Some properties can be a tough sell because of a tough smell. Here’s the lowdown on the most common home odors and how to eliminate them. by Sumner Mandell It’s hard to satisfy everyone’s nose, but luckily there’s one scent that stands out as a crowd pleaser: citrus. “Typically, citrus is good for everybody, like a lemon or orange smell. People tend to like those more than other fragrances,” says Jack White.It’s hard to satisfy everyone’s nose, but luckily there’s one scent that stands out as a crowd pleaser: citrus. “Typically, citrus is good for everybody, like a lemon or orange smell. People tend to like those more than other fragrances,” says Jack White. You’ve probably experienced your fair share of cluttered homes and properties that need repairs, but there’s another home problem that really stinks: lingering odors. Smells in a property can be indicative of a bigger issue, like mold, or make the house harder to sell, like cigarette smoke. The good news is that most odors can be treated and removed, either with do-it-yourself remedies or with help from a professional. “The common problem with all odor removal is that you have to get rid of the source,” says Jack White, CR, WLS, vice president of technical services for Rainbow International in Waco. “If you don’t get rid of the source, you’re never going to get rid of the odor,” he says. White, a board member for the Restoration Industry Association, a trade association for restoration professionals who provide disaster-recovery cleaning and repairs, explains what it takes to eliminate deal-killing odors in a home.


The level of cleaning for a smoker’s house depends on how much smoking has been done inside and for how long. A home with a low degree of odor could be treated with profes­sional equipment that will remove the odor from the air, but it won’t address odors that have seeped into property items. Nicotine is also a stain-causing agent, which is another cleaning concern in smokers’ homes. Don’t: Use deodorizers. Sprays or plugins only mask smoke odor and don’t remove it. The Details: “We’ve gone into some homes where you take a picture off the wall, and that space is white and the walls around it are yellow,” says White. White says that cigarette smoke odor not only permeates the air in a home, but it also soaks into carpets and even building materials such as drywall or cabinets. “A professional would have to come out in most cases to clean the house,” says White. “That means washing the walls, washing down all of the surfaces in the home, cleaning the floor cov­erings, and then deodorizing the air space.” White estimates that a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home of a heavy smoker would require at least a day of cleaning, but it depends on the degree of the odor.


In short: It’s possible for pet accidents to be treated on the spot. For bigger stains, try a cleaning machine that flushes the spot out. Pet odors that occur after a long duration of untreated pet accidents will require professional attention. Don’t: Use household cleaners on wet spots, aInd don’t use more cleaner than you need. If a stain is wet, blot up as much as you can with an absorbent towel and let it dry before using a store-bought cleaner. In short: ‘It’s amazing how people underestimate how hard it is to treat pet odor problems, because there’s stuff they can buy at the store and vacuum up to clean the carpets,” says White. But when pet urination is left untreated, it becomes more than a surface-odor problem. For a carpet, the odor likely has permeated through it to the cushion underneath, and possibly even the sub- flooring below the cushion. “The odor can be in the walls,” says White. “The subfloors, which are typi­cally either wood or concrete, have to be sealed so that the urine smell that’s in there won’t come back up. Then you’re looking at a new carpet and a new cush­ion, so that’s an expensive process.” For a room that housed a litter box, there’s likely an undesirable odor in the air space. White says this odor will go away with time, but it may have been absorbed by furniture or clothing in the room, so those items might have to be removed. Then, ventilate the room if possible. “If you have that odor in the room, you really just need to have some deodor­ization for the air space, such as with a plugin or spray. These only mask the odor, but they will mask it until the odor eventually goes away,” White says. If you don’t have time to spare, a professional can remove the odor quickly.


In Short: An empty house can have its own special smell: stagnant air. Your seller might not want to run the AC or heat in an unoccupied house, but an air purifier—a machine that pulls air across a fine HEPA filter to remove particu­lates—is an easy solution. Don’t: Get a machine that claims to take odors out of the air and creates ozone. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, even low exposure to ozone can lead to burning eyes, coughing, and chest pain. It’s especially bad for people with asthma or other respiratory problems. The details: Stagnant air isn’t especially offensive, but it’s an easy fix for sell­ers and something you can tell your buyers not to worry about. Low-cost ways to treat stagnant air include simply turning on fans, the AC, or heat, and open­ing windows. Alight fragrance can also help. You can also recommend a HEPA-filter air purifier. “It captures particulates that are in the air and doesn’t put off an odor,” says White. “These give a sense of cleaning the air. We just replace the filters every so often and we’re good to go.” * Don’t assume that candles are a safe way to add a pleasant smell to a house. “Sometimes the wicks put off a black smoke, and you can’t see it in the air, but it’s like a fire in the house,” says Jack White. Not all candle wicks do it, but a lot of candle wicks made out of cotton will put off a black smoke.” People who constantly burn candles can face extensive clean up. White says clean­ing homes of such candle enthusiasts can be worse than cleaning up after a house fire. Start by choosing a low-VOC paint, which means the paint will have less off-gassing of volatile organic com­pounds than traditional paint The smell will start to fade as paint dries, so speed up the process by ventilat­ing the space and turning off the cold air. if it’s winter, turn up the heat. “Heat helps the paint off-gas more quickly than if you didn’t heat up the room,” says Jack White. Summer Mandell is assistant managing editor for Texas REALTOR”’.November 2013