How to get rid of dead person smell?

30 Replies

I'm working with a landlord whose last tenant killed himself in the unit and was not discovered for two weeks in the middle of summer. The landlord hired ServPro to "clean up" the place but the smell still lingers. He got it repainted and it helped a little but the smell is still there. What's a good way to remove the odor for good? Can't rent the unit until this is resolved. Any ideas or suggestions would be very much appreciated!

You might try an ozone generator. This would actually help to get rid of the odor-causing agents and not just mask the smell. I think I would leave the windows open all the time, too. Change out the air filter on the air conditioner if it hasn't been. I don't know what kind of house it is, but possibly you would need to remove the floor decking where the body was. I would guess that the area where the body was lying is the main problem. One thing I have noticed is that if any house is left vacant for a while, its latent smells resurface. For example, if the new tenants go on vacation, it is possible these smells could resurface if not completely eradicated.

3 coats of Kilz oil based primer will cover anything that I know of. The carpet & pad will have to go then just paint the subfloor as well. I'm a big fan of the stuff. It's kinda pricey though, and you're going to need a lot of it.


I heard lime will do the trick when you mix it with a little water.

Joe Gore

Only on Bigger Pockets would I read a thread titled "how to get rid of dead person smell" in the "Do it yourself" category!

+1 Dawn,

scares the hell out of wanna be landlords like me.

Don't ask Casey Anthony.

I'm trying to figure out if steam cleaning would do it, or if the ozone machine is the way to go.

This is a studio apartment in a highrise building. The space is small but the smell is intolerable. The unfortunate part is that the bathroom and closet near the body has no vent and is literally trapping the "dead air" - pardon the expression.

The landlord is fed up that he shelled out $$$$ to ServPro and still did not resolve the issue. They even removed only part of the carpet at first, and the landlord had to demand they come back to pull all the carpets. Then the guy insisted he did not smell anything after "cleanup" and it was only when the building manager agreeing with the landlord that the smell was still present that he agreed to come back and finish the job. Awful. I gave the landlord the crime scene cleanup specialist's number but guess he wanted to go "cheap" - if only he listened to me in the first place.

Makes me want to put in "dead tenant" clause in all future insurance policies.

Depending on the state of decomposition you may have to remove the section of flooring under where the body lay. I would get in touch with those crime scene specialists and see what they suggest.

sorry you're having to deal with this. I've had two dead tenants (same unit...weird?) but they were discovered promptly, fortunately.

I'm curious, do you guys let new tenants know someone died in the unit?

I agree with @Jean Bolger contact a disaster response company, they deal with that stuff all the time. More than likely it's the carpeting holding the odor. However; it may have penetrated the sub floor, and that will need to be replaced. Anything like furnishings, draperies, etc. need to go. Wash everything with bleach to kill any lingering bacteria.

@Shawn Dandridge I haven't disclosed that. Actually, it just didn't occur to me, which now that I think of it, may be a bit odd!
It might be because I have a lot of relatives in Europe. People (and their houses) have been there so much longer; I think you'd be hard pressed to find a spot where no one had died, so why think about it? And it's more common to choose to die at home or have the body laid out in the home. In America we're kind of strange about death.

Maybe @Rick H. can chime in. Being in probate, probably nobody on here has dealt with dead people smells more than him.

A UV vs corona discharge will definitely do the trick if you can find one to rent. Check cleaning or janitor supply places. They break down the third oder causing molecule attached to the oxygen atom. UV is safe because we are exposed to it all the time, so is corona(lighting discharge) if you can't find UV.

That should do it just run a machine per the MFG instructions, does it fast.

Next, would be clear Shellac, several OEMs like Kiltz have a new water base product. TSP clean all the walls per the instructions first. It has a bleach odor, we just used it on a 1000 foot fire restoration job duplex evac the other tenant. You can spray the drywall, etc, with a conventional pro paint gun. Get a paint contractor. This is a heavy duty last resort.

