With 1.4 million people living in nursing homes as of 2014, according to the CDC, nursing home odor control is an important quality of life issue. In fact, Medicare lists overwhelming, unpleasant odors as something to look out for in their Nursing Home Checklist. Nobody wants their grandparents or parents living in unsanitary, unpleasant conditions. Luckily, nursing home odor control is within reach.
Nursing homes smell for very specific reasons. Some of them are expected: loss of bladder and bowel control, medicinal ointments and other pharmaceuticals, strong chemical cleaning agents, and oft-closed windows. Some are surprising, like dehydration. According to Caring.com, because of changes in the pituitary glands that regulate thirst, older people are commonly dehydrated. This concentrates their urine, which makes even the smallest amount smell strong. Dehydration also causes dry skin, which sloughs off easily and smells musty. Dehydrated people feel cold all the time, which keeps the heat on and the windows closed, allowing smells to permeate soft furnishings like carpets, upholstery, and drapes.
Dealing with these unpleasant smells requires deep and thorough cleaning. The problem is that some establishments do not clean well enough and, instead, try to mask odors with air fresheners. The resulting smell is a mix of ammonia and antiseptic layered with urine, feces, mold, and dust — topped with a chemical air freshener. Not only is this atmosphere disagreeable, it can be unhealthy for residents with compromised immune systems or respiratory issues.
The only way to truly remove bad smells is to remove the contaminants. Cleaning crews should use a no-touch cleaning system that rids environments of soils, as opposed to traditional mop and rags, which just push them around. Upholstered furniture and drapes need thorough vacuuming. Accidents require immediate attention. This includes bathroom accidents, of course, but as nursing home residents may have trouble balancing or feeding themselves, food and drink spills are issues that need to be attended to, as well.
Cleaning crews must also be mindful of cross-contamination. Supplies like gloves used to clean resident rooms should be changed before moving on to another room or a common area.
A well-maintained facility will smell neutral, however, there is a limit to how much cleaning can do for nursing home odor control. AgingCare notes that "old person smell" is a real thing caused by an increase in a body odor component called Nonenal. Nonenal is not water-soluble, so it can't be scrubbed off the skin or laundered from fabrics. The only thing to do is graciously accept this natural part of the aging process.
Click here for more information on no-touch cleaning solutions to keep nursing homes clean and smelling fresh.
Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines.
Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.
She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.