What Causes Carpet Odor?

Troy Holmes

Many problems can cause carpet odor, some of the most common of which are pet urine, mildew, dirt, or food stains. These odors can be embarrassing and overwhelming if not properly resolved. Some odors may require professional cleaning or full replacement of the carpet and underlying padding.

Cigarette smoke usually causes strong carpet odors.
Cigarette smoke usually causes strong carpet odors.

Mildew is the hardest carpet odor to clean. Mildew develops when water stains or floods the carpeted area. A mildewed carpet typically smells like molded fabric. This type of stain requires a heavy cleaning and drying process. Once the carpet becomes mildewed, it may be impossible to remove the stains and smells from the underlying padding.

A person cleaning a carpet to remove odors.
A person cleaning a carpet to remove odors.

Household pets are a leading cause of carpet odor. This can typically be attributed to the pet hair, urine, and dirt the animals bring into the home. Several cleaners can remove pet smells from carpets, and it is important to clean the soiled area as quickly as possible. This will limit the long-term damage to the carpet.

Pets can be the cause of unpleasant carpet odor.
Pets can be the cause of unpleasant carpet odor.

Tobacco smoke is another common cause of carpet odor. When a person smokes in a building, the smell of the smoke is trapped and causes the walls, draperies, and carpet to smell of smoke. This smell can be easily removed with a simple carpet-cleaning product.

Dirt and motor oil can make a carpet the smell like petroleum. This smell is difficult to remove and often requires the replacement of the carpet and underlying pad. Dirty motor oil can permanently stain carpet and cause a foul gas smell. This odor will smell similar to the odor often found in car service stations.

Old carpet has an odor similar to old rotting clothing. This dusty smell happens when the fabric in the carpet begins to break up and deteriorate. It usually is not possible to clean carpet odor out of old carpet, so typically, carpet that smells like this must be replaced. This type of carpet can cause excess dust in a home, which may lead to allergies.

Beer and alcohol can cause carpet to smell like a hospital. This is a difficult odor to remove from carpet and padding. If large amounts of beer or alcohol are spilled onto a carpet, it should be cleaned with a steam cleaner to ensure the stain is removed from the padding and carpet.

Food and cooking grease also cause carpet odor. This problem is often found in kitchens. Cooking grease produces a smell that is typically found in fast food restaurants. This type of smell is best removed with special carpet cleaners designed to removed grease.

Mildew is the hardest carpet odor to clean.
Mildew is the hardest carpet odor to clean.

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Discussion Comments


Was the smell like moth balls. My landlord said that is what the smell is.


One of the toughest pet odors to remove from carpet is cat urine. Carpet with this problem has a distinct smell. Once you know the smell you don't forget it.

I have used several products in an effort to remove cat urine and the accompanying odor. What has worked best for me is vinegar. I brush a bit onto the fibers and allow the vinegar to soak into the pad as well. After the vinegar sets for a while (I don't have a specific time length.) I shampoo the area and extract the excess water.

I can't say that this procedure always eliminates the odor, but in most cases it does, and the vinegar at least lessens the urine smell.


One of the first apartments I rented was over a garage in the landlord's backyard. The rental unit had wall-to-wall carpet, which I thought would be less work than constantly sweeping floors.

Before leasing the apartment I viewed it. I wasn't overpowered by the smell, but the odor was noticeable. The landlord assured me the reason for the smell was the apartment had not been rented for a while and the doors and windows had been closed.

I rented the apartment over the garage and I spent months trying to get rid of the odor in the carpets. I used cleaners and deodorizers that claimed to remove carpet odors. I rented a carpet cleaning machine and a friend and I scrubbed and cleaned every square inch of every rug in the place. Nothing worked.

Eventually, the landlord begrudgingly agreed to replace the carpets. They were black on the undersides with mildew and mold. I couldn't believe I had been walking on something that disgusting for all those months.

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