Revenge of the Smelly Ducting

For about a month now, we’ve had this odd odor in our house. It started out in our laundry room, on the east end of our main floor. Then we noticed it in our bedroom, on the west end of our 2nd floor. Since then, we’ve noticed it in almost every room in the house on different days, but never all over at once. It’s always one or two rooms, but they could be on opposite ends of the house.

I few weeks ago, I realized that the smell was coming from the furnace vents. After some experimentation, I noticed that running the furnace made the smell go away. It got worse when the temperatures were warmer, and the furnace wasn’t running.

So we called out our local heating/plumber guy. After they were out here three times, they did find a couple of problems with our furnace, but no gas leaks or anything that could explain the smell — which, by the way, three different employees couldn’t identify. They even left an air charting unit with us, which ruled out things like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulates. It did helpfully notice that there were odors, but didn’t tell us what they were.

So here we are, still smelling this…. smell. It defies categorization. It mystefies experts. Something like a cross between dirty laundry, mold, and a skunk. And yet…. none of those, either. It’s weird.

I’ve taken to closing the vents in our bedroom before turning in for the night if the smell is bad in the evening.

So, I’m appealing to all the bloggers out there for suggestions, short of selling the place and moving to town :-)

Oh, and this is not the first time we’ve had odor problems here. However, the cause the first time was immediately apparent and thus could be eventually dealt with :-)

250 thoughts on “Revenge of the Smelly Ducting

  1. we had a smell that would make you throw-up. i thought something was dead under my home. It was a break in my water pipe under my home ,so every thing that went threw the sink and garbage disposal went right on threw. plumber came fixed it,no more smell


  2. After a couple of months of obessive searching and cleaning ducts. trying to remove spots that looked like mold, buring scented candles, we turned off the stupid electronic air cleaner and Voila! The smell was gone in 24 hours. THANK YOU!!!!


  3. We have actual skunks in our neighborhood and YES, when they spray outside the smell can come inside your house very easily!! Some people can smell it better and more easily than others. To me, the skunk smells like very strong garlic odor…. to my neighbor it just smells like the most awful stench possible and to some skunk can smell like smoke from a fire. The skunk spraying outside can create powerful fumes that will make your eyes water and chase you outside for air – it does that to my neighbor. To me, it is just annoying but I think his nose is much more sensitive. If you suspect a real skunk, be sure to check around your property for holes in the ground. They will crawl down there and make nests and will keep returning and do tons of spraying. They generally come out at dusk so you can watch for it then from a window.


  4. I sometimes notice this “paint smell” in my back hallway. Luckily, the back hallway is not used for much really and I keep the kitchen door closed most of the time. I seem to notice it the most during warm weather and it smells like it was just freshly painted, except it was painted over a year ago…. I actually think it’s the PAINT itself. Like there is something wrong with it and it never dried properly, even though it feels dry to the touch. I really can’t think of what else it could be. There are no ducts or anything in my back hallway – its just wood framing with some new fiberglass insulation, that wall stuff (plasterboard or whatever you call it) and paint. Since it smells like paint, I suspect the paint. I bought it at Ace. I also just found a page that confirms my idea, that Ace Latex paint can still smell even a year after painting – its at a site called painttalk – do a search for “Odor dried paint”.

    Did you buy your paint at Ace??? Maybe something you had painted a year or so ago??? My paint odor disappears for months on end and then out of the blue the smell will return! I think the smell is related to the humidity, Maybe a cold air return is near a painted item and is collecting the odor and carrying it around your house. Perhaps try a dehumidifier?


  5. I have pet rodents so I can answer your question. NO, the smell will NOT go away by itself. You need to wash the area, if it is washable that is. Rat and mouse odors can be removed easily with soap and water. Of course, since you are dealing with wild rodents you should wear gloves and a face mask while cleaning the area, to prevent from breathing in any particles they left behind (as they may carry disease). But it needs to be cleaned, otherwise it will keep smelling very ratty-like. Mice actually have a stronger odor so..maybe be glad they were rats.

    Any soap will do. I generally use dish soap to clean the rat cage but use bleach if you like. If you don’t remove the urine it will just keep stinking. And the droppings smell, too, of course. If there are a lot of droppings in hard piles, you may need a scraper to remove the build up. The urine can also be somewhat acidic and rust through metal if left long enough. Be aware they can do nasty damage with chewing and they can have a lot of pinkies (baby rats) at an incredible pace. Rodents always need to chew because their teeth are always growing, so they gnaw on hard objects to keep the teeth trimmed.

    Domestic rats are very prone to colds and drafts. I don’t know if wild ones are but perhaps you could use this somehow to your advantage?

    I realize the attic is not the best place to clean or the easiest. If soap and water is not possible, maybe try the cat spray from Drs Foster & Smith – it is made to break up cat urine smell by using enzymes. Its called CleanAway. You just spray it on the stinky surface and it does the job. It works very well.


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