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Dealing with Strange Smells at Your Business

What’s that smell? Learn how to uncover the sources of mysterious odors and eradicate them for good. 

The property manager of a high-rise in Little Rock, Ark., could not figure out what was causing a persistent methane odor on the building’s second floor. When the smell became so pungent a tenant opted to move out, Justin Dixon, president of Snyder Environmental, and his team jumped on the case. They discovered an open chase for ductwork and roof drains that passed up the side of the tenant's suite. The chase connected to the basement, which housed the grease trap for three restaurants in the building.

“They’d had plumbers and an HVAC guy in there,” Dixon says. “They did a lot of stuff before they had us in to pinpoint what it was.” In April 2014, the Snyder team collected air makeup samples to verify the chase was the root of the problem.

For Dixon’s client, the setback of this smell — the loss of a tenant — was huge. Even before noticeably affecting the bottom line, unpleasant odors can negatively impact a business: They can force evacuations, hamper sales and frustrate stumped business owners. “It’s an emotional issue,” says Michael McGuire, president of Thornell Corporation, which distributes the Odorcide suite of odor elimination products.

To resolve odor management issues at your business, consider these tips:

Find the Source of the Smell

Odors need to be treated at the source in order to eliminate them, McGuire says. Try noting where and at what time of day the odor is strongest and tracking the complaints employees or customers make.

Common sources to consider include:

  • Drains and plumbing, including dry p-traps (U-shaped pipes)

  • Poor ventilation or problems with filters, vents and intakes in HVAC

  • Animal waste or carcasses in the walls or roof deck

  • Mold or mildew, possibly caused by water damage behind drywall

  • Smoke or fire damage

  • Cigarette smoke

Consider Different Solutions

Once you’ve zeroed in on the source, the right fix depends on the problem. There are three major types of odor eliminators: enzymes, oxidizers and Zwaardemaker Conjugates (“pairing” odor maskers). Pros and cons vary by type, and a professional can help you identify the best kind for your specific odor issue and business type.

Consult Odor Removal Experts

Many owners are flummoxed because they don’t know how to look for odor sources that professionals are trained to seek, Dixon says. Because of this, business owners can fall prey to false advertising.

“A lot of products promote themselves as an answer to odors, but they’re masking agents,” McGuire says. “Products that are formulated as elimination products specify that they need to be applied on the cause of the odor. If it’s a spray or time mist device, for example, it’s [only] odor control.”

Other business owners might think they’ve cleaned up the source of an odor but find the stench returns. “[Individuals] might think if they’re cleaning regularly, they’re taking care of the odor,” he says. In some cases, such as animal urine in a carpet, the issue is actually below the surface and requires professional cleaning.

Another danger? Your own nose. “There’s olfactory fatigue,” McGuire says. “If it’s an area you work in and live in, you can learn to ignore the scent.”

Be Proactive and Responsive

McGuire urges businesses to use a mix of preventive measures and proactive responses to address odors. “Some types of business will require a constant deodorizer because the source of the odor is persistent,” McGuire says. “If they use the right type of product regularly, they shouldn’t have ongoing problems.”

Appropriate odor management in your facility depends on the specific needs of your business. Taking care of the source will often be enough, but other cases may require professional cleanup. “Especially in big commercial spaces with a lot of tenants and lease spaces, use routine checks,” Dixon says. “Simple steps like having your plumbing and HVAC regularly checked out will make sure you have a healthy indoor environment.”


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Related articles:  ArticleBusiness OwnersBusiness PropertiesCommercial Facilities
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