How to get rid of "Old House" smell.

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This is quite embarrassing but im desperate. My husband and I bought a fixer upper a few years ago. We have been "fixing" it ever since. The one thing we cant seem to fix is the "old damp, musty" smell. I tried lots of things--different cleaners (chemical and natural), deoderizes (candles, automatic sprayers, vinegar, plug ins, diffusers, candle warmers, etc). I live in panic that my house stinks. Sometimes, I feel that im nose blind to the smells. We have a wood stove that we use in the den, a dog that I wash to much in fear of her smelling, no water leaks, no drainage issues under the house, no toilet problems etiher. What else is there to do besides tearing it down and starting over???? Thanks in advance.....Kay
  14 answers
  • Irishkay Irishkay on Oct 04, 2014
    oops typo *deodorizers* sorry.
  • Carole Carole on Oct 04, 2014
    Ask a good friend to come over and tell you honestly if the house smells. They don't live there all the time and so they won't have got used to any smells. It could be that you are being a bit over worried or paranoid about the smell and it is not that noticeable. If it is noticeable then I sympathise. We had a rat or possum that got into the house and died in one of the hollow walls. Rang pest control and they said the smell would go after a couple of weeks. It took six months! They said there was nothing they could do about it and just to air the house and use scent to cover it which did nothing BTW to cover the stench of a dead rodent! If there is no mould, no rising damp, no moisture problems and no problems with shower or bath or plumbing leaking into plaster anywhere or into floor boards then it is hard to know what the problem is. Have you tried consulting a builder? They may think of something to check that you have not already thought of. Try not to bath your dog too much - it is bad for their skin and can have the reverse effect of making the skin sore, then they scratch and get a fungal infection - now that would stink! Hope you manage to get it sorted.
  • Country NaNa Country NaNa on Oct 05, 2014
    If you have check-out everything on the inside of the house and you or and others still smell this musky smell. Perhaps it may be coming from outside, is there a creek nearby or how is the land that you live on, damp?, or shady ect.. These earthy smells can find there way into the home, Hope this helped.
  • Brenda Brenda on Oct 05, 2014
    Could it be coming through the basement or crawlspace? I read as much as 40% of our air comes through these because of the pressure differences when using AC, etC. If it is cold and damp in there, you may notice that in the house. You could insulate and seal off the crawl space, which will also help on utilities, possibly a lot. You could also maybe try an ionizer machine. They say it makes it smell like the air after a rain. I have one, it's portable and so I can move it around. But use it like directed, and not be in the room when it's on...I have very sensitive sinus issues so I use it on a timer when I am gone.
  • Irishkay Irishkay on Oct 05, 2014
    Under the house smells fine. ha Quiet pleasant actually. lol I do know that the past owner had like 5 dogs in here when she lived here. The floors are hard wood too. I was told the floors had to be bleached because of what the pets did to them. Im thinking its remaining odors from that. But it has been 20 years, so surely that has gone away. We've only had our dog for two years. She had some accidents at first but is now house trained. The odor was here way before she was. Maybe its because my nose is OLD!!!! I have asked people if my house stank. They usually say no, but I have would have candles lit and what not. Maybe it is in my mind!!!! I surely hope so!
  • Irishkay Irishkay on Oct 05, 2014
    btw,,,thanks for the help.
  • Sheila Sheila on Oct 05, 2014
    Try using a dehumidifier. I have an old house and bought a dehumidifier for apartment downstairs and it helped the smell all over.
  • Jill Valeri Jill Valeri on Oct 05, 2014
    I agree with using a dehumidifier. Also, placing some charcoal in containers with pierced lids and place them around the house can help absorb odors. You might check you attic. I notice that sometimes a musty odor drifts down from our attic door. You should also get your wood stove checked.
    • Irishkay Irishkay on Oct 05, 2014
      @Jill Valeri Girl, I didnt even think about the attic. Good idea. I have used charcoal in various places. Evidently, I didnt use the correct kind. Dummy me used the kind you use to grill. Had to get that out of the house. But hey, the house didnt smell bad per say. It smelled like lighter fluid!! hahaha Lesson learned. Thanks
  • Suzette Trimmer Suzette Trimmer on Oct 05, 2014
    The one area I see over looked are the air vents ....??? Could it be something stuck, perhaps dead,( Yikes) in there? Since it is in the walls , you can hire any professional vent shaft cleaner to do a through job. Just a thought. Over the years we have come across many odd smells in our home. Once it was a small simple chair, however; unbeknownst to us the smell from inside the stuffing was filling the room with an odor so difficult to isolate. Think out side the box..when looking for the unexplained. Just saying.
    • Irishkay Irishkay on Oct 05, 2014
      @Suzette T Now you are on to something. I have toyed with that idea for quiet some time. I had hoped that I could have solved the smell problem without having to get my duct work replaced. I do have a dust problem for some reason. And I hate dusting!!!!! cleaning the duct work or replacing it is pricey. Looks like im gonna have to check into it. My options are decreasing!!! Thank you so much.
  • Stephanie Rountree Stephanie Rountree on Oct 05, 2014
    Not sure if this is helpful, there are oxygenated services that suck out everything smelly. Check your local carpet/furniture cleaning companies for this service.
  • Irishkay Irishkay on Oct 05, 2014
    I thought of that but I have wooden, tile, and some linoleum floors-no carpet. Our furniture is leather. Thank you so much for suggestion.
  • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Oct 06, 2014
    Some really good suggestions to check out. I bought a 1910 home which was a rooming house. It smelled 'old house', too. We scrubbed, deodorized, painted, etc. without getting rid of the odour. It wasn't until we refinished the hardwood floors that the "smell" disappeared..
  • Irishkay Irishkay on Oct 06, 2014
    Marion. Im thinking that it is either the floors or the duct work. We have changed in some way just about everything in the house. Those two things are the things we havent changed. The floors are next on the list. We shall see then if the "stank" goes away. thanks.
  • BB BB on Sep 21, 2018

