Houses that smell like the family member who smokes, the family dog, or the cat’s litter box pose a different problem.
- Smoke and pet dander and excrement can be absorbed by porous surfaces like carpet, wood flooring, wall board, wood or concrete under vinyl tile, or grout around ceramic tile.
- Urine soaks into porous surfaces but will wash out of non-porous ones. Cat urine on a vinyl floor can be cleaned up, but cat urine under a vinyl floor may be soaked into the wood or masonite below.
- Animal dander and cigarette smoke residue are oily, so they can also soak in if there is enough of them around for a long enough period of time.
- Concrete basement floors can pick up smells from animal dander if a large animal regularly sleeps in the same spot.
To diagnose the problem, look for the source. If there is one room that smells like smoke, check for fabric or carpet trapping the odor. For urine or pet dander, check the walls for smudging or urine streaks. Check the floor around the litter box or dog beds. If non-porous material is around the smelly couch, bed, or litter box, the smell will go with the offending object and a cleaning. If there is porous material near the source of the smell, it may remain.
The most intractable dog odor problem I know of occurred in a house bought by a friend of mine (not my client). She and her husband noticed a faint urine smell in the living room when they saw the house during the winter. Since the owners didn’t have a dog, they ignored the smell. After buying the house that spring, the new owners removed the old carpet and polished the wood floor. Suddenly, there was a strong urine smell. It seems as though the urine of some dog from yesteryear had soaked into the wooden floor long ago, which was cleaned then covered with carpet. The carpet removal and floor sanding liberated the stale urine smell. The cure meant replacing about a third of the living room wood flooring.
Cat and dog smells are very hard to get out of concrete, so if a basement is unfinished, the smell may be in the concrete. Watch out! If there are litter box or wet dog smells there, the chances of getting rid of the smell is low.
One of my clients ruled a house out because of a dog bed. The sellers had a very large dog. His huge doggy bed was on the basement concrete floor. We smelled it when we walked in the front door. I was concerned that the smell would not leave the concrete. I am also sure that the sellers were so in love with their stinky dog that they never noticed that his aroma was all over the basement.