Trained Eye

 
 
 

Smell in Cupboards

Question:

We have purchased a home in the West St. Paul area. This home is 18 years old and prior to this summer the house had no central air. When we purchased the home in July we immediately put this in. The cupboards have a smell that I can't identify. I find that some dishes that I haven't used in awhile have that smell on them. I have tried Baking soda and vinegar to help take that odour out but that does not work. The previous owners were seldom home therefore the cupboards were not getting used as much.

I am wondering what the smell could be and what do I do to get rid of it? Could it be the particleboard and the combination of humidity from no air conditioning?

Answer:

Identifying specific odours and their origins in a home may one of the most difficult things to do, even for someone with lengthy experience in defect recognition or forensic inspection. It is sometimes impossible to accurately pinpoint the cause of specific smells, but often there is a simple answer. To try and solve this dilemma, several factors should be explored.

The most obvious place to start is the cupboards that the smelly dishes are stored in. Installing the central air conditioning in the home is an excellent idea, due to the dehumidification qualities of this type of cooling system. If the smell is due to warm, moist summer air being trapped in or absorbed by the cupboards, running the air conditioning system on hot days may help. Setting the furnace fan to run continuously, throughout the year, will also help prevent stale air smells in the home. Because the home was without these features for many years, and if the cupboards have absorbed cooking odours and dampness, it may take several seasons to eliminate the smells.

If the odours are a musty, earthen smell, then there is the possibility of mould or other fungal growth present in the cupboards. This mould may still be present in the particleboard or wooden trim on the cupboards. In this case, they should be inspected visually for stains or signs of mould. If any surface mould is seen, it should be cleaned with a 10% bleach solution, checking carefully to ensure that the bleach does not damage the finish on the cupboards. If mould has penetrated deeper into the wood, then removal and replacement of the cupboards may be the only option, but this should be done as a last resort.

In many rural homes, increased relative humidity in the home is often seen due to the presence of private well systems, often with components in the basement of the home. Well water is very cold when drawn up and often causes significant condensation and sweating on copper water pipes, pumps, pressure tanks, and toilets. If a water treatment system is installed, it may also add moisture to the air in the home, increasing the chance of musty smells and mould growth. If readings in the home are consistently above 50% relative humidity, then installation of a mechanical ventilation system (HRV) may be advised to control this and prevent damp smells from excess moisture in the air.

The private well and plumbing system in the home is a very likely cause of the smell on the dishes, which may not be related to high humidity at all. Certain rural areas have high concentrations of minerals in the well water that may cause specific problems. Many people with homes in the St. Andrews area can vouch for the high mineral content of the water. I have seen excessively corroded and damaged plumbing fixtures, in these homes, that are relatively new. This occurs even in homes with water treatment systems installed. Depending on the location of your home in West St. Paul , this may be a significant problem. Minerals in well water, especially high iron content, often give the water an odour that is noticeable. This smell often is masked or minimized when washing with dish soap or dishwasher detergent, but may not be completely eliminated. The smell may return after the dishes have sat in a closed cupboard, and the perfumes in the soap have dissipated.

Checking with local plumbers or long-time residents in the area near the home may provide some possible solutions for water treatment or cleaners that help remove these smells. If water quality problems are suspected, sample bottles may be obtained from one of several testing laboratories in Winnipeg, for water testing. If bacteria or other contaminants in the well water are causing the odours, then identification of specific components may help provide a solution.