Although dry and not moldy, my 130-year-old basement has a distinct basement smell that bothers my wife. I am trying to determine its source. We have steam heat. In the summer, the boiler is only used for hot water, of couse. Do oil boilers usually smell?

The boiler is seven years old. It was inspected by the oil company and given a clean bill of health when we moved in a few months age.

  • 1
    Go down and sniff around, is the smell stronger in any parts of the basement? this might give you a clue as to what the odor is. This is a tough one to diag'nose' over the internet.
    – Tester101
    Commented Jul 27, 2010 at 0:46
  • @Tester101, that pun was awful...wow... lol. But you are right, this kind of this is damn-near impossible to diagnose over the internet.
    – J Crosby
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 22:31

3 Answers 3


Hard to say without smelling it, but it's likely moisture (even if it's dry) or just poor air circulation. First thing I would try would be putting a dehumidifier down there to see if that helps.

  • Probably just need to be vented somehow. Maybe a fan and an air outtake will do it.
    – txwikinger
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 18:36
  • I put a hygrometer down there this morning, so we'll see. I'll post a separate question asking about acceptable humidity levels. Commented Jul 27, 2010 at 12:58

As someone with an oil furnace -- when running properly, the smell of an oil furnace shouldn't be significantly noticable. (although some people are more sensitive than others).

Possible smells from an oil furnace:

  • If you have a leak in a fuel tank, or some other spill, it will smell like diesel fuel.
  • If your chimney doesn't draft correctly, you could get smoke inside the house, which leaves a greasy smoke everywhere. (like the exhaust from a badly maintained diesel vehicle)
  • If you don't get your furnace cleaned and inspected, you can get a condition where it burns hot. (there was a jet of flame shooting out of the inspection port), which can also get smoke inside the house.
  • If you had water radiators with a circulation pump, if not maintained or it breaks a seal, the wear can cause an oil burning smell

Luckily, I haven't had the first one -- that took months for my neighbor's basement to vent because their oil company overflowed their tank. I think there was still a lingering smell for a year, as it had soaked into the concrete. (the soot thing sucked, too, but once I scrubbed down the walls, it wasn't so bad).


They make a powder, for oil spills that helps with the smell. Smells like carpet fresh. Just light dusting and let stand .Sweep up and sucks up fuel and fumes.

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