Asked on Nov 16, 2013

What causes 'old person smell'?

by Kathryn
I got into the car with my daughter this evening to go to the store and she said 'mom, you smell like old people'. I had showered 4 hours earlier and just brushed my teeth before leaving the house. Her children stay with me after school and she said they have that smell when they get in the car too. I have an average cleaning habit with more clutter than dirt, I admit I don't dust weekly. I assume it's environmental if it attaches to the grands. By the way I'm only 55 years old and have lived in my apt for over 17 years. I had an 82 year old neighbor that had lived in his apt for about 15 years and his home had that smell.
  38 answers
  • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Nov 16, 2013
    The problem is probably in none used rooms and the clutter...old shoes that need to be thrown away, piled up things stuffed back to collect an old smell, infrequently used blankets and quits not washed or aired out...and houses where people have lived a long time collect odors. That old comfy sweater and robe needs frequent washing! Older people do not paint as often so the walls get covered in odors! And for security sometimes we do not open windows. Unused rooms do not get aired out. You need to get some Feberez spray or Oust and spray rooms that are used as well as remembering to spray rooms that are not used. And keep in mind that unused bathrooms can smell too because the traps get dried out. Flush the toilet occasionally and let some water run down the sink drains. In a house 3/4 empty, it begins to smell!
  • R.V.R. Farris R.V.R. Farris on Nov 16, 2013
    I love Oust!
  • Katie Pepin Katie Pepin on Nov 16, 2013
    First, the smell should be defined. Example, a friend of mine thinks that BEN-GAY smells like old people. When in fact, it only triggers that thought to him. When I smell Ben-Gay, it reminds me of athletic people. So, have them define the odor..... in a smells like.... this or that. "old people" doesn't really help. LOL At 55 I really don't think you are emitting anything. Jeanette S, from Atlanta is correct in assuming it is just musty unused stuff. Remember this when you spring clean. If you can't put it in a washing machine, it gets dusted and cleaned. Leave no stone unturned.... Also, those non flame wax warmers are fantastic.
  • Shari Shari on Nov 16, 2013
    Some elderly people do not shower often enough due to physical limitations but I'm sure this is not your problem. (And at 55, you are hardly "elderly!") Nevertheless, I do believe that as we age, our skin gets dryer, thinner and the skin cells may even be dying off at a faster rate. My theory is (and this is strictly my opinion) dry or dead skin cells retained on the skin have an odor and soap and water alone do not necessarily wash them away. I have really dry skin so I use one of those net scrubbies to wash my body and then also regularly use a coconut oil & sugar scrub. The sugar helps exfoliate dead, dry skin and the coconut oil helps moisturize. My husband has always just used a bar of soap and his hand when he showered but in the last year or two I have noticed he smells differently, even after just getting out of the shower. Based on my dead skin theory, I bought him a net scrubbie (in manly navy blue) and asked him to use it, and I think it has made a difference.
  • Kendra Kendra on Nov 16, 2013
    Interesting Shari ... I have very dry skin. Tell me more about the coconut oil & sugar scrub.
  • Shari Shari on Nov 16, 2013
    @Kendra You can purchase sugar scrubs but for some reason they are really expensive so I make my own. I buy organic coconut oil at Walmart or the grocery store. (It's on the aisle where the other cooking oils are.) I scoop out about 1/2 the jar into a plastic container and just add regular white granulated sugar. If you have very sensitive skin you can substitute baking soda for the sugar since it is not as coarse as sugar. I've done it both ways but prefer the sugar. Coconut oil has a very low melting point and even the temperature in your house can make it runny so to compensate for the variation in environment temperature, it