigerators when you use them, it could be signs that the electrical wires concealed or in contact with surfaces like your walls are burning up and emitting smoke. Anything that involves concealed wiring, like your ceiling lights are also at risk of emitting such smells.

House Smells

Interior Designer: KDOT Associates

How To Fix It

For both instances, you may need to engage an electrician to diagnose the problem, which could result in a replacement of appliances, or re-wiring works. However smoke (like cigarette smoke) has a tendency to ‘stick’ or linger within your walls. Some ways to get rid of the remaining odour include:

  • For walls, use the 75/25 vinegar-water mixture to wipe across the entire surface area.
  • Sprinkle baking soda on your sofas, mattresses or chairs to absorb the odour. Leave it for about an hour before vacuuming.
  • Throw any fabrics into the washing machine, then add 2 cups of vinegar on a cold wash to rid them of the smell.

5. A New House

The smell of a brand new home - plasticky, dusty and chemical - can be really addictive. Bad news is, you can literally get hooked on it.

House Smells

Interior Designer: Primz Interiors

What Causes It?

In a new home? Most probably plaster or renovation debris, which creates dust. These small particles are dangerous to inhale, especially for those suffering respiratory problems like asthma. If you haven’t renovated your home in a while, think back if you have re-painted your walls? That ‘new’ smell that comes with a fresh coat of paint contains harmful, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Too much of it, and it may lead to nervous system damage, headaches and throat irritations.

House Smells

Interior Designer: Team Interior Design

How To Fix It:

If its pesky renovation dust you’re dealing with, grab a mop, vacuum cleaner, rag and face mask, and follow these steps to thoroughly get rid of any dust in your home. As for paint smells, all it takes is a little planning beforehand. Choose to apply no-odour paints, or paints that are free from VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Also, as paints may take up to 30 days to settle in, keep your space well ventilated (open windows, doors) to release the smells out.


6. A Fishy Smell

You’re pretty sure you placed today’s fish dinner in the refrigerator. But tomorrow and next week flies by, and that salty, pungent stench still lingers. What?

House Smells

Interior Designer: Cozy Ideas Interior Design

What Causes It?

Just because it smells of fish doesn’t necessarily mean the stink is something food-related. In fact, electrical components - such as your wires or other plastic components - give off the same urine-like odour when overheated or melting. Be on high alert when that happens - check all your electrical outlets, and make sure none of them are in contact with other plastics, as it could lead to fires.

House Smells

Interior Designer: Aestherior

How To Fix It

Once you’ve pinpointed the culprits, be sure to remove any damaged electrical components, or ask an electrician to do so (especially for built-in lightings). The next step would be to clear the air of the fishy smell. Ventilating your rooms by opening the doors and windows is one way; others include lighting a scented candle, or putting pandan leaves, cinnamon sticks or lavender stalks to absorb the smell.


Pretty, yet practical.

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