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My 90 something parents live on their own in their own home in the suburbs. My parents do the household cleaning chores on a regular basis. Mom refuses outside help for cleaning as she doesn't want the neighbors to think she can't keep a clean house.... [sigh].

Yet I am baffled by the odor I smell every time I enter their home. Even things they give me to take home have a similar odor.

When I take my parents to appointments or run errands with them, I don't notice the smell on them themselves.

Every time I enter their home, I keep the door opened a bit to get fresh air inside the house, until my parents closes the door...Mom's excuse is not to let the flies in... and Dad's excuse is he's not paying to heat/cool the neighborhood :]

As I recall as a child, there were some older relatives homes that had a similar smell.

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My folks had the water weirdness as well. You could flush once after a BM but only after 2 or 3 pees. Their water tasted awful and I couldn't drink it without gagging. Their house was on main sewers but water was a communal well. I guess they never used enough to empty the tank so the water sat there and eventually smelled like a cross between skunk and rotten eggs. I live n the cou8ntry and only flush every 2 pees but the water from my well is crystal clear and wonderful.
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Also, just the oldness of things in the house. E.g. 40-year-old carpet bound to have some smells. Maybe there are some really old sheets in the back of the linen closet? Things like that need to be rotated or they get funky.
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Some older people just smell funky. My husband, like his dad before him, has a funky smell if he doesn't shower and wash his hair everyday. Febreeze fabric spray is a godsend.

A reason for not flushing each time: If your dad is like most older guys with prostate problems, he probably pees tiny amounts many, many times a day and is afraid of either wasting water (which costs money) or of overflowing a septic system or cesspool. Your mom might have similar fears, although I think men are more likely not to flush because they pee standing up (less risk of splashing old pee on personal parts). Even if your folks have city wastewater service now, they might have formed their habits with more rustic plumbing.

When we lived in the country, we had trouble with our septic field in the springtime when the ground was wet. The more often you flush, the higher your chances of having the septic field overflow and form a stink pool of sewage in your yard. Trust me, we didn't always flush after "small" deposits in the spring :-)
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bad odors are created sometimes by unused sinks, bathtubs, shower drains. if the drain isnt used for a while the water evaporates out of the S - trap and sewage gasses waft into the house. if you find a rarely used drain and it stinks pour a half pint of liquid cooking oil in it. the oil wont evaporate back out.
then follow the advice of redd foxx "wash yo ass "
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Baking soda boxes where they don't see them.
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P.S. I do let my clients know we will be airing their home. I tell them it promotes health and well being. We put a sweater on them before doing the air-out so they won't get chilly. They can be chilly even if it's 90 degrees outside. Or, put them down for a nap, add some warms covers, then air out the house. The airing can also be done at night when they are asleep. I used to open all the windows in the summer. Often, the odors would return by night, so it's a daily process.
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BTW...even in winter, house airings are necessary and do-able. You may need to do one room at a time. If you know colder weather is coming, get the house aired before cooler temps set in. I do my own home even in cold weather. Allow for 10-15 minutes...longer if it's warmer.
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If a house isn't aired out on a regular basis, most will have odors. I have always aired out my house, even when it's very cold outside...and I've NEVER had a $1,000 gas/electric bill!!! LOL!!! There is nothing like the "fresh" smell from air coming into the house from the outside. I take care of the elderly, and air their houses regularly. Sometimes I have to be very sneaky to get a house aired out, but if I don't do it, I wouldn't be able to stay in their house, because the odors can be overwhelming. Even an "air freshener" cannot remove the strong musty odors. Besides, using air fresheners on a regular basis is very unhealthy. Also, when their families come to visit, they won't want to stay because of the strong odors. Only regular airing out will keep a house fresh and I urge everyone to do it as often as possible.
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Only one other word -- Febreeze. Some of them smell so good.
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Thanks to all who answered, lot of good ideas and suggestions. Right now I don't dare try to clean my parents house, Mom would feel insulted.... but down the road these tips will be helpful.

Yes, my parents have the heat on sauna degrees, thus that could be one of the factors with the smell. Poor Dad, he likes it cooler but Mom feels like ice she gets so cold, so Dad go around the house in winter wearing a t-shirt and summer shorts :]

I noticed others wrote about not flushing the toilet... what is it with that? I notice my parents do that, it's like trying are trying to conserve water. Dad even had an expensive water saver toilet installed with 2 different flushes.... yet, I notice they don't flush at all.

