What is that Smell?

what is that smell

Peerless Carpet Care and Restoration Services

What is that Smell? How to Control Odors and Breathe Easy

One of the most trying issues faced by homeowners and property managers are complaints about “bad” smells. Does the hall smell a little musty after the rain? Is that pervading pet odor in the lobby back again? Is there one person referring to a fragrance that no one else can detect? It can be very frustrating.

An odor or fragrance is caused by one or more volatilized chemical compounds, generally at a very low concentration, that humans or other animals perceive by the sense of olfaction. There are olfactory nerves within our nasal passages which contain receptors. Human Receptors can detect one odor molecule among millions. The exact number of receptors that one possess can vary between people, thus we truly can have different “senses” of smells. On the average, men can identify 3,000 to 5,000 distinct odors, while women can detect close to 10,000.

Common odors that people are used to, such as their own body odor, are less noticeable to individuals than external or uncommon odors. The process of getting “used” to a smell is called habituation. After continuous odor exposure, the sense of smell fatigues quickly, but recovers rapidly after the stimulus is removed. So people will get used to a smell while they are in an area, but be affected again when after they leave and return.

In addition, our olfactory nerves actually end directly at the brain, so the connection between smell and memory is stronger than any other of our senses.  This is the reason that a fragrance can vividly recall a memory, or a memory can recall a smell. Because of this, many perceived odors can be psychological in nature or their intensity exaggerated by memory. The connection between smell and memory is so strong, one’s brain can often not tell the difference.

When dealing with reports of odors it is not a bad idea to have multiple people “smell” the area to ascertain the extent of the problem. Remember it is quite easy to get habituated to a smell and no longer be able to detect. In addition, people really do have different number of olfactory receptors, so If you can’t smell it, other people may be able to.

Different odors are categorized by their “primary smell”. This standard is often used when describing odors. Here are the different odor categories:

  1. Musky – perfumes/aftershave
  2. Putrid – rotten eggs
  3. Pungent – vinegar
  4. Camphoraceous – mothballs
  5. Ethereal – dry cleaning fluid
  6. Floral – roses
  7. Peppermint – mint gum

What makes an odor offensive? Often anything foreign, thus not “habituated” or anything that is present at higher than normal level is often considered “offensive” or a “pollutant”. An offensive odor is really any odor that the person involved does not like. Common causes of offensive odors are: human or animal waste, human or animal body odors, skunk, smoke or soot, decomposition, cigarette smoke, mold or mildew, tear gas, fuel, chemical residue, garbage or other waste, and cooking odors.

Environmental factors may exacerbate odors. High humidity increases the perception and detection of odor because more particles can dissolve in water vapor and readily reach nasal receptors. Increases in heat can also lead to particles aerolizing quickly and becoming more easily detectable. All of this also depends on the source of the odor. The more volatile a substance is, the faster the rate of evaporation, and the more easily the odor is to detect.

So how to you breathe easy again? In order to control unpleasant odors one should follow the principles of Deodorization as outlined by the IICRC (The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) :

  • Eliminate the Source: Locate and remove.
  • Clean the Source Area: Clean all surfaces exposed to direct contamination.
  • Recreate the Conditions that Caused the Contamination: Deodorize by recreating the conditions of Penetration. Was the room filled with a gas or vapor that cause the offending odor? In order to penetrate all of the surfaces, you must counteract with a method such as a fog or steam that can go everywhere that the contaminant went.
  • Seal the Area, if necessary: Sometimes salvageable surfaces need to be sealed in order to contain areas of contamination. For instance, the subfloor that may have been subject to pet urine may need to be sealed after treatment in order to ensure elimination of odors and prevent future contamination.


This may seem like a lot of work, but you don’t have to go it alone. If you have areas of your property that have that “not so good” smell, there are professionals available that eliminate the odors and help you breathe east again.


Contact Peerless about an odor issue

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s