Are these house smells keeping your house from selling?


Are you nose blind to the bad odors in your house? Your buyers aren’t.  If your house smells bad, these stinky smells may be turning prospective buyers away from buying your house. Maybe you know your house smells, but you don’t know why.  In this article, we look at 7 odors that turn off potential buyers and what you can do about them.

House smells like dog

We love our pets, but we become used to the smell of our pets and soon don’t smell the odors they leave behind. I was recently at a friends house and when I walked in the front door, I instantly noticed the smell. It was the smell of their pet dog. Even though their dog was not in the house at the time, the smells from their pet, had permeated the furniture in their house so that everything smelled like dog.

I’m sure my house smells like our pet cat. I don’t notice it when I walk in the house, but I’m guessing our guests notice it. I know when I go on vacation and come back home, somehow the house smells different. It’s because my nose isn’t accustomed to the smell of my house. It’s the same with your buyers. When prospective buyers come through your house, they smell your pet’s odors.

Pet bedding and litter boxes

We all all know to clean our pet’s litter box. But sometimes that’s not enough.  If you can, put the litter box in the garage or someplace out of the way where buyers won’t be smelling your cat’s business. Take the dog’s bedding and wash it. Better yet, remove it completely. They’ll survive sleeping on the floor.

Pet oils

Your pet may use the litter box, or always do their business outside. However, most pets have oils in their fur that rub off on your furniture.   Worse yet, they mark their territory in your house!  After just a few months, these oils can be be significant enough to be smelled by humans.

If your Fido doesn’t always go outside to do his business, the smells can be harder to locate. Often the smells are buried in the corners of the room, in the sheet rock, under the carpet in the carpet tack strips or in the padding. Cleaning the carpet doesn’t usually work. Unfortunately, most carpet cleaning just makes the odors stronger. Rather than removing the odors, water reactivates the odors buried underneath in the padding.

How to tell if your house smells like your pet

If you aren’t sure if your house smells, ask a friend who doesn’t have pets to come by your house and do a smell test.  People who have pets tend to be de-sensitized to pet smells already, so be sure to ask someone who doesn’t have pets.  By all means, be sure to ask your Realtor® if your house smells. 

If the consensus is that your house smells like your dog or cat, you’ll need to identify the source of the odors and solve them.

Locating pet smells

If you need to find where pet odors are coming from, try a black light.  Using a black light will help you spot pet urine or other biologicals that you can’t see under normal daylight.  Use  black light with an extension cord and walk around each room in your house shining the light in corners and on furniture.  Urine stains and other pet markings will show up as blotches of yellow. The room doesn’t have to be dark, but turning off the other lights and closing the blinds will help.  Once, you have identified the source of your pet odors, you’ll need to either remove the item, or treat it.

Treating pet odors

There are enzymes such as Anti Icky Poo you can purchase that will help neutralize these odors. However, these enzymes are expensive except for spot treatment. They typically run about $30 a gallon.

If you have several spots or have had pets for several years, you may also need to replace the carpet, pad and tack strips and baseboard to be able to treat the problem areas.  You may consider carpet cleaning, but carpet cleaning rarely solves the problem long term and only masks the odors that are deep down.  Sometimes, carpet cleaning can actually make the smeslls worse.

Once treated, you may also need to seal the walls and floors with a shellac or an oil based primer such as Zinser Primer. In some cases, you may actually have to remove the wallboard or flooring. I remember seeing a house several years ago where the pet urine stains were so bad they had actually ran down under the house to the floor joists. When crawling under the house, you could see the yellow stains that had run down the boards. Needless to say, the house smelled terrible and the only way the sellers were going to be able to sell the house was as-is.

House smells like cigarette smoke

Non smokers can be very sensitive to the cigarette smoke. I can actually smell cigarette smoke from the cars next to me at stoplights. And it doesn’t have to be cigarettes. We bought a house years ago where marijuana smoke permeated the entire house. It was so bad, you could actually smell it from outside the front door.

Solving smoke odors

Cigarette smoke smoke odors can usually be cured by washing the walls with TSP and then repainting the walls. TSP is a great cleanser and will help the underlying paint to accept a fresh coat of paint. However, TSP is banned in several states for environmental and health reasons and should be used with care. 

If TSP and painting the walls doesn’t do the trick, you may need to prime your walls with a shellac based primer like Zinser Primer mentioned above. Unfortunately, these products are very expensive and typically run around $45 a gallon and have a strong, almost caustic odor during application.

