Chapter 1: Odor and the Science of Olfaction
Chapter 2: Exploration of the Sources of Odor
Chapter 3: The Interrelationship Between Microorganisms and Odor
Chapter 4: Effective Odor Detection Techniques
Chapter 5: Process of Deodorization
Chapter 6: Process of Oxidation
Chapter 7: Process of Enzymatic Action
Chapter 8: Process of Chemical Deodorization
Chapter 9: Process of Sealing
Chapter 10: Deodorization Equipment and Supplies
Chapter 11: Remediating Protein and Chemical Odors
Chapter 12: Death Scene Restoration

Before odor remediation commences, the precise source of an odor must be identified. Ideally, your nose is the best “instrument” to identify the presence and even the source of an offending odor. There are drawbacks to relying only on a homeowner’s nostrils to detect and identify the source of an odor.

First, there are a good many odors that a person can “get used to” over time. Some odors are so overpowering and foul that an individual can never adapt to it. However, there are odors, including those associated with pets, that a person can adapt or get used to over a period of time. Thus, if that is the status in your case, your nose will not be all that helpful in identifying an odor, let alone in finding its specific course.

Second, physical issues associated with your olfactory system can also negatively impact your ability to detect and then identify the source of an odor. A physical issue that impacts your ability to identify an odor can be something as basic as a cold. There can also be some more serious physical issues that impair your ability to smell, negatively impact your ability to identify an odor and locate its point of origin.

Physical Inspection

Couple with the proverbial “smell test,” physical inspection of a home is a common practice when it comes to working to identify the source of an offensive odor. The most common type of physical inspection is that associated with carpeting, specifically whether the source of an odor is found underneath the carpet. A prime example is pet urine that has saturated beneath carpeting.

It is possible to take care of disengaging carpet from the tack-strip. This permits you the ability to examine what is going on beneath the surface and may allow you to identify the source of an odor via olfactory and visual examination. You do need to keep in mind that some sources of odors present nothing that can be visually identified.

Because of the potential limitations associated with using your nose and physical inspection to detect and identify the source of odors, equipment and technology exist to aid in this regard. There are a couple of technologies that are most frequently used as part of the effort to address the source of odors.

Moisture Sensors

As has been discussed earlier in this book, odors rely on at least some moisture in order for associated molecules to become airborne and breathed in by you and others. This is the case with everything from pet odors to those associated with death and decay.

Perhaps the most overwhelming of any odor situation is that involving a human body in the midst of the decomposition process. There are sad situations in which a person dies alone and his or her remains are not discovered for days, weeks, or even months.

During different stages of the human decomposition process, moisture in the form of blood and bodily fluids is present. As the human decomposition process progresses, the intensity of odor increases dramatically. Over time, if a body is not discovered, the remains begin to dry and mummify. As this occurs, as moisture dissipates, the odors associated with decomposition begin to lessen and ultimately dissipate.

Beyond the nose, moisture sensors are invaluable when it comes to detecting the source of an offensive odor. Moisture sensors are designed to assist in locating pet urine contamination, the source of pet urine odor.

There are moisture sensors that come complete with sharp probes that can penetrate carpet and cushion, with minimal damage to the item. This permits the ability to detect the source of odors that might be malingering below the surface.

The typical sensor sounds off an alert when moisture is detected that bears the hallmarks of odor. What this means is that a sensor alerts when moisture is detected that contains salts and other attributes that result in the release of odors. Typically, a sensor alerts with a buzzing or beeping sound. Some sensors augment the auditory alert with an indicator light as well.

There are now moisture sensors available that do not use sharp probes. These tend to be referred to as “non-destructive” moisture sensors because no probe is utilized. These moisture sensors use smooth conductive pads rather than probes. These can be used on carpet and cushions. Moreover, these non-destructive sensors are the most reliable for surfaces like:

  • Concrete
  • Vinyl
  • Wood
  • Drywall

Blacklight Sensors

Another technology that can be used to detect odors incorporates ultraviolet or black light. This type of technology causes elements found in urine cells to “fluoresce” or glow when hit with a blacklight. These elements are magnesium and phosphoric salts.

There are drawbacks to this technology, however. First, blacklight sensors require at least some element of darkness to function effectively. In some cases, depending on the blacklight sensor, complete darkness may be necessary.

Many professional odor remediators maintain that a blacklight sensor alone should not be relied upon as a means of detecting the source of the odor. They maintain that a blacklight sensor is best used as a supplemental tool in a more comprehensive process of identifying the source of the odor.

Supplemental Notes on Detection Four Common Sources of Odor

In addition to examining these specific techniques and equipment associated with detecting the source of foul odors, a few additional notes are important. These additional comments provide insights into identifying the source of four of the most commonly confronted foul odors arising in a residential setting:

  • Pet urine
  • Death and decay
  • Mold
  • Incomplete combustion

Detecting Odor From Pet Urine

When pet urine is the issue, seeking the source of pet urine odor must involve a comprehensive effort. For example, cats not only urinate to relieve themselves but spray to mark their territories. Thus, when seeking the source of pet urine, you really must examine or inspect any area of your home where a cat can venture. This presents a situation in which the use of both moisture and blacklight sensors can be invaluable.

Detecting Odor From Death and Decay

Due to the virtually overwhelming nature of odor associated with death, decay, and putrefaction, the source oftentimes is relatively easy to find. There are challenges when something like a mouse or rat dies in a more concealed location in a residence, like within a home’s walls. When the odor arises from something like a discovered unattended death of a person, the real challenge is not identifying the source of the odor but the task of remediating it.

Detecting Odor From Mold

Mold does give off an odor. Following the scent is a step towards identifying the location of the mold. With that said, mold is also an odor source that can be visually identified as well. (As discussed, some other sources of odor may not be subject to visual identification.) In addition, a supply of water is necessary for the growth of mold, which represents another indicator of its presence.

Detecting Odor From Incomplete Combustion

In the final analysis, detecting the source of odor from incomplete combustion can prove to be the most difficult situation when contrasted with other types of odor generators. For example, a fire can cause odor molecules to be forced into cracks and crevices. Identifying the sources for incomplete combustion odors necessitates a truly comprehensive, exacting investigation.

Now that we have discussed effective odor detection techniques and equipment, our focus moves to the process of deodorization. In some cases, the process of deodorization can prove complex and challenging. 

Next: Chapter 5: Process of Deodorization


Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services like biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.