Odor remediation projects tend to be complex. Odors may be real or imaginary. Furthermore, interpretation of odor as good versus bad varies from client to client. As such every remediation project presents a unique set of challenges to our technicians. Over the coming weeks I would like to provide insight into some of these challenges and how to properly neutralize odor. To begin with we need to better understand how we as humans process odor, what odor is, why odor remains, and finally environmental conditions that may enhance our reception of odor.
Humans depend on their nose as the best “instrument” for detecting odor. Odors result from airborne chemicals, gases, or tiny particles. As we breathe, these substances are absorbed by the mucous membranes in our nose and mouth. Receptors in the nose send a message to the brain, where the odor sensation is interpreted. Each individual reacts to odors differently in detecting whether odors are present and how intense they are. Interestingly there are two types of odors — real and imagined.
- Real odor is the sensation of smell caused by a real substance. Odor molecules interact with olfactory nerve cells in the nose. The olfactory nerves send a message to the brain that is interpreted by the olfactory lobe.
- Imaginary or psychological odor is what people think they smell. They are stimulated by a given set of circumstances and strong impressions formed from similar circumstances before. Some people think they smell something because of the circumstances, not because of an odor actually being present. Imaginary odors are sometimes called heightened awareness odors, because circumstances have made the individual more aware of odor than he or she normally would be, and thus more likely to smell something that no one else smells.
Moreover, the term odor describes both good and bad smells. Whether an odor smells good or bad is in the mind of the individual. Some odors — such as putrefying flesh — are considered unpleasant by almost everyone. Other odors — such as gasoline or paint fumes— may be considered good odors by some people, but extremely offensive by others. The interpretation of whether a smell is good or bad differs from one individual to the next.
Odor particles are tiny. Tiny objects are measured in microns, and odor particles range in size from .1 (one tenth) of a micron to about four (4) microns. To put these sizes in perspective take a look at the period at the end of this sentence. That period is about 150 microns in size or 38 times bigger than the largest possible odor particle! The extremely small size of odor particles allows them to penetrate surfaces easily. It is this penetration into building materials and furniture which result in odors remaining in our environments. This is also what makes the odor neutralization process at times challenging.
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