If your house smells like cigarette smoke, it is probably not limited to just the walls.  All of your furniture, blinds, and carpets will also continue to hold the smell of cigarette smoke.  If you want to remove the smell of cigarettes from inside your home, you’ll have to clean or replace these items too, and then be sure to only smoke outside your house and keep your smoking area clean.  When we remodel homes who’s previous owners have smoked, it’s usually not until we have completely removed all of the above items, and repainted the house that the smell goes away.

House smells like teenagers

We all know it. We just don’t always want to admit it. Our teenagers’ bedrooms smell like a locker room. Whether it’s their personal hygiene, dirty laundry, or bedding – it smells. They can try to hide it with candles, air fresheners or scented oils, but it still smells.

Since you can’t kick your teenagers out of the house, your best bet is a thorough washing of everything in the room, including the walls and carpet.

House smells like too many air fresheners

The only cure for bad odors is to remove them. Adding air fresheners doesn’t remove them, it just creates another odor. More and more people are discovering that they are sensitive to perfumes and other strong smells. Be careful with overwhelming people with perfume smells. One air freshener in the home may be okay, but don’t over do it.

If you are unsure if your home smells, ask an unbiased friend to come by your house and let you know what they smell as they walk through the house. If they smell anything but the fresh flowers on the table or homemade chocolate chip cookies, you should address the smell.

Bathroom smells

It’s not just bathroom business that smells. Maybe it’s your exhaust fan that needs cleaning and keeps foul odors lingering. Scrub your toilet inside and out, making sure to get under the lip, and all around the outside of the toilet. If the toilet seat is old, replace it. Toilet seats can be purchased at your local hardware store for around $20-$25. Your toilet cleaning brushes and plunger can also smell. If they have been used for awhile, buy new ones. They’ll not only smell better, but they’ll make your bathroom look nicer to potential buyers.

Your kitchen smells like grease

It’s not just the garbage that smells. It’s the grease that builds up. Your favorite foods may not be appetizing smells for everyone else. As you use your kitchen, oils blend with the spices you use and begin to coat the walls. Over time, your kitchen takes on the smells of your cooking.

Years ago I was with a friend in a local greasy dive restaurant. He was an exterminator and said he could smell the cockroaches. When I asked him what he meant he said, “I can smell the grease and cockroaches love grease.” Your prospective buyers however, do not.

Removing kitchen smells

In order to remove kitchen smells, wash your walls with a mild detergent. If there’s lots of grease on the walls, you will need to use a degreaser like TSP mentioned above. Keep in mind if you use TSP on your walls, you will need to repaint them when your done cleaning, as TSP removes more than just grease.

Also be sure to clean your exhaust fan filters as grease builds up in them. If you have an above stove microwave with an exhaust fan, be sure to clean the ventilation grill on the microwave of grease too.

House smells like mold and mildew

Mold and mildew have a very distinctive, musty smell. If your house smells damp and musty, you need to find the source and remove it.

If you can’t find the source of mold or mildew smells, look under your sinks. Leaks under your sinks, destroy the cabinets and have the potential of causing mildew and causing foul odors.  Also, check around your hot water heater for leaks.

Bathrooms, kitchens, basements and laundry rooms are all common locations for mold and mildew. Bathrooms with showers often lack good ventilation and mildew may begin to grow on the walls and ceilings. Window tracks also collect moisture from condensation, especially if they’re single pane windows.

Preventing mold and mildew smells

Mold and mildew grow where moisture doesn’t have a chance to dry out. Open the window in your bathroom after you shower if you don’t have a bath fan. If you have a bath fan, remove the cover and clean the blades to help ventilation. Use a small shop vacuum to blow out your bathroom fan, and then take a damp cloth to clean the blades.  Finally, clean areas that are susceptible to mildew with a mild cleaning solution periodically.

Mold can be serious issue for some people. If your house has serious mold or mildew issues, you may need to hire a mold abatement company. You can expect the price for mold remediation to start around $1,000 and go up from there.  Otherwise, you may need to find a different kind of buyer for your home.

Create good smells in your house

We don’t want to leave you with just the bad smells in your home. You can add good smells to your home too. Fresh plants and flowers are a great way to add natural smells to your home. Putting a small potted, flowering plant in the kitchen can add a nice touch to your kitchen and a pleasant odor.

For years, real estate agents have said to bake chocolate chip cookies before having an open house. If you don’t have time, you can also add a drop of vanilla extract on a warm burner.

Take the time to remove the stinky odors in your house. Replace them with pleasant smells. Not only will your house smell better, but it will sell faster and for a higher price.

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