The manner in which certain types of odors are remediated or eliminated depends upon their underlying composition. Protein odors are addressed in one manner and chemical odors in another. In this chapter, some of the more common types of protein and chemical odors found at a residence are discussed, together with how to remediate or eliminate them.
One of the most challenging types of odors a homeowner’s faces is those that have a protein base. These include odors caused by:
- Rotting food items
- Burnt food items
- Small animal remains
As an aside, human remains at a death scene also result in challenging protein-based odors. This type of situation, particularly one in which a deceased person’s body is not immediately discovered, is discussed in the next chapter.
Odor and Rotting Food Items
Pervasive odors can be associated with certain food items that have been left to rot for some reason in a residence. One of the most challenging situations involving rotting food items occurs when a refrigerator or freezer stops functioning for more than a short period of time. Food left to rot in a sealed space like a refrigerator or freezer can have what can fairly be described as catastrophic consequences when it comes to odor. Indeed, there are situations of this nature when the odor within a refrigerator or freezer is so pervasive and profound that getting rid of the appliance is the cost-efficient course of action to take.
Situations in which rotting food items present a major odor issue not only include appliance issues but when a tenant leaves a rental property and when an individual dies unexpectedly in a residence, but whose remains are not discovered in a timely manner. (There are other issues associated with this type of unattended death which are discussed shortly in this guidebook.)
The first step in remediating odor associated with rotting food is the elimination of the source. Depending on where the source of the odor is located, the elimination process may be throwing away the rotting items. As mentioned previously, if the rotting items are contained in a refrigerator or freezer, you may be left with no alternative but to replace the appliance.
Once the source of the odor is removed, a number of tactics can be employed to remediate the odor itself. These include the utilization of chemicals outlined previously in this handbook which acts as deodorization agents.
If fluids are present, enzymatic agents can be utilized to remediate and neutralize odors. Fogging is another option that can be used to address odors that have permeated the airspace. A hydroxyl generator can be used to achieve a similar objective. (Understanding the restrictions in California and potential dangers associated with this type of equipment, an ozone generator also has the capability of addressing this type of odor.)
Odor and Burnt Food Items
When items like meats, eggs, beans, fish, and a myriad of other protein-containing substances are burned in a fire or under heat, the surrounding air can become contaminated with an intense, offensive odor. Fogging and fragrance modification strategies oftentimes prove helpful in diminishing the intensity of odors generated from burnt food items. However, these techniques may not be sufficient to completely eliminate odor derived from burnt food.
If protein-based odors derived from burnt food ends up absorbed in soft materials and structural elements of a home, hard washing using a deodorizer in the cleaning solution can be a useful tactic. Fogging can also prove effective at dealing with airborne odors arising from burnt food.
Odor and Small Animal Remains
The remains of small animals like rats or mice can prove particularly challenging when it comes to odors in a residential setting. Locating the remains of a deceased small animal presents the first challenge. The reality is that oftentimes a rat or mouse dies behind walls or in some other location that is difficult or even impossible to access.
Whenever possible, the first step in remediating odors associated with small animal remains is removing those remains. Bear in mind that because small animal remains can contain dangerous pathogens, proper protection must be worn during the removal process. This includes gloves and a mask. (The full spectrum of personal protective gear is set forth in the last chapter of this handbook.)
When a small animal dies, the decomposition process commences. In basic terms, this involves bacteria that “feed” on the remains of the dead animal itself. As long as bacteria exist and feed, the odors emitted remain.
Enzymatic cleaners can be utilized to remediate odors in this type of situation. The enzymes eliminate the bacteria and, as a result, the foul odors being emitted. Fogging can be utilized to address airborne odors in a larger space. Finally, chemical deodorizers can also be used as a means of eliminating the offensive odors associated with the remains of a dead small animal at a residence.
As an aside, there are instances in which a decomposing small animal damages an item beyond repair on which it rests. For example, a rodent might die on insulation in an attic. In that scenario, because the item cannot be salvaged, removing it altogether is the recommended course, a process that will also contribute to the elimination of an associated foul odor.
Chemical odors in a residential setting can also prove to be challenging to eliminate. There are a few chemical-based odors that occur most frequently in a residential setting. These include:
- Skunk Odor
- New carpet odor
- Environmental tobacco smoke
The spray emitted by a skunk is a chemical odor, specifically a sulfur-based odor. Skunk odor specifically consists primarily of thioacetate and quinolinemethanethiol.
When skunk odor ends up permeating an occupied area at a residence, a multi-purpose cleaner is utilized on any surface that has been sprayed. Steam cleaning of carpet and fabric is a recommended course. Solvent-based deodorizers can also be used on these materials as well.
If the odor is particularly extreme, fogging can be undertaken. (An ozone generator can also be utilized, with the safety and regulatory caveats presented throughout this handbook.)
A common problem involving skunk odor is a situation in which a skunk has sprayed the exterior of a residence or other structure. In that type of situation, the affected area can be sprayed directly with an application consisting of 4-parts water to 1-part household bleach.
New Carpet Odor
Another common situation in which people complain about the odor in a household is following the installation of new carpet. There are instances in which the odor emitted from new carpet causes residents to experience headaches and even allergic reactions.
The recommended remediation procedure that is effective in most cases is to raise the indoor heat and ventilate the premises. This tactic increases the rate at which the chemical odor associated with new carpet dissipates.
Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Despite health directives to not smoke inside a residence, some people still do engage in that practice. Thus, they face the task of removing environmental tobacco smoke.
An underlying problem associated with environmental tobacco smoke is that the smoke particles themselves are very small, between .01 and 1 micron. The next primary issue is that this type of smoke results in the deposit of tar and nicotine on virtually all surfaces. Porous surfaces are particularly problematic.
In the end, the most effective way of remediating and lessening the intensity of environmental tobacco smoke is to undertake a complete washing of all contaminated surfaces. This can include the use of both a multi-purpose cleaner as well as water-based deodorizers. When it comes to carpeting and furnishings with fabric, clean steaming is a recommended course to address environmental tobacco smoke.
The next chapter deals with one of the most challenging types of residential odor remediation situations. This is the elimination of odors associated with death scene remediation.