Healthy Home: Reasons Your House Stinks

Reviewed on 10/1/2022

Front-Loading Washing Machine

Front-loading washing machines may smell musty because they are reservoirs for growing mold.

Musty-smelling mold often grows on this type of washer. It can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and skin. It can also lead to allergic reactions and asthma attacks. Leaving the door open between loads can help keep mold at bay. Regularly drying and cleaning the rubber gasket also helps.

Garbage Disposal

Your garbage disposal can be a source of odors in your kitchen.

Odor-causing bacteria can live in your kitchen sink and drain. More can grow from garbage disposal scraps. Do this once a week to clean: Put 6 ice cubes, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 3 thin lemon slices, and 1 teaspoon of bleach into the disposal. Add 6 more ice cubes and turn it on. When the grinding stops, run cold water for 30 seconds. The ice helps knock food particles loose. Bleach kills bacteria, and lemon slices help with odor.

New Furniture

New furniture emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that affect indoor air quality.

The sofa or cabinets you just bought might be releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. VOCs are gases -- like formaldehyde and toluene -- that can irritate your nose and throat. They can also cause headaches and dizziness. Some VOCs have been linked to cancer. Open windows to get air flowing if you can. And look for low-VOC products to limit your exposure.

Dirty Carpet

Carpet traps dirt, dust and pet dander so HEPA vacuum it frequently throughout the week.

It can catch dust, dirt, and pet dander or pee. Carpeting can also trap mold spores, leaving your home with a musty smell. To ward off odors, vacuum at least 3 times a week with a machine that has a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. Deep clean your carpets once a year using dry steam cleaning.

Funky Fridge

Clean up spills in your fridge right away so they don't allow smelly bacteria to grow.

Spoilage bacteria is a type of bacteria that makes food taste and smell bad. It can grow in low temperatures. Wipe up spills right away using hot, soapy water to keep your fridge fresh. Avoid cleaning products -- they may make your food taste like chemicals. Go through the fridge once a week and toss anything that's expired. An open box of baking soda can also help with odors.

Wet Towels

Wash your towels at least once a week to inhibit the growth of bacteria.

If you don't wash them often enough, they'll start to breed bacteria and smell like dirty gym socks. One study found that a type of bacteria called Moraxella osloensis is the main cause of stinky laundry. Wash your towel at least once a week -- more if you live somewhere hot and humid. Spread it out on a towel rack to dry instead of hanging from a hook.

Dead Animal

Animals nesting in your attic or other areas of your home may lead to odors.

A faint smell that slowly gets stronger and stays for days or weeks could be a sign that a wild animal has died in your attic, inside a wall, or under your deck. It's also possible they're still alive, and you're smelling their pee or poop.

Stale Sheets

Wash your sheets at least twice a month to get rid of odor-causing bacteria and dead skin cells.

You shed dead skin cells every night while you're asleep. Both odor-causing bacteria and dust mites love dead skin cells. That's why you should wash your sheets at least every 2 weeks. Try to do it more often when the weather's hot or if you sweat at night.

Smelly Dishwasher

Clean the filter in your dishwasher to remove food particles that may lead to bad smells.

Food particles could be trapped in the filter. Once a week, take the filter out and scrub it with a soft brush under running water. Wipe up other residue inside the appliance with a sponge. You can use dishwasher cleaner to get it super clean. Or you can put a bowl filled with vinegar in the bottom rack of the empty dishwasher and run a cycle.

Hidden Mold

Mold growth in walls, air ducts, under carpet or ceiling tiles can lead to musty smells and health problems.

If you smell mold but can't see it, it could be growing behind drywall or wallpaper, under wood paneling, or in walls near pipes. It also could be under carpeting or ceiling tiles, or inside air ducts. Mold grows where there's lots of moisture, like under a sink with a leaky pipe or in a poorly ventilated bathroom. It's best to call a professional if you think this is the problem. Trying to fix it yourself could release mold spores.

Sewer Smell In the Basement

A dried-out P-trap in a drain pipe may lead to a buildup of smelly sewer gas.

This is often caused by a dried-out P-trap in a drain pipe. A P-trap is a section of pipe that normally stays filled with water -- this blocks sewer gas (hydrogen sulfide) from entering your home. Breathing hydrogen sulfide can irritate your eyes and throat, cause shortness of breath, and lead to fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. Pouring water into your floor drain may be enough to fix the problem; if it persists, call a plumber.


Pet urine and feces may contain bacteria and parasites so clean up promptly after your pets.

Dealing with poop and pee is part of living with a cat or dog. But there are reasons other than odor to be careful about cleanup. A recent study found that dog urine isn't sterile, or germ-free -- it has several types of bacteria. And both cat and dog poop can carry things like roundworm and hookworm that can spread to humans. Be sure to clean up accidents quickly, scoop poop out of kitty litter every day, and wash your hands after.

Hot Water Heater

Sulfur smell when you turn on the water may indicate a problem with your water heater.

If your water smells like rotten eggs, sulfur bacteria is probably the cause. It isn't harmful on its own, but it can make hydrogen sulfide gas. This can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat at high levels. It can also cause nausea and headaches. Your hot water heater is likely the problem if you smell the odor only when you run hot water and not cold. A plumber can replace parts and turn up the temperature to kill bacteria.

Natural Gas Leak

To help detect gas leaks, gas companies add a substance that gives off a rotten eggs smell.

Pure natural gas doesn't have an odor. To help you detect a leak, gas companies add a substance that makes it smell like rotten eggs. If you notice the smell near one of your appliances, it's possible that a pilot light has gone out. If the odor in your home is strong, don't light matches or turn on any light switches. Leave the house right away and then call your gas company or 911.

Healthy Home: Reasons Your House Stinks

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