New home came with lingering odors. Help

I just moved into a 10 year old townhouse. I found out from my home inspector that the previous owners were very untidy people. They hardly ever cleaned (I'm guessing they didn't at all) and they never changed the furnace air filter in the 5 year they owned the place (the thing looked like a giant dust ball). The vent fan in the master bathroom was broken, but my home inspector said he saw no signs of mold or mildew in the bathroom. The fan was replaced. There were lots of other little problems and a few major ones (garage door was rotting and sliding door seal broken and moisture got in).
The previous owners must have been using an air freshener (I think they had scented candles) because the moment I stepped into the door after they moved out I smelled a strange musty smell throughout the whole house. It's kind of hard to explain, kind of an "old dingy closet" smell. In addition the bathrooms had a "soap" smell to them, most likely because of all the soap scum on the tub. The water in the place has a mild taste/odor to it but not bad enough to explain what I'm smelling in the whole house.
The first night there I noticed my nose started to get stuffed up and my snot was slightly bloody. Over the next few days I've started coughing a lot and have had a runny nose. Today I feel somewhat weak as if I have a cold or flu (though I'm not coughing as much). Getting sick might have been a coincidence or due to stress, but I'm beginning to doubt that.
The previous owners had a tiny little dog (it didn't seem to smell) and a baby so I had the carpets steam cleaned with a truck mounted device. They put down deodorizer and use detergent and hot water. They did not use any sanitizing agent such as bleach or the like. Even after doing some areas twice the carpet was still discolored. I was told it was worn out and that it would have to be replaced.
I then had a cleaning service come in and do a rather thorough job of cleaning the place. They didn't wash down the walls or ceiling though.
Finally I spray Fabreese all over the house.
The smell went away (or was masked) for about a day and then returned. It seems worse in certain places like the master bedroom closet (there's a panel in there going somewhere, not sure where), one of the guest bedrooms and the storage closet in the finished basement (which raps around under the stairs and is partialy carpetted). The stairway down to the basement also smells, but that smells more like motor oil since the door to the garage is halfway down the stairs. The basement has carpetting and a "cardboard" tile ceiling (like you see in office buildings). I saw no sign of water damage at all, but the place was very dirty and the air intake vents were filthy.
Yesterday there was a damp dank smell to the place which seemed strongest in the basement and the master bedroom closet. It went away partially after opening all the windows and letting the house temperature go down to about 50 degrees F. I also left one window open last night.
I was told I can spray diluted bleach on everything, but that sounds drastic and has a potential to damage things. I've also been told I should get an allergenic (carbon) air filter for the furnace and to just run the fan.
My question is what can I do to get rid of these odor(s)?
Should I have my ducts cleaned out since the previous owner never changed the air filter?
Any ideas?
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Morac, I feel your pain. I have a bloodhound nose and any type of smell can really affect my mood quite a bit. You definitely need to replace your carpet and the padding. I'm sure that will improve your situation quite a bit. Clean the walls and repaint - that would help too. After the old carpet is removed, you may notice damp areas or mold, I don't know. Time to bleach that old floor. If the previous owners were untidy, that's already a negative. Having a pet is a double dose of the problem. As you already found out, carpet steaming will not help your situation at all. After doing all these which will cost you $$, you may want to invest in a whole house air cleaner system that would installed near the air filter.
Don't worry, take it one step at a time :-) Congratulations on your new home. Once all this work is done, you'll be alright.

