Living Smart: Why does my carpet smell?

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Does your home have a mysterious bad smell? If you’ve already checked the fridge and your trash bins and can’t find the source, it could be that you’re in need of a carpet cleaning or carpet deodorizer.

Just like stains, carpet fibers can trap odors, making them linger in your home indefinitely. If you think your carpet could be the problem, consider the possible sources of the odor.

—Moisture or dampness

Sometimes, moisture can get underneath the carpet and carpet pad, leading to musty odors.

This moisture can come from humidity, spills or potted plants that drip onto the carpeting.

A flood can also cause carpet odor, such as when a finished basement floods during a rainstorm.

If not addressed properly, continued moisture exposure can cause mold and mildew to grow under the carpet padding. Not only will it increase the smell, it also creates a health risk.

—Pet odor

When pets use the carpet as a bathroom, the smell can really linger.

Even after a carpet cleaning, the smell of pet urine may return. This is due to the gases released by the bacteria that are digesting the urine. If any of the urine remains in the rug fibers, it will continue to smell.

The same is true for vomit, another common problem associated with pets and carpeting.

These bacteria are activated by water, which is why the smell may intensify after a thorough cleaning.

Dry carpet cleaning treatments or treatments that use enzymatic odor removal products are the best solution for eliminating pet smells. Enzymes are particularly effective because they attack the bacteria, thus eliminating the source of the smell.

—Cigarette smoke

If a smoker lives in the home, the carpet can collect the cigarette smoke odor.

While the homeowners may not notice the stench because they live with it, visitors or someone who purchases the home will definitely notice the smoke smell.

A professional carpet cleaner may be able to remove the smell, but if the smoking was excessive, a carpet deodorizer may not be enough, and the carpeting may need to be replaced.

—Old age

Carpeting is made from fibers. Over time, those fibers break down. When the carpet begins to smell old, there is little that can be done.

Carpet cleaning cannot take the old, musty smell from carpet. This is when it simply needs to be replaced.

In addition to the smell, old carpet starts to release dust, which can contribute to indoor allergies.

—Food and drink spills

Food and drinks that spill onto carpet can lead to odors.

Like pet smells, these organic products attract bacteria. As the bacteria break down, they release smelly gasses. Again, professional carpet cleaning is the best solution to remove the smell.

Once you find the source of your carpet odor, you can decide on the best treatment. For organic smells like pet odors or food spills, consider two professional cleanings to thoroughly remove the bacteria.

For other problems, like old age or mold, you may need to replace the carpet. Knowing where the odor is coming from will help you make the right decision for treatment.