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What IS That Smell? 5 Sniff-Worthy Signs Your Indoor Air Quality Is Compromised

dog nose up close

Scents can be a wonderful thing. Gardenia flowers blooming, apple pie baking, the family dog just after a long-overdue bath – these are the smells that make us all smile.

But then there are the not-so-wonderful aromas. A musty smell wafting through your vents, the dog before his long-overdue bath, mouldy odors in the basement – these worrisome odours are concerning for more reasons than just unpleasantness.

The truth is, your home finds all kinds of ways to try to communicate when there is a problem. But in order to find it and fix it before the issue affects your health or your home’s resale value, you first have to learn to decode the messages.

In this post, learn about the five most common sniff-worthy warning signs that your indoor air quality has been compromised.

1. The Smell: Grassy, Musty, Dank, Dirty

If there is one odour no homeowner ever wants to detect inside their home, garage, basement, attic or work shed, it is this one.

The smell of damp grass, dirty shoe liners, musty old towels or last year’s unwashed bathing suit usually means only one thing: mould or mildew.

Mould can smell different depending on who is doing the sniffing, but the location of the odour can also play a part in speedy diagnosis.

If you start to smell this odour most strongly in areas where humidity tends to build up naturally (basement, laundry room, bathroom, etc.), this is further cause for suspecting mould.

2. The Smell: Sharp, Astringent, Chemical

A sharp, astringent, shockingly obvious odour that has chemical overtones masked by a so-called "pleasant or refreshing scent" is common in cleaning products.

Unfortunately, chemicals such as formaldehyde, phthalates, ethanol, volatile organic compounds and free radicals are rampant in household air fresheners, deodorizing products, sanitizing solutions and more.

Unfortunately, at least one research study has confirmed that even so-called “green” or “organic” household products designed to “freshen” the air often contain harmful chemicals that help produce their characteristic scents.

Even unscented or fragrance-free products often contain ingredients that leave behind some type of odour.

The most common health symptoms that arise from breathing in chemically “freshened” air include migraine headaches, respiratory distress, asthma attacks, trouble breathing, diarrhea and earaches (in infants), neurological issues and heart trouble.

3. The Smell: Wet Dog

Barring the actual presence of a wet dog in the near vicinity, the most likely cause of a wet dog odour is old pet dander, dust and debris lingering around.

Of course, if you don’t have any pets but you are smelling wet dog anyway, the next most likely culprit is dust mites, dust and debris.

Old secondhand smoke (wood, candle or tobacco) that has worked its way into the fabric of your home furnishings, dampened home furnishings that are starting to rot, use of pesticides and insecticides and similar issues can also give rise to a “wet pet” type smell.

4. The Smell: “New Carpet”

If you have just installed new carpeting, new furniture, a new mattress or other new home furnishings, you may actually be smelling formaldehyde, the acknowledged leader in what is now known to be a particularly potent cocktail of chemicals contained in many home products.

While “new car” (still wildly popular despite many health warnings) is arguably the best known of these unhealthy chemical smells, off-gassing from home improvement projects and mattresses, new furnishings, paint and primer, dry cleaning, home office equipment and even some ozone-producing air purifiers makes lots of people sick every year.

5. The Smell: Perfumed

Lotion, shampoo, hand sanitizer, soap, deodorant, body spray, dishwashing pods, floor cleaner, perfume and cologne, makeup – the list of products that contain toxic chemical fragrances goes on and on and on.

The truth is, most people are surrounded by scents all day and night (many clothing detergents and even some household bleaches contain perfumes).

And the vast majority of these scents – even ones that smell like cinnamon or honeysuckle – are recreated by combining chemicals with names too long and convoluted to even pronounce.

Indoor Air Quality Remedies That Really Work

The first and most important action you can take to clean up your indoor air quality is simply to pay close attention to what you do and what products you use in your home.

Just by switching to all-natural homemade cleaning products and adding the right houseplants to help purify your air, you have already made significant strides toward improved indoor air quality.

To really hit the reset button on your indoor air quality, however, you need to schedule a professional air duct cleaning service. Gaseous, liquid, solid and microbial matter gets trapped inside your air ducts with every cycle of your HVAC system.

Over time, as this matter builds up, it creates unpleasant odours throughout your home and spreads a thin layer of toxic material over your home each time air gets pushed out of your registers. Having your air duct system professionally cleaned, deodorized and sanitized is like having a whole new air duct system installed at a fraction of the cost.

To help balance indoor air humidity levels, remove stale indoor air and push toxins back outside where they belong, you won’t find better than the heat recovery ventilator. A perk: it will also conserve energy and help lower your utility bills.

HEPA air filtration units easily retrofit to work with any central (ducted) HVAC system. These units can remove particulate matter as small as 1/100th the size of a single human hair!

Ultraviolet air purification units also retrofit with any ducted HVAC system and will neutralize gaseous and liquid particulates so they can do no further harm.

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