May 18th, 2011
Have you ever gotten down on your knees and given your carpet a good whiff? At least in my house it isn't a very pleasant exercise. You see, I have dogs—lots of them. They are big and smelly and like to dig holes in the mud, and then leave a trail of paw prints across my living room. In one of my spare bedrooms we had a litter of puppies two years ago, and although I put down tarps and built an elaborate whelping box, smells from that experience are still vivid. With a litter of puppies, of which we kept two, one has to go through the experience of potty training them—and our carpets have suffered through that as well.
Carpets suck up odors like a sponge, and even if you are vigilant about cleaning up spills and accidents, they still build up a certain smell over time. In my house there is a good deal of dog, mixed in with some odors from our goat farm, odors from cooking (which we do a lot), and a touch of mildew, which was here when we moved in. Removing the source of these odors is always the first step, but in our case that is impossible. So, we are left with trying to maintain our house and give it a once-over with a steam cleaner on occasion.
Pet urine can make carpet smell like you are living in a litter box. Some of the most common carpet smells involve an unhappy accident left by your favorite family pet. Getting rid of dog urine or getting rid of cat urine will help improve the overall smell of your carpet significantly. The best method begins with soaking up as much urine as possible, diluting with water and vinegar (3:1), soaking it up again, applying baking soda, then working in a mixture of peroxide and dish soap (36:1). Allow that to dry completely and then vacuum it up. Just having dogs in your house can add a certain odor to your carpet; dog smell is a matter of shampooing the carpet and then protecting it from further foulness.
Mildew and wet carpet smells are gross and potentially dangerous. One problem with carpet is that it tends to soak up liquids and it is notoriously difficult to dry. Mildew smells will require first figuring out where your water leak is coming from—a spill, a roof leak, or just condensation. Once you have eliminated the source of the water, it is then time to decide if you can clean the carpet or if it is time to pull it out and start over. A good first step is rolling up the carpet to reveal the floor beneath, give that a good scrubbing, and then point a fan at it until it is completely dry. In the mean time you can try shampooing or steam cleaning the carpet and allowing it to dry. If it still smells like mildew, replace with new carpet.
Cigarette smoke smells can ruin a carpet. Not only does cigarette smoke ruin your health and your loved one's health, it also inundates your living space, soaking into the drapes and the carpets. As a former smoker myself, I can spot one a mile away—with my nose. I can just tell that entering their house would be like walking into a giant untended ashtray. The smoke will have worked itself into the very wooden structure of the house. What makes cigarette smoke so hard to get rid of is that it is sticky, being composed primarily of what tobacco people call tar. Removing smoke smell your carpets will require using a carpet cleaner with a solvent that will cut through that tar.
Cooking smells are another carpet smell that are difficult to remove. Having been the resident of nearly a dozen rental houses through the years, I know that to save time and money, landlords inevitably end up carpeting kitchens more often than not. It's one of the great mysteries in life: why on earth would you want something that soaks up smells so easily and is so difficult to clean in a place like a kitchen? Cooking smells are tough to clean because they are bonded to aerosolized grease and smoke. To get rid of an odor like that, you need a soap that can emulsify that grease. Once you have given it a good scrubbing, use a steam cleaner and extractor to remove as much of the liquid as possible and allow to dry.
New carpet smells are a product of the manufacturing process or possibly adhesives. Just like new paint smells, these odors are full of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), which are really unhealthy for you to breathe. They will dissipate with time just like most smells and odors, but if you can plan your new carpet installation around the seasons so that it is easier to ventilate your house, you would be doing yourself a huge favor. Steam cleaning might also help to cut down some of the carpet smell, but the best thing to do is to open up a window, plug in a couple of fans, and give it a good week to air out. If you are very sensitive to new carpet smells, you should inquire about buying carpet that is guaranteed to be VOC-free and make sure your carpet installer isn't using any really potent adhesives.
If you're not having any luck and you don't mind spending a buck (or two), check your phone book for local carpet cleaning services. Ask them for an estimate and find out what kind of cleaning services they provide. You will usually just have to move things out of the way and show them what you want done, and let them do the rest. They will have the equipment to do it quickly, efficiently, and properly. They might even be able to get that wine stain out of your carpet while they are at it.