8 House Smells You Should Never Ignore

Bad smells lingering in your home can be a frustrating headache – and sometimes they can also be a sign of something more serious.

It’s important to know the difference between the everyday annoyance of spoiled produce in your refrigerator and noxious odors that could be indicators of a more serious problem. There are some odors that are not only unpleasant, but also potentially dangerous to smell in the house. If left unchecked, odors like this can pose health risks, repair costs and damage.

Here are the smells that home improvement, plumbing, and heating experts say you shouldn’t ignore:

1. Smoking

If your smoke alarm starts going off, don't ignore the warning.

Image Source via Getty Images

If your smoke alarm starts going off, don’t ignore the warning.

Where there is smoke, there may be fire. Klosterman said if you smell smoke, you should immediately investigate the source.

“The smell of smoke, even when you’re not cooking or burning anything, can indicate hidden fire hazards inside the walls or in the attic, or near the outside of the home,” he says.

2. The smell of rotten eggs in the air

“Natural gas is odorless, so utility companies add odors like sulfur or rotten eggs to alert you to a gas leak,” Klosterman says.

So if you smell rotten eggs in the air of your home, it’s a serious concern. Natural gas leaks can cause explosions or poisoning. If you detect this smell, turn off the gas if you can do so safely, and contact your gas company immediately.

Philadelphia-based plumber Kelly Ireland recommends having a gas leak detector so you can check to see if it’s an unpleasant oil smell or a gas leak smell.

3. Sewage Smell From Your Bathroom

Ireland says if you notice this foul smell, it’s best to check your trap immediately, as there could be a problem with your drain or trap. A P trap is a U-shaped pipe under a sink or drain that is intended to trap water.

Ireland said the sewage odor problem often comes from unused guest bathrooms.

“When the trap dries out, the smell of gas can come in,” he said. “So really what you need to do is once every two weeks, maybe turn on the water, fill that trap.”

If you continue to ignore the smell of sewage, it’s not only unpleasant, it’s also dangerous to your health, Klosterman says.

4. Persistent Urine Smell from Your Toilet

Ireland says the smell of ammonia or urine could be a sign of a damaged wax ring at the bottom of your toilet. The wax ring is supposed to be a watertight seal that prevents sewer gases from escaping into the room.

“It could be that the fluid is coming out from under the toilet and you don’t realize it’s flowing out until you find a stain on the ceiling, or the fluid starts coming out of the bottom of your toilet,” Ireland said.

“When I go into the bathroom and smell that smell, I always check to see if the toilet is shaking. “Because usually if it wobbles it’s a sign that the wax ring is damaged,” added Ireland.

5. The smell of rotten eggs from flowing water

Your shower water should not smell. Your shower water should not smell.

If you always smell rotten eggs when running shower water, your water heater may be broken, Ireland says.

“If you start to smell that smell, it means the metal inside the water heater is failing. So usually you have to replace parts, like the anode rod,” Ireland said.

Once your water heater starts to fail, you may soon be faced with warm water that won’t heat properly, so don’t ignore these signs.

Addressing the problem sooner “saves you from the big questions like, ‘Oh well, I waited too long and now the water heater is leaking because the inside is so corroded that now it can’t hold it,’” Ireland says.

6. Musty or moldy smell

“A house that smells musty or moldy often indicates the presence of mold or mildew that thrives in damp environments. “This can pose health risks, especially for those with allergies or respiratory problems,” Klosterman said.

Ireland says if you smell a “strange musty odor,” the cause is often a slow leak occurring within the walls of your home. Look for yellowish spots on your walls and breaks in the drywall seams, as those are signs of a water source, he says.

You don’t want to let mold grow freely. Klosterman notes that whether or not your home insurance policy will cover a mold outbreak depends on the homeowner’s role in maintaining the home, which is why it’s important to perform regular home maintenance.

7. Burning Smell Around Appliances Like Your Dryer

When was the last time you cleaned your dryer filter?  If you smell a burning smell from your dryer, the lint filter is often the cause.

Grace Cary via Getty Images

When was the last time you cleaned your dryer filter? If you smell a burning smell from your dryer, the lint filter is often the cause.

Klosterman says a burning smell can indicate an electrical fault in your appliance, wiring or outlet, and in a worst-case scenario, this fault can cause an electrical fire. Take your clothes dryer, as one common example.

“If there is a burning smell, it means the fiber needs to be cleaned (dryer). You don’t want that to happen,” says Duane Enoch, owner of Green Air Concepts Heating and Air Conditioning in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

You should clean your dryer’s lint filter and dryer vent regularly, as failure to clean was the leading cause of clothes dryer fires occurring in U.S. homes in 2018-2020, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

“If you smell burning plastic or any electrical odor without an identifiable source, disconnect the power and call an electrician,” Klosterman says. “Take the time to familiarize yourself with the location of circuit breakers in the home. Each breaker must be individually labeled to identify the area where the electricity is distributed.”

8. Sweet, Syrupy Smell From Your AC Unit

Sometimes, noxious odors can be sweet.

“An unusual, sweet smell may indicate a coolant leak from your refrigerator or AC unit. This requires immediate attention to prevent unit failure and avoid the potential for dangerous refrigerant spread,” Klosterman said.

That’s why Klosterman says you should clean filters every season on air conditioning and heating units, and vacuum refrigerator coils every six months to remove dirt that can cause wear.

Ultimately, these odors are warning signs of greater danger that should not be ignored. So the next time you smell something strange and funky from an unknown source, don’t ignore it – start paying attention.

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