The Nose Knows – Odour Management Tips

20 September 2021

Even the most fastidious of cleaning regimes and highest standards of quality can’t prevent bad odours from appearing now and then. Within nursing homes and aged care facilities it comes with the territory. What’s most important with suspect smells and offensive odours is how you deal with them.

While most unpleasant odours can be easily eliminated with a good old scrub or opening up the windows, some smells are a warning sign and should be dealt with more seriously. And, for aged care facilities looking to impress potential new residents, bad smells are bad for business…

The smell of success

If there’s one thing that’s sure to raise a red flag on the quality of an aged care facility it’s a bad smell hitting the nose as you walk through the front door. Imaginations run wild as thoughts of poor hygiene standards, neglected residents or mouldy and damp buildings enter the mind.

Similarly, an overpowering smell of artificial fragrance may also raise questions about what is being covered up. Potential new residents, or their family members, may (metaphorically speaking) smell a rat. From there it’s easy for them to be tempted to look elsewhere.

That’s why every aged care organisation will want to work hard to address not only odours but also the cause of odours. When it comes to keeping residents and buildings as healthy as possible, an odour elimination or minimisation strategy is better than a cover-it-up approach.

Why worry about odours?

Nothing exists in a vacuum – behind every smell is a reason for that smell. While it may often be something temporary or relatively harmless it can also indicate something more serious.

One of the most serious issues to cause offensive odours is mould. This growth often gives off a musty or mossy odour (some say it smells like dirty socks). Dealing with mould can be tricky, as it tends to grow behind walls or furniture, making it hard to detect. And, while some mould is just a nuisance, some is seriously toxic. So it’s important to address mould issues as soon as they occur. Mouldy, damp or poorly insulated buildings can lead to health issues, including respiratory problems or serious diseases like rheumatic fever.

Particularly offensive odours have an impact on others and can have an adverse effect on health. Because of this, there are guidelines on odours released by the Ministry of Environment. The document covers areas such as how odours fit into the local council legislation and the importance of taking odour complaints seriously. Something for any aged care facility to be aware of.

Adding to the challenge of dealing with odours is the fact we all have different abilities to detect and ways of responding to odour. Some smells can cause people to experience nausea, headaches, retching, difficulty breathing and stress. And others may not be affected at all.

When dealing with odours it’s important to remember that even good smells can have markedly different reactions. Fro example, some people will love the smell of freshly mown grass. Yet for others it can announce the arrival of an annoying allergic reaction.

Here are a few ways to manage odours in aged care facilities.

1. Simple sunshine

Let the light in. Keep curtains and windows open whenever possible and let the sunshine in to dry out damp or musty rooms. Even during winter, a sunny day is a perfect opportunity to let the light in to brighten things up.

2. The sweet smell of fresh air

Ensuring rooms are free from moisture and the bad smells that accompany it is the best way to ensure the health of your building (and the people in them). Provided there are no nasty drafts, keeping a window cracked just a little can go a long way, particularly in rooms like bathrooms.

3. Smelly sofas and other materials

That new carpet smell isn’t necessarily something to get excited about. The smell of new carpets, new homes or new cars is often caused by VOCs, also known as Volatile Organic Compounds.

VOCs are found in many paints, manufactured wood products and adhesives. Items made with VOC products can ‘off-gas’ for many years, creating unpleasant odours and polluting indoor air quality. These days, it’s easy to source alternatives like low-VOC or zero-VOC paint that performs just as well as the standard product.

4. Keep it clean and tidy

The simple way to avoid everyday smells is to stay on top of everyday spills and mess. A good arsenal of cleaning products keeps things ship-shape. Good quality rubbish bins with lids ensure rubbish smells are kept in, rather than around, rubbish bins.

5. Avoid unnecessary cover-ups

When a bad smell appears, the first thought may be to reach for the air freshener. However, removing the odour is better than covering it up. This may be the time to check plumbing systems are working, check for any signs of rot or damp.

In some circumstances, depending on the independence of the resident, home cooking with strong spices or seafood can cause lingering smells. Such odours may not even be apparent to those who make them. Yet for others they can be absolutely offensive. In this case odour eliminators are a better way to tackle the problem. The technology in these products can effectively eliminate smells (even the strong stuff like cigarette smoke).

6. Don’t go overboard with air fresheners

If you’re confident the smell is nothing too serious, and there’s no need to call the plumber, air fresheners may be a good option. However many people react to the strong chemicals in air fresheners or cleaning products leading to headaches, asthma attacks, skin conditions or respiratory problems.

The good news is there are now plenty of air fresheners made from plant-based products or essential oils. So, go natural instead. Studies have shown lavender offers beneficial calming properties for example, making it ideal to use to when bad smells leads to stressful environments.

There is no magic single answer to the prevention, elimination or ongoing management of bad smells in aged care. Rather it’s a matter of employing a number of techniques to ensure the overall olfactory environment is a pleasant one for all who live and work there.

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