Saturday, January 10, 2009

I think I'm on to Something!

I live in an old house. A wonderful house...but, it's old. And, unfortunately, it smells old. Now, I am exceptionally sensitive to smells and it was always the very first thing I noticed when we were house hunting. Step over the threshold, inhale, and I could immediately tell you whether or not it would be worth seeing the rest of the house. I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped into this 38 year old house and my nose remained uncrinkled as I sniffed away. In fact, I smelled nothing. "Great!" I thought.

Having passed the smell test, and the other few requirements on our list, we bought it and moved in during a beautiful time of year here in North Carolina where neither air conditioning or heating was needed. But, as it started getting warmer and warmer and hotter and hotter, we finally flipped on the air conditioning and, oh dear, what an unpleasant smell came through those vents. Old House Smell. I tried to ignore it for a while - hoping it would just air itself out - but it didn't. I tried to mask it with air freshiners and Febreze, and that totally worked! for an hour or so.

I mentioned my frustrations to a few ladies one morning after we'd been living with the smell for over 5 months, and one of them asked, "When was the last time you changed the air filters?"

Uh, what's an air filter?

Obviously that hadn't been done in the recent past. After getting briefed a little on Home Ownership 101, I made my way to Home Depot with a little speck of shining hope fluttering around in my heart. Was this finally going to get rid of the smell? In the filter isle I came across not only air filters, but a seemingly gold finding - VENT filters! These rectangular shaped filters are designed to slide right into your floor (or ceiling) vents to block out all the old dust being blown through your air ducts. Score! I loaded my cart with the goods and spent the rest of the afternoon 'filtering' my house.

It definitely made a difference - however - I still wasn't quite satisfied. The smell was better, but not gone. Plus the filters are kind of thick - and after a ridiculously high electric bill this last month (we're talking $150 MORE than normal), I couldn't help but wonder if the air wasn't getting through the thick fabric very efficiently. And, since we obviously don't have a very efficient heating system to begin with, I figured we should probably give it all the help we could. So, out went the vent filters.

But now, what do I do about that old house/dead rat smell?

A few days ago, I went to Costco and picked up a bunch of stuff: bread, milk, dryer sheets... and as I opened my trunk to unload all of my goods, the smell of the dryer sheets was almost overwhelming (in a good way). I took them down to the laundry room and plunked them down on top of the dryer...where they stayed until today. I walked into the laundry room today and, again, the smell of dryer sheets was very noticeable and I thought, "Gee, those things sure are potent. ... Wait a minute...."

So, into the vents they went! I taped them to the inside of many vents - and today my house smells like 'fresh linen'. Much more pleasant than dead rat.

I only hope that the smell stays for at least a only takes about 15 minutes to do it all, but doing it more than once a week could get tedious.

Do any of you have any suggestions about how to make an old house smell new?


  1. LOL When I first read the title I thought it said, "I think I'm on something!" I came on here to see what my Sunday School teacher was on!
    I have no other advice or reason to comment except to say that you are very smart and resourceful. I may have to try that trick. Let me know if it lasts a week!

  2. I too have an old house and it gets especially bad when I haven't been in it a while and come back to it. You very well could have a dead rodent in your crawl space. We had a dead opossum under our house last year and that was HORRIBLE! Once that was removed things were sooo much better. I love your dryer sheet idea. I am going to try it. Other than a possible dead animal...I am looking for suggestions myself.

  3. Whenever we've been out of the house for a few days and come back, it has an old-house smell that makes me think of the day we saw it for the first time. It always makes me want to bake something really fast, but it also makes me think of my sister-in-laws house that smells wonderful in the bathroom of all places. I know that sounds funny, but I've also walked into peoples houses who have multiple animals and a lovely smelling house, and am learning that it's a fragrance they have in the house, plug-ins, soemthing . . . I guess what I'm saying, is I haven't figured this one out myself, but I do light a candle, or make cookies, or bread to have a new, homey smell. The price of the smeller-super-power: being able to smell things :) Okay, this is getting relly long, and might have something to do with the fact that I'm up so late, after having a late evening nap!

  4. You could have your ducts cleaned . . . but I think that's really expensive. Good luck! :)

  5. This is for Kathleen... quit with the evening naps already! LOL

    Lindsay, I want to tell you that when you had book club your house didn't smell like dead rodent or old-house smell. It smelled loverly!

  6. Eeh. I hate smelly smells. We actually had a smelly dead rat in our apartment once, believe me, that's one smell you never forget. EH! As for good smells, glade plug ins, yankee candles, baking bread... febreeze is always great for a quick fix. Good luck!

  7. Lindsay--I bought the dryer sheets recently, and they were up in the front of the van with me. I truly thought I was going to be asphyxiated by them before I got home! Good idea to put them in the vents--I may try that too!