Musty, Damp, Stale, and Putrid Smells Often Combine with Cleaning Product Odors to Permeate the Entire Home
By Cesar Collado
In speaking to mold sick patients and their family members, the topic of odor problems in the home comes up often. Complaints include adjectives, such as musty, damp, stale, and putrid to describe the unsightly smells they have to cover or deal with. Mold odors and the chemicals or fragrances associated with cleaning products are commonly mentioned. As sickness increases, the tolerance to live with the continuous odors becomes less and less tolerable. Even with the best efforts to clean or mask the smells, the result is not a fresh smell. It becomes a losing battle as the home grows increasingly toxic.
How Odors Form and Migrate in Indoor Spaces
Temperature and humidity affect odor because they increase the molecular volatility of a substance. This is why trash smells stronger in the heat and cars smell musty after a good rain. A substance’s solubility also affects its odor. Chemicals that dissolve in water or fat are usually intense odorants, like bleach or gasoline. In addition, the varying moisture levels throughout a home can alter odors. Thus, smells are often different, depending on what room you are in, such as basements, bathrooms, bedrooms, and living rooms.
Once an odor permeates a room, carpet, upholstery, bedding, walls, and furniture can absorb and maintain the scents for a long time. In addition, using “air fresheners” that use chemical fragrances only mask the smell. In fact, you are then breathing both the gases from microbes and numerous chemicals, some of which can be toxic. A YouTube video by Proctor and Gamble justified the use of Febreze by identifying toxic chemicals we encounter with other products and confirming the body’s ability to metabolize them. Unfortunately, long-term effects and a sick individual’s ability to metabolize the toxins is not characterized by these attempts to justify their use.
We don’t usually think of our noses as delicate chemical sensors, but that’s exactly what they are. Most odors begin as volatile organic compounds (“VOCs). This means that they can turn from liquid to gas. When you inhale, you pull in these molecules, some of which goes to a small patch of nerve-rich, vascular tissue called the olfactory epithelia. This area contains about six million olfactory sensory neurons. If the scent molecule is at least somewhat soluble in water and lipophilic (that is, it likes fats), it will attach to a light layer of mucus over these neurons, completing a connection that tells your brain just what’s in the air.
Our sense of smell shares the same signaling channel as our sense of pain. Everyone can have particularly intense reactions to bad odors. In other words, a really bad odor can cause a strong physical reaction. Over time, it appears our reaction to smells is learned. With continuous exposure, we can easily go “nose-blind” to even the worst stench. This is common amongst mold-sick patients and their families. Our sense of smell can even trigger PTSD reactions. Just like it is common for a victim to react to a cologne or detergent used by an abuser, a mold-sensitive person can have a significant immune reaction to even a hint of the smell of mold. Read more about “When a Whiff of Mold Can Cause Instant Sinusitis Symptoms and Panic” HERE.
Sources of Odors
Mold produces gasses called microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC). Some of these gasses are odorless; but some have a musty odor, the smell typically associated with mold. If you notice a musty odor in your home, you probably have mold growing there, even if you don’t see any mold. Mold often grows in hidden places, like inside walls, under carpets, and inside heating and ventilation ducts. While humidity due to a lack of ventilation can make a musty odor more noticeable, it typically is not the primary cause of the smell. So that musty odor you are smelling is not only mold itself, but it is a result of the MVOCs released at different stages of the mold’s growth.
Body odor is caused when bacteria meets moisture. Our skin flora has over 1000 species of bacteria which meet moisture from sweat. While most people associate sweat with exercise or heat, all bodies continually use sweat glands to cool the body.
In most cases, it evaporates immediately. This is the source of putrid smells associated with body odor. Our furniture and bedding can absorb these odors over time. This is true for all people; however, it is particularly true for sick patients who spend the majority of time in their bed or on a couch. It is many times overlooked how important it is to clean bedding frequently, using a mold-targeting agent, like EC3 Laundry Additive, to make sure that the health of your bed is preserved. This is especially true when your body is detoxing.
There is an infinite number of cleaning products we can choose from to clean our homes. When a house smells of mold or other natural malodorous smells, common selections to eliminate the smell are bleach, ammonia, or other chemical cleaners. These chemicals can have strong fumes and chemical fragrances are added to make things “smell clean”. These chemicals can be toxic, especially if someone is mold sensitive and has reached their “Toxic Load”. These patients experience Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (“MCS”) and have reactions to any chemical fragrance including cleaning products, air fresheners, and perfumes. In addition, many of these cleaning products do not penetrate porous materials. For example, bleach does not penetrate surfaces such as grout, wood, drywall, and others. When bleach is used, the hyphae (roots) of the mold that have penetrated the surface only absorb the water component of the cleaner. This allows it to proliferate beneath the surface, even though its color has been “bleached” away. “My Case Against Bleach for Cleaning Mold” by Catherine at Moldfreeliving.com explains this further.
