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I just moved to a new, old apartment. At first I did not notice anything, however I am now smelling an old, greasy, cigarette sort of smell in the kitchen near the stove and stove vent. I understand not everything being perfectly clean. However, after taking apart the entire vent yesterday, cleaning it with germicide, degreaser, lemons, limes, and more, and fanning the entire apartment, the smell has returned. I stained a coffee table yesterday, which may be the source of my cough, however I have noticed I am coughing much more often when I'm in the kitchen. A similar sort of smell appears when I run the fan in the bathroom upstairs.

My main questions:

  • How should I approach this problem with management? This is my first apartment, so I have not encountered this situation before. I sent an email before posting this, which I now regret (since I should have listened to advice first).
  • Is it worth purchasing something to monitor the air quality? I've found some devices on Amazon for about $200. I'm a paranoid person, but I'm scared I may be exposed to something dangerous (who knows).
  • What's the best way to tell if I am actually exposed to something dangerous? I have cleaned absolutely everything I can think of over the last week. I don't know if it's the result of all of the cleaning products, I'm just getting sick and falsely associating it with the smell of the kitchen, or something else.

Thanks!

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It sounds like the range hood duct wasn't quite airtight, and some grease has escaped into the guts of the structure it was running through. This type of IAQ problem is basically a nuisance -- it's easy enough to fix by removing the culprit grease buildup from wherever it is, although finding it may be a hassle and may require management to dispatch someone to help by getting into the wall/ceiling cavities (which is where this grease buildup most likely is, either that or inside the motor). Also, seal the range hood duct with some high-temp foil tape while you're at it, and make sure there aren't random greasy buildups behind the stove or wherever.

I wouldn't focus on IAQ monitoring -- the best approach to air quality problems isn't to monitor, lab test, or even ventilate, it's to follow your nose to the source and eradicate it. Quoting Max von Pettenkofer:

If there is a pile of manure in a space, do not try to remove the odor by ventilation. Remove the pile of manure.

For more information, I would suggest reading the work of folks who have more experience with this than I, namely BSI-017 on why IAQ problems aren't going to be fixed with fancy tests, and BSI-070 on why venting isn't an answer to everything.

  • Great answer! When you say the structure, are you referring to the stove itself or the vent? The vent just has a filter and releases the air above where it pulls, which seems like a really bad design to me.. I'll try to seal the vent with some of the tape. Also, I didn't think to move the stove itself (it's heavy and I live alone), but I will definitely clean behind it. Thank you! – Matt Goodrich Jun 21 '16 at 5:12
  • So the stove was actually light, I pulled it out, and cleaned behind it. There was a decent amount of grease, but I don't know how much grease it takes to smell bad, so it may or may not have been the main source. From your answer and my intuition I would say there's definitely something more serious. Progress at least! Any tips on how I should approach further contact with management? – Matt Goodrich Jun 21 '16 at 5:33
  • @soccer66 -- just explain to them what the problem is and why you need help fixing it. And I presume your stove is electric, no? – ThreePhaseEel Jun 21 '16 at 11:37
  • Yes it is electric, why? They offered to terminate the lease saying "it's an old apartment and they can't do much", but I said I wanted to try to fix it, so a maintenance person is coming tomorrow.. I definitely don't want to move out no matter what, but it seems unreasonable they default to just terminating the lease, right? – Matt Goodrich Jun 22 '16 at 3:08
  • @soccer66 -- gas stoves and recirculating/non-outside-venting hoods don't mix, and it sounds like management perceives you as a source of future complaints... – ThreePhaseEel Jun 22 '16 at 11:42

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