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First, I would suspect that the place is damp. You don't say where you live, so it is hard to be too specific. I would first get a dehumidifier for the basement. Running the AC if the climate is warm will help. Put the furnace fan to the "on" position so it runs 24/7 to keep the air moving. You can get electrostatic or electronic filters for your furnace, but that won't help with the smell, just particulate. Most duct cleaning is a scam. The only thing that I would consider having done is a cleaning that steams the ductwork. Anything else is a waste of money.
You can use bleach on hard surfaces, but it will damage most fabric. The problem is that you don't often see mold on hard surfaces except for shower surrounds. I would suspect that the carpeting is an issue. I would get rid of it. I just took out all my carpeting. I cleaned it religiously with a Steam-N-Vac unit. I couldn't believe how much crap worked its way through the carpeting and pad. I replaced it with laminate flooring that I got at Lumber Liquidators for a very good price. The laminate is much easier to clean and doesn't absorb smell and harbor dust mites.
The next issue is probably the walls. If I were you I would clean them with TSP and a little bleach. Then I would put on a sealing primer to seal in the smell. Then I would paint. Don't forget the ceiling. Go to a real paint store like Sherwin Williams and ask for advice about product selection.
The combination of the dehumidifier, improved furnace filter (like a 3M Filtreat filter), running the furnace fan 24/7, cleaning all hard surfaces with bleach, cleaning/priming/painting the walls, and replacing the carpeting should take care of your smell problems. If not, sell the place while it is freshly painted!!!
Remember, moving is very stressful. You may just have a cold and a smelly house. There might not be a cause and effect relationship between the two.
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Morac wrote:

<SNIP>
I'm very sorry to say that I think you are in for a "problem house". You may be particularly sensitive to allergens and/or toxic products given off by molds. It's quite possible the previous owners were not sensitive to it and lived happily there.
The "musty" odor is a tip-off to underlying problems. Always an indicator of moisture problems. Tracking down the source is not easy. But the fact that you have localized it to the closet area may be a big help. Start doing detective work. You may have to open walls up to find the problem. Spraying bleach around willy-nilly is not the answer and may compound your sensitivity.
Most insurers have dropped mold coverage, but it may be worth asking.
The molds produce what are called mycotoxins. It is these which can produce severe health problems, not unlike what you have experienced. There is a wealth of info on the 'Net on the subject. Do this search to begin your research: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=mycotoxin
There are home test kits and there are commercial inspection services which may help. Do a search for "mold remediation" or similar.
Not all molds are the dreaded "black mold", but its effects are serious. To find out about this strain, go here: http://www.thefairways.com/index.htm
Here's one (commercial) site with some good tips: http://www.moldcheck.com/MoldCleanUp.asp
Take your time. Don't rush into a hasty "fix". Do the detective work and the research.
Jim
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Sheesh. Next time you buy a house check it out. I would not buy a house with anything rotting, a smell of any kind, or without an extensive evaluation. If you are in the market to buy a house, buy and follow a house inspection book first. Okay, I know this doesn't help your current condition. Remove carpeting, padding, draperies, etc. A leak or pet stains can cause bad odors. Use a detergent with bleach added and clean everything. Then go on a weekend vacation (you'll need it after all that cleaning) and run an ozone generator while gone.
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Lift up your carpets, have your ducts cleaned, and paint the walls are my suggestions in addition to what everyone else said.

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Reminds me of my house when I bought it. It didn't smell so bad when I was looking at it, but when I moved in - Whoa! I found that they left their dog inside and it pissed all over the place. I ripped up the carpet to find it stained the oak floor under it. Then came the fleas I was getting attacked. My ankles were getting bit up and I couldn't sleep. I pitched a fit and made the previous owners pay to have the place sprayed.
After scrubbing and new carpeting I got the smell under control. John

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(Sorry, I can't seem to pull up he original post...)

On the other side of the wall from that "panel" - your bathroom by any chance? (and probably specifically your tub/shower?)

Wetness. Would you recognize sewer gas if you smelt it? But that's not necessarily it. Rain much in your town? If so, you might have a big old roof leak around a vent stack and be catching a lot of outside water making its way down into the house and eventually mildewing. Or it could be the fixtures in that bathtub leaking bend the wall. You might want to start by pulling that mystery panel and having a look/smell.
Beyond that? Babies don't leave smells like that, neither do most pets. Pull some registers and eyeball some ductwork. If they're full of crud or wet, then you've got a possible solution.
Daring to speak for the newsgroup: please let us know what you come up with.
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Actually yes, the other side is a bathroom where the broken venting fan was. I'm guessing that's where the shutoff valve is. I'll look inside when I get a chance. BTW even with a new venting fan, it doesn't seem to vent very well. After showering the room stayed humid for quite a while. Very strange for a fan that is so noisy.