    If you have a 2-story house...you are pretty much doomed.

    Our house is 90 years old. We had a new air conditioner, heater, air cleaner installed, and our ducts and return airs SUPER cleaned, three different times in as many weeks, thinking the DUCTWORK was the odor...and in part there was some awful stuck junk that they got out. BUT the smell was there. BETWEEN the downstairs ceiling and upstairs floor...where the upstairs’ heating and return air ductwork is. Everytime the heater was used, the dead, hideous smell puked outa the heater vents. So the disturbed dirt, dust, mouse droppings and possibly dead rodents from 90-years of WHATEVER goes on between the floors....that was loosened by the duct cleaning (their instrments REALLY pounded the insides of our ancient ductwork) was being heated by the uninsulated ductwork. But it wasn’t just the ducts...it was the ANCIENT dust. Because some of the mostly incased ceiling/floor dust sprinkled onto my gas water heater gas jets...from upstairs in the not-very-well-sealed utility closet and everytime the water heater came on...the smell was unbearable.


    ALSO after every visit from the duct-cleaning crew my enclosed back porch and laundry room was VOVEREC in stinky debris....the we THOUGHT was coming from plugged ductwork. But it wasn’t. It came through the ceiling ... the wooden shiplap ceiling planks had slightly shrunk and separated and at every seam...ancient dust was trikling out because the ductwork had been rattked and disturbed the dust. Sooo we are going to seal or cover up the beautiful ship lap...and encae the stench.


    The only other solution is to remove all our downstairs ceilings...and clean out between floors and replace with new sheetrock! Not gonna do that. Well, already did that in the kitchen...nightmare...but done.


    We hadda clean the attic of dead bats, mice, birds and even a partial ROOF that was up there!


    There are iffy ‘solutions’ but the best advice is. Buy new! Have ALL ductwork and plumbing accessible ... never buy a two-story house.


    SORRY, I am still living my nightmare. Hoping the tightened up ceiling will hide the stench...I am not too confident!

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