Other Sources of Odors
When someone is sick, there are a variety of odors that can contribute to a permanent stench in their home. Pet Dander, dust, dust mites and their feces, and even human waste can become airborne and settle on surfaces and furnishings. All of these contaminants must be routinely cleaned and removed to eliminate odors. The combination of humidity, musty mold, body odors, bacteria, and multiple sources of chemical fragrances can create unlimited combinations of potential stenches that can permeate the home of someone suffering from mold sickness.
In addition, I hear complaints mentioning the “old person smell” commonly associated with nursing homes. 2-Nonenal is an unsaturated aldehyde with an unpleasant greasy and grassy odor, detected in older patients, > 40 years old. This scent is often mistakenly attributed to poor hygiene, but it is actually an inescapable component of body odor that manifests in older individuals. The official (and more respectful) term for the smell is nonenal.
The odor issue can become exponentially more problematic if mold or bacteria enter the HVAC system and are continually recirculated throughout the home. Air filters are limited in their ability to remove gaseous odors.
What Can You Do?
There are many household cleaners that have the ability to remove mold and bacterial smells at the source without chemical fragrances. Here is a list of products available to battle mold and bacterial odors in your home, clothes, and bedding:
- Baking Soda
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Lemon juice
- All-natural Essential Oils
- EC3 products to clean the home and clothes
Removing moisture and debris, and using air purification are essential steps to removing odors. As important as cleaning products are, they are ineffective in removing odors without a thorough vacuuming to physically remove mold, bacterial, and gaseous contaminants. Mops and rags simply move the odorous materials around and redistribute them. These products and services can become your “best friends” when it comes to healthy home and mold hygiene:
- Odor-catching HEPA HVAC filters with Activated Carbon to remove odors
- Quality HEPA Vacuum that either uses HEPA bags and closed canister vacuums
- HEPA Air Purifiers
- Having the HVAC professionally cleaned
My Reason for Writing This Newsletter
My family takes care of my 95-year-old father living in “hospice at home.” While our home does not have a mold problem, and there is little to no humidity in Albuquerque, the issue of the smell in the home is a constant topic of conversation. Daily laundering of clothes and linens, vacuuming frequently, and rigorous cleaning of the remainder of the home is a constant chore in our home. Historically, my brother used bleach and other antiseptic products to keep the home sanitary with all that occurs with taking care of a 95-year-old (other bodily functions and fluids). My 92-year-old mother, who passed away several years ago, was also in hospice at home for a lengthy period. So, we are very familiar with the “nursing home stench” as we call it.
Following several discussions with my siblings, I decided to send them a “care package” of products and cleaning tools I thought could help. I sent a HEPA vacuum with HEPA “bio” bags for easy disposal (a cheaper but less durable alternative to a quality HEPA canister vacuum). I also sent EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate, an EC3 SANI+TIZER Fogger, and EC3 Laundry Additive with instructions for use.
While I knew mold wasn’t necessarily the issue, the products are antimicrobial and address widespread bacteria, mold, and viruses. The all-natural, active ingredients kill the microbes by breaking their cell walls. The fogger reaches all areas and corners of the room. Even continuously washed linens and towels can retain smells and infect the laundry room and washing machine with mold and mildew if something isn’t used to prevent it. Read about Catherine’s product profile on Moldfreeliving.com discussing the smell of EC3 Laundry Additive HERE.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the impact the HEPA vacuum had on the home.
My brother mentioned that his initial vacuuming filled several HEPA bio vacuum bags. This sounds embarrassing until I learned that carpets can weigh eight times their initial weight when being removed. Microscopic particles from bugs, feces, hair, dust, pollen, mold, dander, dust mite feces and germs can find a permanent home and accumulate in carpets if not removed with frequent vacuuming. Regular vacuums recirculate microscopic debris into the air rather than trapping them in the filtered bag or canister. This is while using a true HEPA vacuum is so important for making your home healthier.
The result of my experiment was surprising and remarkable. My brother considers the products “magic”. The entire family has mentioned the removal of the “nursing home” stench and the more pleasant mild citrus smell that comes from fogging home regularly. Linens smell fresher and cleaner from the “antiseptic but fresh” scent of the EC3 Laundry Additive. He even experimented with using a small amount of EC3 Laundry Additive (instead of EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate) in the fogger on occasion to freshen up the entire home prior to guests visiting.
Several friends and family members have noticed and complimented the change in the environment. “Removing the smell in the home changed my daily outlook and perspective” was the quote from my brother. I now recommend these EC3 products when the topic of musty, putrid, and cleaning product odors in the home or laundry comes up. Removing the source of odors have become a superior solution to masking them.
We often overlook the discomfort a bad-smelling environment can have on a family. Given the importance of scent for mood, when you think about it, this shouldn’t be surprising. Thus, these approaches help address the source of the problem. It is also important to note the efficiency of the fogger in utilizing EC3 products makes the cost/benefit decision somewhat easier, especially when you consider that all family members are impacted by microbial odors, toxic chemicals, and generic cleaning products, even if they are not affected by mold illness.
If you have experienced a similar situation with problematic odors in your home, please share your experience at the bottom of this article.