Why does the house smell that way?

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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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