There is something we rarely talk about but is true nonetheless: everyone’s home has a smell. Whether it’s the smell of scented candles, yesterday’s caramelized onions, less-than-fresh half-and-half in the fridge, or pets, however, we eventually become what is called “nose-blind.”
In Melissa Dahl’s article in The Cut, she cites cognitive psychologist Pamela Dalton, who has been studying this question for more than two decades. “It’s actually a very robust phenomenon,” she says. “It’s why people go on vacation and come back and say, ‘Oh, it’s so musty in here — I’d better open some windows!’” According to Dalton, however, it’s also quite possible that your home always smells like that and you usually don’t notice it. The researcher tested this out by giving test subjects an air freshener dispensing a pleasant, pine-y smell to put in their bedroom for three weeks. “Every week, they became less sensitive to the odor,” she said. “They would ask me, ‘Are you sure it’s still working?’”
This phenomenon is known as ‘sensory adaptation’, and it’s something we experience most intensely with smells. It’s also true with other sensory experiences, such as hearing. If you bought a home in a new home neighborhood where construction goes on every day, for example, you tend to tune out the noise after a while.
There are few issues Realtors worry more about than a listing’s presentation — how a home looks and smells as potential buyers walk through it — and there are few things they fret about more than finding just the right way to tell you that your house needs “smell help.” Of all the odors they talk about most, however, pet odors take first prize. If buyers walk through your front door and pet urine or fur odor wafts into their nostrils, there is a good chance a number of buyers will end the tour before it has even begun. If you have been told buyers are holding their noses, HouseLogic’s G.M. Filisko offers tips on how to get rid of the smell:
Air it out. Throw open all the windows to allow fresh air to circulate and sweep out unpleasant scents. Then begin taking steps so the smell won’t return. Bathe your pets more often than usual (oh they’ll love that), crate your dog when you’re out, or keep it outdoors. Limiting the cat to one floor or room may be better than offering it the run of the house, but that closed door may also be a turn-off to potential buyers. Remove or replace pet bedding and be vigilant replacing the litter box ingredients.
Get down and dirty by scrubbing bare floors and walls soiled by pets with vinegar. Use a wood cleaner on your furniture or an odor-neutralizing product you can purchase at a pet supply store. Use a 1:9 bleach-to-water solution on surfaces it won’t damage, like cement floors or walls.
If pet odors are not limited to just one area of your house,invest in a service that specializes in hard-to-clean stains. That may also mean getting drapery and upholstery cleaned as well. You can buy a steam cleaner designed to remove pet hair and do the job yourself or pay a pro.
Carpets hold pet odor more efficiently than most any other surfaces in your house. Shampoo your carpets and rugs or have professionals do the job. If you do hire someone, don’t balk when they ask you if want to pay extra for a deodorizing treatment. Afterward, have a friend do a sniff test.
If that doesn’t do the trick, be prepared for the worst: the carpets and padding will have to go. Then default to our earlier advice: scrub the subfloor with vinegar or an odor-removing product. Only after that would you install new padding and carpeting.
Filisko goes on to advise that when heavy-duty cleaners haven’t eradicated smells in drywall, plaster, or woodwork, add a fresh coat of paint or stain.
Don’t go overboard with scented candles and bowls of potpourri scattered throughout the house. Some buyers are sensitive to even what others consider pleasant smells and other buyers may think you are trying to hide smells by bombarding them with fragrance (which you are).
One of the best remedies, sad to say, is relocating your pets while your home is on the market. “If your dog or cat has a best friend it can stay with while you’re selling your home (and you can stand to be separated from your pet), consider sending your pet on a temporary vacation,” says Filisko.
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