By EVE M. KAHN
"A friend just bought a lovely 1920s house, but it has layers of old smells, especially from fireplaces and tobacco. How can she get rid of them?"
RUTH TRAVIS (president, Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification): Smoke particles — from fire or cigarettes — are so fine, they penetrate everything. They get into wood and walls. They may have to be refinished or repainted. After all that, if the smell lingers, get a professional to bring in an ozone machine. Ozone molecules bond with odor molecules and effectively burn up the smells. As a last resort, upholstery can be ozone-treated too, off-site, which is great because the ozone really penetrates fabric.
What odors are hardest to clean?
Urine, milk, baby formula, gravy, blood, vomit, feces. They really adhere to fibers, and pet urine will soak everything, including floorboards. Cat urine is especially acrid. If the animal pees on the sofa, you could get the cushions professionally cleaned. Or get new cushions.
Are certain fabrics or rugs more susceptible to odors than others?
Any porous textile, synthetic or natural, holds odor. Cotton and wool are the most absorbent. Animals gravitate toward wool, maybe because it smells like other animals. Synthetics like olefin are less absorbent, although they do absorb oil more readily and hold onto those substances.
What should I do first after a spill?
Blot up as much of the smelly mess as you can right away. While you're blotting the upholstery, put a plastic liner or a garbage bag between the cushion and the fabric, if that's possible, so you don't push the contaminant into the cushion. Then flush with cold water as best you can. Blot and flush again. Cold water doesn't set stains as much as hot water. Or use a portable spot cleaner or wet/dry vac. If there's still a residual odor, use a half-vinegar, half-water solution and rinse again.
What if the accident is on the carpet? Can a professional cleaner get the odor out?
Sometimes. But you should get a good professional cleaning every 12 to 18 months anyway, to restore the color and remove surface dirt. Don't believe a cleaning service that says they can deodorize. They can't. You have to remove the source of the problem, even if that sometimes means putting in a new patch of carpet.
Is that true of moldy patches, too? Do they need to be taken out and replaced?
You don't want to mess with mold. Some people are highly allergic, and it can be a microbial hazard. If it's in your rug, that means it's probably in your walls and floors, too. You need to have a professional analyze the situation. It may be no big deal, but you need to be sure.
How about the musty mothball smell on furniture and fabrics left in the attic too long?
A professional dry or wet cleaning usually works, or you can leave the pieces outside in the sun. The more airflow around them, the better. Too many people seal their houses too well, to keep in the heat or air conditioning. The smells you don't want stay inside too.
For a lingering kitchen smell, do any particular room fresheners or sprays work?
They're all about the same. They mask the odor with a stronger, nicer fragrance for a while.
How about candles?
Candles are a terrible way of dealing with a household odor. The black smoke builds up over time. It gets into your ductwork, it leaves residue on the walls, baseboards, everywhere. And the residue is oily — the stronger the candle smells, the oilier the wax. The residue yellows your carpets, curtains, and upholstery.
What happens when, say, a mouse dies somewhere in the house?
It's awful, and it can last for months while the carcass decomposes. If you can find and get rid of the body, clean the spot with a Lysol disinfectant or a mixture of half water, half chlorine bleach. Make sure you wear rubber gloves, and don't get your face near the spot. If you can't find the body, or if it's a really nasty mess, you need to call in professionals to deal with it.
It is, and often it's a job only for professionals.
So how can I find a good professional cleaner?
Our Website [certifiedcleaners.org] lets you search geographically for a professional and then narrow down the search by specialty, whether it's odor control, fire restoration, or mold remediation. Everyone we list has earned certificates in one or more of our dozens of very scientific coursework areas.
RUTH TRAVIS, PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE OF INSPECTION, CLEANING AND RESTORATION CERTIFICATION; CERTIFIEDCLEANERS.ORG; 800-835-4624; INFO@CERTIFIEDCLEANERS.ORG.
Reprinted with Permission of Hearst Communications, Inc. Originally Published: Odor Removal