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Odor Complaints

Learn about possible sources of problem odors and what you can do about them.

Common complaints

Problem odors are among the most common complaints reported to Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S).

Most odor complaints affect only a single room or suite. The odor source is usually in the room with the smell. Often the smell seems to be coming from the vent. This is because the air moving from the vent pulls room air along with it, giving the impression that the air conditioner is the cause.

See common sources of problem odors and tips for handling them below:

Dry sink and floor drain traps

Dry sink and floor drain traps are the most common odor sources in UC San Diego buildings. It is often a rotten egg smell, but is sometimes described as a chemical odor. The smell comes and goes and may be very strong at times.

Sink and floor drains are equipped with a trap, usually in the form of a U-shaped pipe. Liquid is trapped in the bend and forms a seal, preventing sewer gases from escaping out of the drain into your work area. Dry traps are often found in cup sinks (those little sinks in the middle of lab benches), floor drains, and sinks covered by equipment.

  • Prevent dry trap smells by running water in all sinks and drains at least once a month. Then, pour in 2 tablespoons of mineral oil to prevent the water from evaporating.

Lost or forgotten food smells

Lost or forgotten food smells tend to be localized in a room and remain fairly constant over the course of a day (as opposed to dry traps which can vary greatly in intensity over short periods of time).

  • Search your area by looking in drawers and behind furniture. If your nose doesn't lead you to the source, the ants will. Dispose of the rotten food in an outdoor trash container.

Odors entering building air intakes

Odors entering building air intakes are distributed via the air conditioning system. The smell will be apparent in many rooms or an entire floor or wing of a building. Common odors include exhaust from a vehicle idling nearby, or from work being performed on or near the building air intakes or inside the air handler rooms.

  • Ask drivers parked near the fresh air intake of the building to turn off their engines. If it is a recurring problem, contact the Facilities Management Service Referral Desk, (858) 534-2930.
  • Notify the maintenance crew supervisor if you suspect work near a building air intake or air handling room is fouling the air inside. The crew may be able to eliminate or minimize odors their work is causing.

Primer and paint odors

Primer and paint odors can be localized in 1 room or distributed via the air conditioning system. Facilities Management Paint Shop uses nonhazardous, water-based paints, although there is still an odor associated with the paint. To minimize odors, Paint Shop staff prime and paint indoor areas first thing in the morning whenever possible. Most areas dry within 1 hour and the odor begins to dissipate thereafter.

Tobacco smoke

Tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products occasionally wafts into indoor spaces.

For more information, contact Environment, Health & Safety, (858) 534-3660.