Most, if not all, hoarder houses smell bad, and trying to get rid of the foul odor requires a plan.
The process to completely deodorize a hoarder house involves 4 key steps: throwing away anything that smells, cleaning all the surfaces in the house, running an ozone generator, and painting with an odor-blocking primer.
Step 1. Throw away trash and other items that smell bad
It is important to get rid of all trash and other items that smell bad. You might have noticed that the smell in a hoarder house differs from room to room, this is due to some rooms being closed off while others are opened more often. The smell accumulates over time so it’s best just to remove everything you can. If the smell is really bad, you might have to get rid of furniture, flooring, and even cabinets.
Step 2. Clean the house thoroughly
Once you have removed all the trash, it is time to clean the house. This includes sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing everything down. Many cleaning products smell strong themselves which will not help with getting rid of the odor in a hoarder house. Bleach is often considered by professionals as too harsh for cleaning up after a hoarder so this should be avoided if possible. A good solution that works well on odors caused by cooking or smoking (including cigarettes) is an enzyme-based deodorizer like Bac Out® or Simple Green.
As you clean, be sure to pay close attention to any areas that seem to be causing the smell. If you have a particularly bad odor, it might be best to look into how much it costs to clean a hoarder house by a professional service company.
Step 3. Run an ozone generator in the house
If the smell is still present, the next step should be to run an ozone generator. An ozone generator will help remove odors from the air and deodorize any area that smells bad. The goal of running this machine is to kill any bacteria and fungi that may be causing odors in the hoarder house. The equipment produces the highly reactive gas – ozone or O₃, which acts as a disinfectant and deodorizer.
All ozone generators are not created equal. The $99 dollar ones found on Amazon may not be as effective as commercial-grade equipment due to not being able to produce enough ozone to saturate an entire area. This leads people to run the ozone generators too long which in turn can damage materials in the house. Items like plastics and rubber can be degraded by ozone, and metals can start to rust.
Ozone is also dangerous and it is critical that a house is empty when the generator is running. Ozone can kill plants, animals, and humans that remain inside during operation. While ozone can be a DIY process, we recommend hiring a professional company.
Step 4. Use an odor-blocking primer
It is still possible that even after all of the other methods that there can still be a lingering smell in the house. This is especially common with animal hoarding and specifically worse with cats due to the challenges of cat urine being toxic. In cases like this, a concrete slab or subfloor will need to be sealed. The best method to do this is to use an odor-blocking primer like Kilz or Zinsser. There are water-based primers that say that they can block odors, but it is recommended to use an oil-based primer, as we have personally seen the water-based primer being insufficient.
It is important to note that if you prime the subfloor you will limit what type of flooring you can put down. Adhesive flooring, like peel and stick vinyl, will not be practical as the primer can peel off. In addition, a tile floor may no longer work.
Additional Step. Use enzymatic cleaners to remove animal odors
Trash removal, surface cleaning, and ozone will be sufficient to remove the smell for most lower-level hoarder homes, however, extra steps may be required to remove strong odors from urine in flooring. This is a common problem as animals will urinate on the floors of hoarder houses and it seeps into porous materials like wood or concrete, causing an unpleasant smell that can’t be removed with ozone generators alone.
In order to successfully remove this kind of odor, you need to use a chemical treatment that penetrates into the surface material where bacteria causes odors. These chemicals are designed specifically for cleaning surfaces contaminated by pet urine and they work quickly to eliminate any bad smells.
If you are dealing with animal hoarding it is especially important to find a chemical odor remover as animal urine and feces can leave an odor. An enzymatic compound like MisterMax Anti-Icky-Poo, or an ion cleaner like Live Odor Free! Pet Odor Clean-Up Kit. We have used both of these and both work well. The second is very expensive and is a great option for spot-checking a house. It does become cost-prohibitive if trying to use it in an entire house. The enzymatic cleaner may take multiple applications and also really needs the floor to be cleaned to use it effectively.
Removing the smell from a hoarder house can be an overwhelming task, but with careful planning and execution, it is possible. By using different methods such as cleaning, ozone generators, and chemicals you can remove most of the bad smells that are common in these houses.
With some effort and time, you can make a hoarder house livable again – whether you want to actually live in the house, or you want to sell the hoarder house. The key thing to remember about removing strong odors from hoarder houses is that patience will pay off in the end since elimination may take multiple treatments depending on how large your project is.
If you have tried all of these methods and there is still a strong smell present in the home, we recommend having the home professionally cleaned by a company that specializes in this type of work.
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