How to Track Down and Solve Bad Smells in the Home

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Posted June 1, 2017

While it may be easy to track down smells coming from your garbage can or garbage disposal, other smells require a keener nose.

In order to help you find all of the bad smells in your home, here are some common smells and where you can find the source:

Rotten Eggs

The smell of sulfur or rotten eggs is never a good sign. You either have some old eggs sitting around from a couple Easters ago, or you have a serious gas leak or electrical problem.

The two most common sources for rotten egg smell in the home are electrical components (inside of outlets for example) or a natural gas leak.

Natural gas manufacturers are required to add a chemical, called mercaptan, to their gas in order to make it easier to detect a leak. Without this additive, you wouldn’t be able to see, smell, or taste natural gas (much like carbon monoxide).

If you smell rotten eggs in the home, call the gas company to make sure you don’t have a gas leak.

If there is no gas leak in the home, you may have a problem with your electrical system. If you smell the rotten egg smell near an outlet, that’s probably where it is coming from. When the plastic components behind your outlet plate burn, it can smell like rotten eggs. This smell indicates that there is a dangerous arcing situation happening within the interior of your outlet that could cause a home fire.

We recommend turning off power at the circuit breaker to cut off electricity to the room with the smelling outlet.

One other possible cause of a rotten egg smell in your home is when you run the hot water. You may experience a rotten egg smell when the hot water is running due to an old anode rod.

Anode rods in hot water heaters should be replaced every 5 years or so. Replacing your anode rod will reduce corrosion in your water heater and may even be able to double its lifespan.

Call your local plumber to find out which kind of anode you should replace your old one with.

Sewage Smell

If you smell raw sewage in your home, you may have a dried out P-trap. The P-trap is the little curved section of piping that helps create a seal from the sewer gas that lurks behind it. The only problem is that the curved “P” section needs to be filled with water in order to create the necessary blockage.

If you haven’t used one or more of your sinks in a while the water that normally creates a seal in the “P” section has evaporated and dried out.

In order to prevent sewer gases from rising up through your pipes and into your home, it’s important to run water in all of your drains periodically. If you have a sink in your garage or another part of the home that rarely gets use, make sure you run the water in those sinks at least once a month to refresh the water in the P-trap.

If running water in your sinks doesn’t solve the problems, you may have a more serious plumbing problem. Speak with a professional plumber to discuss your options.

Fish Smell

Something smells fishy… and it’s not fish. Well, likely not. If you smell fish with no fish in sight, you could have an overheating electrical component somewhere.

Sometimes, burning plastic, wiring, and other electrical components smell like rotten eggs or sulfur to some people. Other people notice a distinctive fishy smell. Whether you get a whiff of fish or rotten eggs, it’s important to investigate the situation. You may have a dangerous arcing situation behind one of your outlets or switches that can cause a house fire.

Again, if you can locate the electrical source of the smell and It seems to be coming from one of your outlets or switches, turn off power at the breaker box and call an electrician right away!

Stale Air

If you frequently pick up a stale smell in your home, it may be because of air leaks around the home. Recessed lights that are often connected to the attic are notoriously leaky. If you notice the stale air smell around any of your recessed lights, you will have to go into the attic to seal the air leak.

Read our Attic Insulation Guide for tips on sealing your recessed lights, flue, and other common leaky areas in your attic.

If you detect any of these odors in your home, make sure it isn’t a serious electrical or natural gas problem. Sulfur, “rotten egg” smells are a big warning sign. For help dealing with odors in your home, contact the professionals at Hiller Plumbing, Heating, Cooling, & Electrical.

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