I currently have a property under contract that had a body in it for over a week before it was discovered. Unfortunately the owner failed to put out enough food for his cats and dogs before he died and... well they had to eat something. I'm planning to pull ALL carpet/padding/drapes etc. and then seal the walls with Kilz. Hopefully it'll work out. I'd never heard of the ozone generator so thanks for that.

Hire this guy here:

He will do the job..

Besides carpets and walls, I think plenty of odor is trapped in air vents and ducts, that need to be taken care of as well.

wow @Bryan Davis that's some story

I will add a qualification to my previous post:
dead person in unit = not weird
dead person in unit eaten by domestic pets = weird

I agree with @Jean Bolger about the possible need to remove flooring/subflooring. In a former life I was an EMT, and have come across my share of bodies in various degrees of decomposition. There can be a fair amount of liquefacation, which is going to seep into whatever's beneath. Think pet urine, only worse.

ServPro's slogan is "like it never even happened". That doesn't seem to be the case here. I think I would have the property owner call them and express his dissatisfaction with the results and have them back out to fix it the right way at no additional cost.

Thanks for all your input. Yeah it was disappointing about ServPro. Then again I was not the one who hired them, and the landlord is a bit elderly -- may have been a communication issue.

The subfloor is concrete, so I don't know how much we can do there. I wonder about the vents, since the bathroom has just one vent and I don't know where that leads -- I am not touching anything in the unit if I can help it.

I found a product called Smelleze that has a "corpse smell" version for funeral homes and hospitals, etc. - maybe I'll try that first.

A favorite realtor trick for open houses is to bake some chocolate chip cookies - but then again I don't want to ruin my appetite for chocolate chip cookies.

An ozone machine will clear it up. Be careful no one enters during the treatment. Let it run for 4 or 5 days. It also helps to clean the AC duct work.

There is a product called exstink that you buy online. It will take the smell out. We had a cat that urinated in our basement, multiple carpet cleanings did not touch it. Exstink took it right out. It is worth a try on decomp smell. It is gaurenteed to remove any organic smell.

Hey, you guys have already pretty well covered the topic (if not the smell).

I've been fortunate to have had a number of smelly cat houses, serially, to refine my craft before my first decomposed body house. Both are nasty and, since I have one of the most sensative olfactory organs of anyone I know, you can't cut corners to my satisfaction.

My last deceased person was a borrower of mine that was in foreclosure in a manufactured home in San Diego, CA area. Naturally, she died sometime in early August that summer and wasn't discovered until several weeks later, when the temp got good and hot. Here are the steps I took:

1) Remove the body. Suggest you DON'T do this yourself!

2) The local sheriff/coroner will tell you if there's any crime scene to preserve and while you're waiting for this clearance, you can assemble your team of expensive-but-underpaid professionals.

3) I used a company specializing in crime scene cleanups and they showed up in their moon suits to remove the remaining nasty sources of odor, including the mattress, floor covering and part of the plywood flooring in bedroom.

4) Moon suit guys used an ozone generator, left on for several days. They asked if I was in a hurry and suggested they leave it on for as long as they could.

5) I hired the same people to remove all carpets and fabric covered furniture. Only time I've trashed out a house with nice furniture. I'm sure some antique store picked it up cheap, only I resell it to some poor unsuspecting collector. Hopefully, they're a smoker with an insensitive hooter.

6) Paid a guy to remove all ceiling acoustic and reprinted with oil-based Kilz primer. Found a handyman that made repairs to floor and normal fixes.

7) Found a great painter online who also finished trashing out the remaining items (after salvaging family keepsakes for the decedent's out-of-state Son).

8) Good a lead on a carpet guy from a friend of Ward Hanigan's and a really helpful RE agent who listed and sold the land & unit, in a park with a HOA.

All things considered, smelly cats are worse. And don't forget the fleas.

Sounds like I should get a dozen cats into the unit and let them "fight fire with fire" - then I can legitimately tell the renters these are cat smells... brilliant...

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