can actually take quite a bit of sugar to make it thick when it's in its thin, melted state--maybe a heaping cup or two of sugar. There is really no right or wrong amount. Just keep adding sugar until it is thick with sugar. The coconut oil and sugar have no scent so sometimes I add a little almond or coconut extract, or you can also use essential oils like lavender, orange etc. I keep the container of scrub in the shower and use it at least every other day. I also use it to shave my legs. Plain coconut oil is also suppose to be really good for your skin and I sometimes use a little (without the sugar) if I need some extra moisture on my face, hands or legs. If you use it sparingly it isn't too greasy and it soaks in fast.
    • See 3 previous
    • Gloria Duy Gloria Duy on Nov 17, 2013
      @Shari Well, I'm in Illinois and the coconut oil turns into a brick come January. My daughter moved to Sarasota a month ago so I'm sure I'll find out what it's like soon! I don't use essential oils because I have lavender and other herbs in my garden and I put some herbs to steep in the oil for a couple of days and then strain it out. Once it is solid again I whip it.
  • Kendra Kendra on Nov 16, 2013
    I am definitely going to try this!
  • Cynthia H Cynthia H on Nov 16, 2013
    I find upholstery can really be far dirtier than we think it is (and holds odors). My daughter recently borrowed my rinse and vac that has an upholstery attachment and cleaned her upholstered furniture. Her house is spotless and I was sure that the upholstery couldn't be that dirty. Was I ever wrong. She has two dogs and a two and half year old, so she wanted to be sure. The water looked like mud. I've since noticed how fresh her living room smells and had never really noticed an odor before. Just now it smells fresher. You didn't mention if you or anyone else smokes in the apartment, but, I can tell you that odor is very unpleasant for a non smoker. I also found that when we ripped out old carpet, it was unbelievable how dirty it was underneath that clean surface. Hope that helps.
    • See 1 previous
    • Bernice H Bernice H on Nov 21, 2013
      @Cynthia H Right on with carpet and furniture ...dirtier than we think, and retains odors that we carry around. My hubs has a pillow he wont let go of, and I can smell odor on it; his body oils and skin cells, he is very very clean, but it is there from so long of a time.
  • Andrea S Andrea S on Nov 16, 2013
    It is a chemical production in skin glands that increases with age.
  • Leslie B Leslie B on Nov 17, 2013
    Kendra. Please tell me more about Sugar Scrub. Don't mean to sound dumb, sorry. After one usses soap to bathe or ??
    • Shari Shari on Nov 17, 2013
      @Leslie B I'm actually the one who originally mentioned the sugar scrub and Kendra asked me for more info. I first bathe with my regular body wash and the net scrubbie. Then I use the sugar scrub on the dry areas of my body like my forearms, elbows, hands, cuticles, knees, legs, feet (but be careful using it on your feet because the coconut oil will make the tub and your feet slippery). I don't have sensitive skin so I also use it on my face. It's particularly good to remove dead, dry skin from chapped lips. If you use the sugar scrub first and then wash with your regular soap, you will wash away the coconut oil before your skin has a chance to absorb it. However, if you don't have dry skin and only want the benefit of the sugar to exfoliate dead skin, then you can certainly use the sugar scrub first and then wash the excess coconut oil away with soap.
  • NancyLee NancyLee on Nov 17, 2013
    Dear Kathryn - my daughter told me that too a few years ago (I'm 61 now) and I noticed it too. Since I've started eating a mostly live foods diet (fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains (soaked and sometimes sprouted), nuts, seeds and beans and lots of fermented foods (with just some half and half in my coffee in the morning), I no longer have it. I don't know what you eat but for me, after years of eating "The standard American diet" - the toxins really built up in my body.
    • Linda Linda on Jun 21, 2018