After all this talk about cleaning, I am eyeing my own home.... time for spring cleaning in December :]
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As they age and their kidneys fail, more waste products seep out through the skin, so it becomes embedded on furniture, carpet, clothing. Febreze is wonderful stuff, even add it to laundry. Betadine scrub neutralizes urine/ammonia smells. I totally agree with the fresh air fix weekly, running exhaust fans, adding an electric ionizer with a filter in the worst rooms. Carpet and upholstered furniture can be cleaned professionally and completely deodorized. You can also use de-skunking shampoo in laundry or add: one quart peroxide + 1/4 cup baking soda + 1tsp dawn to each load. This mix can also clean any surface, including the dog. Yes, pets will pick up the odor and it clings to their fur, so help them out .
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I started changing the filter in the furnace monthly. Parents house had a moldy smell. Also, baking soda mixed in with water can help when cleaning walls, floors. Sprinkle baking soda into carpet, then vacuum. If they wear diapers, there are odor blocking garbage bags to use in a covered bin.
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We had a strange smell in my parents' house. It smelled old. I started doing things like cleaning the coffee maker and keeping the trash covered and it helped tremendously. I was surprised to find most of the old smell around here came from the coffee maker. Easy fix. (Opening up the house helps tremendously, too, but not possible now that it's winter.)
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I think its alittle like "teenage boy " smell.. any mother knows it and men deny it! My parents keep their room warm, and I notice it there. I use solid airfreshners and those plug ins. Works OK. It's not urine, just a odur here.
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The smell is in the walls and the carpeting. It is years of cooking, spills, meds, etc with little ventilation. It is often seen in fixer upper homes. Fresh paint, and floors with a little airing takes care of it. For now, they are comfortable with it.
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I read on another site that the cause of 'old people smell' is OLD PEOPLE. :0(

They don't open doors and windows because they are cold all the time. They shower only when they have to. (this can be every other day or every other week :0(

They don't see the dirt in the corners or notice spills or may just not feel like cleaning it up. They forget about foods in aluminum foil or little containers they put in fridge and freezer - leading to fuzzy growth, liquified lettuce, etc. and subsequent 'smells.'

Many are incontinent and even when very careful about disposal - there is just that 'smell.' They may take multiple medications that I swear would kill a mosquito if a mosquito were to bite them. My MIL never gets bitten, by the way - we tell her it is because her blood is chemically laden and dangerous to the skeeters.

Sometimes they forget to empty their commodes and their urine is often strong due to chronic dehydration and medication. When I clean for my MIL I use bleach - she HATES bleach - so when she 'cleans' she uses something that does not do the same job :0(

But, basically, I think it is just all these off odors that are concentrated due to lack of ventilation and the thermostat being set at 80 degrees year round. My MIL wears a sweater when it is 90 degrees in her apt.!

I clean whenever she goes to the doctor - it can be 10 degrees outside - I don't care - I OPEN ALL HER WINDOWS and her front door and turn her heat off while I am cleaning in there. I use bleach everywhere. I launder her bedclothes and mattress pad. She has a vinyl mattress cover and I wipe it down with diluted bleach too. I bleach her walk in shower and everything inside the shower. Her garbage disposal is a sewer. She puts stuff down there and doesn't run it or doesn't run it with enough water. So, that requires me to use paper towels and bleach and clean the cesspool out and clean the underside of the rubber gasket. When I am done - the place smells FRESH.

I vacuum like crazy - her carpet, her furniture. I use Fabreeze on her chair and wash the pillow she puts in the chair to sit on and dry it and put it back.

When she comes home the place is sparkling clean and fresh - for about 24 hours. I think just the heat levels (she keeps her part of the house 10-15 degrees warmer than our side) and odors she exudes personally (probably due to meds and health issues) - well, it isn't long and the 'smell' returns.

She has one of those electric candle warmer things - I turn it on - SHE TURNS IT OFF :0( I also take a Q-tip and use essential oils and dab it onto light bulbs in her lamps and turn them on - for a short while the place smells like oranges, or lemons or lavender. That helps for a short while. I don't use a lot of artificial sprays and such. I don't think they are very healthy - especially in an environment where there is very little air exchange going on.

I hate it when she opens her door to tell us something - or when I take her her meals - the heat/smell hits you. I have smelled worse smells - but this is just kinda of low grade sickening. I wish I knew how to describe it. She does not smell it and we don't say anything. We just try and keep things as clean as possible for her and getting those essential oils was a Gods send.
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Medicines, old age, etc can make their urine smell bad and linger if they don't flush or it gets on the floor or around the toilet. At 90, they don't see as well to clean and just can't get down to scrub or properly access all surfaces. Sometimes they don't mix the cleaning solutions very well....try to conserve and not use enough.

They may be slightly incontinent and this is in the upholstery or on rugs, bed linens, mattresses.

They may night take out trash as much waiting til the trash is full...so that can smell, especially if they are wearing disposables or panty liners etc.

Showers or shower curtains, towels can be odorous because they don't change or wash as frequently.

Refrigerators, freezers can smell with bad foods, or unclean end up spills. Old potatoes or onions left in the pantry.

These are things I notice in elders homes including my moms. Odors, even pleasant ones, can cling to everything.

Good luck sleuthing the source(s) and helping eliminate. Also, your parents don't smell it. As they age their olafactory ability diminishes so they don't detect it.
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