ICS Magazine

The Experts Take Aim at Odor

February 15, 2008


To the cleaning professional, odor control means opportunity. To put not too fine a point on it, the same nose-wrinkling offensiveness driving homeowners to distraction carries the sweet smell of money for the professional technician, if he or she is savvy enough to catch the scent.

Year in and year out, experts across the spectrum have examined the ins and outs of odor, dissecting techniques, sales methodology, what works, what doesn’t and everything in between. Here’s a compendium of what some of the experts from ICS Cleaning Specialist magazine have had to say on the subject.

“As we all know, cleaning the surface of a carpet is not the solution for odor removal,” My Two Cents columnist Joe Domin said. “Carpet odors are deeply entrenched in the carpet, usually as the result of food spills or ‘accidents’ by pets and/or children. These spills penetrate to the base of the carpet and cannot be removed by surface extraction. Even using excessive cleaning solutions will not dilute the spill enough to allow for successful removal.

“The spills will eventually result in foul odors stemming from microbial growth. One way to successfully locate urine stains is with ultraviolet (UV) light. Once the stain is located, a hypodermic injection of antibacterial solution will prevent further odors from developing. Additional dry extraction would then be introduced to maximize removal. Once this is completed, an acid fiber rinse is applied to help prevent wicking,” he said.

Last month in his For the Professional Textile Cleaner column, Doug Heiferman looked specifically at urine problems, including odors, caused by household pets, and highlighted the importance of proper – and complete – detection.

“Locate the source of the urine in the carpet using the right instruments. The human nose is a good indicator of odor; however, the professional can be thankful to not have to get down on the floor to smell the carpet to locate contaminated areas,” Doug wrote. “There are more scientific ways. A quality moisture detector with an alarm alerts you when moisture is encountered. This instrument has metal probes that penetrate the carpet and padding to the floor to reveal moisture. Unfortunately, you may miss an area with this technique because testing every inch of the carpet is difficult and time consuming.

“A black light or ultraviolet high-intensity light can be used to detect urine. This method is preferred and is much easier because it can be successful without pulling up the carpet to look for urine stains on the backing of the carpet,” he said. “High-intensity UV lights are very good because you can use them during the day. Certain fluorescent lights do not work well in the daytime and must be used at night or when the room is dark. Your local distributor can help determine which light is best for you.

“Another way to detect urine is disengage the carpet and inspect the backing for stains. It will take time and effort and, in many instances, you will be cleaning the backing anyway during a complete surface and subsurface treatment,” Doug said.

An important, yet often overlooked area of odor control is the interaction with the client. After all, how many people do you know who like being told their home smells? Steve Toburen recently offered his thoughts on the matter in To Your Success.

“Think about your last fire restoration project,” he said. “You removed all the char and smoke residue, sealed all the surfaces and thermal fogged and ozoned till your face was blue. And yet, the first time the homeowners walked into the home they blurted out, “We can still smell the smoke!” And they did...because they expected to smell smoke.

Now to be honest, their home very likely did smell terrible. After all, there were huge amounts of off-gassing hydrocarbons present from the new carpet, the new paint and the new furnishings. But the house did not smell like smoke! Yet very sincerely your clients smelled the smoke...emotionally.

“Simply put, 90 percent of odor is psychological in nature. This emotional aspect of indoor air quality is doubly difficult when you factor in the highly stressed, semi-hysterical atmosphere of the typical fire restoration situation,” he said. “Remember, you are not dealing with rational human beings here; your typical restoration client is a suspicious, traumatized and at times hostile emotional basket case. And yet keeping this messed-up individual under control is why the adjuster promotes your services. If the homeowner complains about the “smoke smell,” then the adjuster loses his motivation to call you in for his or her next loss.

“By working with the Emotional Dynamics of the customer, their olfactory nerves will stay quiet and happy, which in turn means a ‘Cheerleader Adjuster’ for you,” Steve said. “However, bear in mind that ED complements the technical side of odor removal. Nothing beats doing a good, competent technical job. But on the other hand, if your customer feels like their home still smells like smoke, then the job will stink for you!”

For years, the definitive opinion on odor control in the pages of ICS came from the late, great Bob Wittkamp, who in his years on the job faced and overcame more odor challenges than most cleaners will ever encounter. In one of his last columns for ICS, Bob laid out in clear, concise terms what odor removal is all about.

“After correcting and controlling the odor source, it is necessary to eliminate the odor itself,” Bob wrote. “There are several mechanisms commonly used to deodorize, including masking, pairing, and neutralizing. “Masking is simply introducing a newer, stronger odor to cover up the remaining malodor until all odor generation has been halted by the systems previously put in place. Now that the odor source is corrected, a simple air exchange will keep odor from reaching an offensive level. Odor removal in large areas may require sprayers or foggers for efficient broadcast of odor-control materials.

“Pairing is a process that involves the pairing or “coupling” of molecules in such a manner as to eliminate certain odor-causing molecules thereby removing unpleasant odors. As in masking, pairing may require the use of sprayers and foggers for effective distribution of odor-control substances.

“Neutralizing offensive odors may be accomplished by proper utilization of the aforementioned masking or pairing processes, and may be dictated by the details of the particular challenge at hand. Some odor-control products on the market (re: compounds) utilize two or three systems. Some, however, are very specialized and are effective only on specific types of odors. The tech should have sufficient knowledge of odor-control theory to select the proper agent for each situation. If there is not enough information available from the product label or the MSDS sheet, take the time to call the technical department of the product manufacturer for assistance,” he said.

The thoughts and ideas of one individual can often open the door of possibility; multiply that by four and that same door goes flying right off the hinges. Odor control is a lucrative piece of the cleaning and restoration puzzle; it’s important to figure out how it fits with your company.