      What do you mean by "it" I might have missed something. Thank you

  • Shelley B Shelley B on Nov 17, 2013
    Wow! These are all good ideas. I would be interested to know what she means by "old person smell" as Katie Pepin mentioned. Not too sure how to respond ! I am 57 and work with alot of older folks. Maybe she just has a sensitive nose.
  • SS SS on Nov 17, 2013
    If you are on medications, they sometimesmake you smell different, even if you use perfume or cologne. I noticed this on my mother-in-law after she started taking medication. She used the same perfume for years, and when she started taking the new drug, she smelled bad. Please don't use too much perfume.
  • Penny Penny on Nov 17, 2013
    in the first place, children (especially grown ones.) can be very cruel and don't realize the things they say really hurts your me, i have 4 of them... she really could have approached it differently and been a little bit kinder...i think sometimes its family is italian, and i have noticed in some of the seniors (real seniors) the smell of garlic seeps through their pores....their home smells like garlic, even if she's not cooking! so you might want to ask her what exactly the smell is like...
  • Yvonne F Yvonne F on Nov 17, 2013
    Some times, what is smelt that is equated with old people is actually mold.....When things are not cleaned as often as they they once were, they take on a moldy smell.....
  • Mary Mary on Nov 17, 2013
    Body oils are hard to wash out of clothing and bedding. Especially if they are not washed often. Pillows and mattresses often get a 'smell' that can't be cleaned or removed. 'Old people' often wear clothes longer and sheets stay on the bed longer before washing them. I did laundry for my father and had a really hard time getting the smell out of his clothes and convincing him to put his clothes in the laundry more often.
  • Sherrie S Sherrie S on Nov 17, 2013
    I would also like to suggest that older people take more drugs and drugs cause bodliy changes. Combining the drugs can make it worse. Of course not cleaning the home is a major factor.
  • Cindy Cindy on Nov 18, 2013
    This is a interesting subject. You are pretty young for a" old "smell I think it could be a number of things. Sometimes older people don"t feel well so their body, house and clothes don't get cleaned very often. Also certain medications can give off an odor. Also it could be your car causing the odor which means something could have been spilled.
  • Janice Miller Janice Miller on Nov 18, 2013
    Maybe if her daughter would offer to do her laundry once a week, or go over and dust & vacuum an hour a week. Yes, medicines do give older people an odor. Also as you get older you have more days that you might have aches that you didn't have before. It is easy to say, maybe tomorrow I'll feel better and will clean then. People don't visit as often as you get older, so it's easy to think, no one is coming and I'm tired so I'll clean the house tomorrow. I'm not going to have any company, or go anywhere, I'll just wash my face and hands. Maybe tomorrow I'll take a bath and change clothes, no one is going to see me anyway.(and it will be less to wash.)
    • Linda Roberts Linda Roberts on Jan 05, 2017

      You so right, I have seen this with a friend that has an alcohol problem, she also has an anger issues. I am 62 and she is 67. She told me sometimes I go a few days without bathing, because she had no where to go or no one was coming over!

