That Hoarders Smell
The house I bought was not as bad as some of the houses you see on Hoarders, at least the whole house wasn’t. But the third floor attic bedroom was as bad as those hoarders’ houses. This is where the man who I call PissMan, his girlfriend and their cat (sans litter box) stayed. The cat just relieved itself on all the stuff up there — clothes, cardboard boxes, etc. I needed this room to be a bedroom for two of my kids. It had to be completely transformed.
The master bedroom that became my room was the second worst. That is where the family matriarch stayed until she was confined to a hospital bed downstairs, and eventually passed away. See What Happened In My House? Murder? It was in this room where at least one cat was confined with a litter box, sans litter. This cat threw up a lot on the old hardwood floor. Nobody cleaned it up. Old hardwood floors –150 year old unmaintained hardwood floors– have many cracks, they do not have thick coats of Polyurethane to repel liquid. They act as sponges, soaking up whatever is dropped on them. Cat urine, feces, canned food and cigarette ashes had been dropped on them and left there in the Summer months, with no air conditioning or adequate ventilation.
This house had been a house of smokers for many, many years. The walls and ceilings had once been white but had turned a brownish-yellow. So, underneath all of the animal and human excrement smells was the smell of years of cigarette smoke. In addition, there had been some water damage in some of the rooms.
This added another smell — wet plaster, wet rugs and mold. Hmmm Hmmm Good!
Some rooms were worse than others as far as the hoard goes, but the whole house stunk. The smell was bad, really bad. It was so bad that I could smell it from the outside, while I was on the porch roof painting the exterior of the house with oil based paint.
Imagine — a beautiful Spring day, being up high in the sunshine — flowers blooming, birds singing — yet I could still smell the inside of the house — and it was enough to make me nauseous — and seriously question my decision to purchase that house. What was I thinking? (Well, I was thinking I had to move, I wanted to keep the kids in the same schools, and with five children and no money I had very little choice . . . but I digress . . . )
Paint fumes? Not a problem. Fumes from in the house? Problem.
The smell is difficult to describe, but I’ll try. You know when a smell is so pungent that you begin to taste it? Have you ever smelled a diaper after days in the trash, or after it has gotten wet? Are you familiar with that neglected service station bathroom smell? Cat urine? A litter box that hasn’t been cleaned in — months? Well, that shouldn’t happen, but just imagine. Adult human urine and feces? Has anyone ever let milk or cream go bad — like until it gets lumpy? Let’s see what else — food. The family cooked in a kitchen with absolutely no ventilation. Oh yeah, and soap. These people washed, but the usually comforting smell of soap just added to the soup of nastiness. The home’s overall smell was sour and sweet and nauseating, stronger in some areas yet pervasively throughout everything.
It was nasty.
Eventually, however, the family who had lived there for four generations, left. Five people, two cats –at the time (previously there had been many more cats, I’m told, and various other pets. The mom/grandmother loved her animals. See Accidental Exhumation; Be Careful For What You Dig For) plus human urine, feces, trash, piss soaked carpet remnants — all gone, though not in one trip.
Finally, the only thing left was their security deposit. Given the items they tried to leave me, i.e. bottles of urine, and various other debris including used adult diapers and crack, yeah, I kept their money.
So they were gone. Their stuff was gone.
The odor, however, remained — not surprising considering all the piss bottles and all. See Piss, Puke and Porn.
Damn, thinking back on all of this. I can almost taste that smell again. Ew.
Anyway, the following is my public service announcement and my personal account of how I got rid of . . .
That Hoarders Smell:
Hard scrubbed with good old-fashioned Pine Sol, barely diluted, rinsed and wiped down with water, repeat. Repeat until layers of dirt and smoke were removed. Spackle, sand.
Primed with oil-based primer. This is the kind you cannot wash off with soap and water. This is the hard stuff. If you get it on your clothes, they are ruined. If you get it on your skin or hair, either suffer through washing with turpentine or paint remover, or wait until it wears off on its own. The oil-based smell is strong. A mask is required for safety. Given the smells I was trying to eradicate, I welcomed the chemical smell of the paint, though, I admit.
Paint. I bought the thickest (and unfortunately the most expensive) paint I could find. Paint, repeat. The walls and ceilings required two coats of paint to deal with the smell and smoke stains.
Scrape the cat feces and vomit, and tape residue (they used tape for many repairs),
Sand the floors (some floors I had professionally sanded, but taking off a layer of floor did not, unfortunately, take away the smell, it some areas it made it worse).
Seal the floor (and odors) by painting with oil based floor paint. (The floors were in pretty bad shape, staining and them and covering them with clear polyurethane probably still would not make them look good, plus there was a time issue, since we had to move in immediately and therefore needed to be able to walk on the floors right away.)
All in all, smell removal was a huge process. Though it was nice to choose wall colors for my new digs, my painting of every surface of the house had very little to do with decor. No, my painting had to do with odor control. It had to be done.
Not surprisingly, now I enjoy watching the show Hoarders on A&E, though I had never heard of it when I was cleaning my house. Watching now I’m never surprised when those Hoarders houses get a fresh coat of paint. It’s not a makeover, it’s a smellover.
Now? Now my house smells good. But it’s a freaking miracle. A miracle brought about by hard work and some angels, very extremely cool people who volunteered to help me. A post dedicated to these folks is forthcoming.
Just Me With . . . no more smell, and a sudden urge to clean.
Related, Goodbye Hoarders — The television show Hoarders has been cancelled.
One of my daughters wants a cat. I have nothing against cats, but after going through what I did to clean this house, I can’t do it. I just can’t. I don’t want to smell a litter box, even just to clean it.