I'm quite sure it isn't sewer gas and it hasn't rained for a few days. I didn't really smell it today, but then my nose is kind of stuffed up. I did take a cold tablet which helped and I still didn't smell anything. It's also gotten much colder (going down to below freezing at night). With winter coming, it may be hard to find the source since the humidity tends to go down a lot and odors are harder to detect when its cold. I also ran the central fan 24/7 today. I'm hoping maybe it will go away on its own over the winter, but I'm not holding my breath.
I'm going away for a few days. If my cold is related to the house it should go away or diminish, if it doesn't than it could just be a cold (though I suppose it could still be stress and its been a very stressful week). I may also just be alergic to dust (the place was just cleaned and had tons of dust).
BTW the odor (when I smell it) isn't overpowering and I don't consider it overly offensive, but it definately shouldn't be there.
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I would be super pissed off with the inspector.
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Colds go away in 7 to 10 days whether you treat them or not. Therefore, if you leave and your cold goes away it means nothing. On the other hand, it you stay and it never goes away you are probably having an allergic reaction.
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Just use laquer thinner.Get 5gallons and mop the place down. Ceilings ,walls,floors, windows. Get a small container filled with vinigar and set it inside the return air vent. Turn the fan onbefor you use the thinner. Open all doors and windows.
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<snipped>

Since you specifically mention the basement and master bedroom closet, I strongly suspect moisture problems (current or past) causing the smell. Water damage isn't always visible. You can have mold growing behind walls which can release a "musty" smell. The panel you mention in the master closet is possibly a plumbing access panel. Is there a bathroom on the adjoining wall. Open the panel and sniff in there. If it has the same musty smell, there may be or have been water leaking from the shower/tub. I don't have experience with basements but I know moisture problems are not uncommon. How about having someone (a contractor) check the walls with a moisture meter next time it rains. They will be able to tell if there is an elevated amount of moisture in the basement walls. Good luck!
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I suggest unfortunately--replace ALL carpet and pain all surfaces. I would clean the floors under the old carpet (before installation of new) with a bleach and water solution. You can save a lot of $ by ripping up your own carpet. YOU should wear a mask of some type!!!!!
Paint all the walls-yes, you need to at least wash them down with bleach and water. I would use a good quality paint.
In the basement-use a paint that is a water sealent. If the floor is concrete you will also need to seal that!!
Make sure you vacuum every little nook and crany-I know you had a cleaning service in but there are those "little places that are missed.
When cleaning the floors before recarpeting them, I would steam the baseboards--with something like a steam buggy or something like that! It helps to flush out all the dirt--use a brush also.
What about the kitchen--paint inside the cabinets-wash them first.
Check all the walls in every closet with a "work light" by your side--one of those hallogen ones. If there is a wall that you don't like the looks of--replace it-or at least cover it.
Good luck--it's too bad you didn't insist on all this BEFORE the sale--unless you got this as a REAL bargain!!
Good luck--and if you need advice about specific stains and products-holler at me!!
Sijka

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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (Morac) wrote:

I was gone a few days during damp, mild weather. When I returned, the house smelled moldy enough to make me cough.

solve it. There was a sulfurous moldy smell in the living room. Some of the ceiling had a mottled appearance, although the paint was in good shape. I don't know if the problem was chemical or biological, but washing with borax stopped the odor.
Another musty odor came from the kitchen. I discovered that a rarely used potholder on the wall was damp and looked moldy. To be damp, it must have picked up some salt at some time; salt absorbs water from humid air. Soaking and drying the potholder stopped the odor.
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wrote:

Soap and water in the shower or bath usually works better, Bob ;-)
Nan
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