  • Sylvia Y Sylvia Y on Nov 18, 2013
    My 84 year old mother has that old person smell, and I can't determine what it is. She hasn't had a pet in a couple of years. She probably doesn't clean house or bath as often as she used to, but it doesn't smell like typical body odor. But I never tell her she smells; I just tell her something smells 'funny' when I walk in her house, and she keeps candles burning a lot, which helps some. But I do smell it on her clothing when she is away from her home. Sure would like to know what it is! I'm 58 and I sure don't want to get 'the smell'.
  • Connie B Connie B on Nov 18, 2013
    Glad to see this article! I wash bed linens 2 - 3 times a week due to this reason!
    • Penny Penny on Jul 26, 2014
      @Connie B me too!!! i live in a senior apt building, and my neighbors think i'm am absolutely crazy because i change my bedding 2 times a week, sometimes more, and take 2 or 3 showers a day..the woman in the apt below me (i'm on the third floor) is always commenting on it...not in a kind way either...they act like it's a mortal sin to take a shower more than once a week!!! old school, i guess...i just turned 70, and no one has ever said my home smells "funny". an open window probably would help
  • Beverly Theaker Beverly Theaker on Nov 19, 2013
    two years after my 92 year old mom died, my nephew worked on fixing up the old field stone house to live in. When he tore out the carpet, there was mold; when he moved the furniture, there was mold on the underside of the furniture. My parents also had burned wood and the smell of creosote was in the house. As one can see, several places to look for "that smell".
  • Katie Pepin Katie Pepin on Nov 20, 2013
    Just wanted to say that this is a great group of people. I was so excited to read so many suggestions for Kathryn and not one nasty troll remark in the bunch. So refreshing.. ~Group Hug~
  • Creatively Living Creatively Living on Nov 20, 2013
    I remolded a house that was from the late 40's and the original owners live in it until they were in their 90's. If we were gone over the weekend we would come home and say, 'it smells like old people". Even after I ripped out every single last piece of carpet, refinished the wood floors, laid laminate and tile, painted every wall...even the ceilings, and remodeled the kitchens and STILL smelled like old people! (although we would really only notice after we had been out for awhile). I googled and googled how to get "old people" smell out..and never found anything. I just ended up burning a candle when people viewed it for our sales showings.
  • Bernice H Bernice H on Nov 21, 2013
    I read an article recently on aging, and the piece brought out; doing laundry more frequently, washing curtains and vacuuming and washing carpets and upholstery. Do open windows and air out frequently, clean out closets. The article brought out that closed up houses with not enough airing out is a big factor. I know WE smell formaldehyde when we leave our mhome closed up for a couple of days. And I know particle board will smell especially if it gets wet.Yes, mold and musty smelling is a big factor too. Dust builds up and after a time will smell too. Older ones don't like cool air on their skin or bodies so they keep their homes hotter and dryer than most of us, Trapping all the smells in the house. We have this problem with my inlaws. In this case I would suggest SINCE you are 55, mattresses, pillows, bedding, furniture, carpeting all need replacing or thorough cleaning depending on how old they are.Look for wet or moldy woody areas. I have to deal with cooking smells. If I cook something, especially frying or searing, I have to open all the windows after and use febreeze, because everything takes on that odor and then it gets in anything fabric. Then I smell it all night. It could build up if I didn't do these things and then the house would have its own smell, including my clothes.
  • Wolfe Art Wolfe Art on Jul 25, 2014
    Love your heart. When I was young, that "old people smell" was endearing to me.
  • Mary Valantine Mary Valantine on Jul 25, 2014
    at 55 you shouldn't have an old people smell no matter who says;s hormones out of whack probably the real elderly have an odor because their bladders are starting to give out and some wear pamper type pants and when the go they don't know it.the lose their feeling I think don't know for sure but kept company with three wonderful elderlies and would give anything to smell them again unfortunately their angels now.and I am fast approaching their spot they had when I met them,so far God has Been very Good to me .
  • Therese C Therese C on Jul 27, 2014
    My mother is 85 years old and still does all of her own house, lawn, and garden work. She has never had an 'old people smell' about her. She is OCD with cleaning..I mean that in the kindest of ways as I have inherited that trait. One thing is to NEVER keep old magazines and newspapers. They give off the old paper and ink smells that can cause an unholy smell! Another thing she does, and this is done sitting down, is to put her pillows inside of pillow cases (throw pillows), toss in 2-3 fabric softener sheets, and vacuum through the side of the pillows to drag the smell into the pillows. She washes her bedding twice a week and flips her mattresses every six weeks. She has done this forever! You can put fabric sheets in the pockets of jackets and coats that aren't worn often to keep them smelling fresh, and wash your curtains at least 3 times a year. Curtains maintain at least 50% of smells in a home. You are very young to have to worry about old people smells, but getting your windows open every opportune moment makes a huge difference. Change you shampoo to a honey suckle scent and spray your clothes in the closet weekly with Frebrese. All of this takes a very short time to do and makes a huge difference in your home and personal happiness. Ultimately, it is your own happiness that matters.
  • B. Enne B. Enne on Jan 03, 2017

    Not to say this is your case, but moth balls, stale cigarette smoke, some dandruff shampoos, sulphur acne preparations, using the same brand/scent of stick antiperspirant for too long, can give off smells. Our car sometimes smells smoke just from being in traffic...Car mats that have gotten wet, smell like stinky feet. Dietary changes can cause it as well. If you are eating a high protein diet, some of them can cause a cat pee smell in the beginning .

  • Florida Beachpotato Florida Beachpotato on Jan 04, 2017

    It usually is stale air that keeps those odors mixing and moth balls seem to also be a common denominator. I did catch my Grandma and her girlfriends smoking pot in the late 1990's and I got a kick out of that. But her house always had a distinct smell that I called old people smell. Not bad just noticeable. Now that she is gone, I wish I could smell that again, brings back a fond memory of her toasted cheese sandwiches. She used mayo instead of butter on the sides. Hmmmmm.

    • Linda Roberts Linda Roberts on Jan 05, 2017

      My grangmother always dipped Garitte's snuff, since she was 13! As she got alittle older youcould see it in the corner's of her my boys were young and when we went to visit she bent down to kiss them and they always turned anyd kissed her on the check! When she was in her late 80's she had a stroke that she would never recover from. I went everyday to the nursing home,When she saw me her eye's would open wide and kinda smile. I would get her snuff and put it in her lip, she would look at me and I would hold up a can( I always brought a can from ssomething I had cooked, like a green bean or peas that I had a few kleenex in ,she always had one) The nurse said that isn't good for her, very hatefully, I said it right back.....SHE WANTS IT!!!!! I love the old lady smell at times!

  • Barbara C Barbara C on Jan 04, 2017

    Old people tend to be packrats and pile up papers, clothes,and collections that never get aired out.And ,yes, could use a cleaning service occasionally.and could be not fully able to get a good bath every day.

  • Danielle Odin Danielle Odin on Jan 05, 2017

    The best deodorant for a house, apartment or ??? is white vinegar. You can mix a 50% solution of it in a spray bottle and spray it on upholstered furniture. You can use a bowl of it at 100% and set it in a corner of the room out of the way and within a few days all odors will disappear. I used it and it is the only cleaner I use. I have 2 cats and I don't always air everything out all the time. It is cheap and not toxic. I also use it to mpo the floors and wash down the counters, clean windows and mirrors and I use it as fabric softener in the laundry.

  • Janice Furtado Janice Furtado on Jan 05, 2017

    "Tussy" Deodorant is a horrible & common old people smell!

  • Mary Insana Mary Insana on Jan 05, 2017

    I have aa funny story to share. On Christmas my sister in law was telling me that her and her 6 year old son was somewhere and he said this place smells like Aunt Mary's house. Oh my ! We have 2 cats, 1 dog, and two 20 something children. Then she went on to say that he mentioned that he like the smell of the candles I usually burn. Lol So glad it was a good smell he was referring to.

    My moms house always had that old people smell. She was a former smoker and my dad had been a smoker. She also had a cat. Even after washing her clothes and coats they had the old stale smoke odor. Also her carpet was very old and her long deceased dog has peed on the floor. At 84 years old she didn't want to replace the carpet UGH !

    She had a lot of old imbedded odors. Another thing. I had noticed is when she stayed with us after a medical problem she didn't take her teeth out everyday and soak them. She would brush her teeth but I believe odors get trapped under dentures . She had old people breath. She didnt want us coming over to clean her house. We had quite a job when she passed away

  • Pat Pat on Jan 05, 2017

    Sometimes as we get older, our sense of smell decreases. I am sure dusting, doing laundry, bathing more often help...but have you noticed the perfume on older ladies that smells like it should have been tossed years strong and I am sure they don't want to get rid of it.

  • Kathy Bitzan Kathy Bitzan on Jan 06, 2017

    It could be a musty smell that gets into to older homes and I don't think there is a way to get rid of it. It smells usually moldy to me. I noticed it on my neighbors and then I had my house insulated and now I smell like it too. So I have been making my own febreeze with essential oils and distilled water to spray my clothes when I go out. Seems to work when I remember.

  • Maa4759289 Maa4759289 on Jun 21, 2018

    Keep clothes clean. Don't put them away in smelly closet. Also, a little perfume never hurts. Tell your daughter that smell is not old age, it's the smell of experience and wisdom.