- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Getting rid of bad odors can be a scientific and a linguistic challenge.

A careful reading of product labels never has been more important or more bewildering. The wise consumer needs to be aware of the difference between sanitizers, deodorizers, absorbers and so-called eliminators. The definitions change with each manufacturer, none of which is required by law to be exact in its specifications.

Watch out, too, for the guarantee. Does a product promise to “reduce” “absorb” or “get rid of” odors, and will it perform that task temporarily or permanently? Will it leave another scent in its wake, or is it “odor free”? Does the manufacturer provide a telephone help line or Web site for advice with particularly sticky situations?

Sanitizers may promise only to “reduce airborne bacteria” and may contain a fragrance that is not much more than a short-term cover-up. Deodorizers simply try to cover up a bad smell with one that presumably is more palatable.

Absorbers are sponges that work in a limited amount of space, although they, too, can be sweeping in their claims to soak up pollutants from the atmosphere and remove all odors from home, workplace and vehicles.

Eliminators are the Johnny-come-latelies, making no-holds-barred promises to end olfactory nuisances forever with a twist of the top or a pull on the trigger of a spray bottle to replace that old-fashioned mother-knows-best method: a vinegar solution.

“It’s a hot topic. What I’ve been surprised about is how much an emotional issue this is for people who have ongoing odor problems in the home,” says Jim Huffstetler, spokesman for the Zero Odor brand.

Consider the list of likely culprits, the kind of invasive and annoying scents that can make life miserable: dead animals; skunk spray; pet smells; cooking odors; wet carpets or upholstery; garbage cans; tobacco smoke in clothes, rooms and furnishings; mildew; sewer gases; and dirty diapers or spilled milk left untended, especially in a small space, for a long period of time.

None of the above bothers the hard-core eliminators, apparently, which are brash in their assertions about ending the nuisance permanently. The reason, states Zero Odor (a trademarked name), is “breakthrough technology.”

The breakthrough is derived from molecular biology that has entered the humdrum world of everyday liquids, chemical sponges and sprays, promising to do the job without any toxic effects.

Both Zero Odor (www.ZeroOdorStore.com) and Atmosklear (www.atmosklear.net), the newest one on the market, have Web sites that encourage inquiries and give full explanations of their treatment methods. Both lay claim to a “special” formula that works by bonding with odor molecules at the source.

“There are certain kinds of molecules that are common to almost all odors that we think are bad,” Mr. Huffstetler explains. “Our product bonds with those to create a kind of irreversible bond so that the odor molecule becomes a non-odor molecule and is eliminated. We also get rid of pet stains because they are protein-based, and so is our product.”

Some products do what Mr. Huffstetler calls “encapsulation — a product surrounds an odor and knocks it out of the air. Those are not permanent,” he says, “because once the product evaporates, the odor is free to move around.”

“Most odors offensive to the human nose are based on sulfur and nitrogen, and that is what Zero Odor takes care of,” says company scientist David Schneider, who adds that “skunk is a classic sulfur-type order.”

He admits that the odor of milk that has spilled in the car and spoiled is equally bad and among the most difficult to banish.

“Almost no product that I’m aware of can impact that. Ours will help,” Mr. Huffstetler says.

“Spoiled milk is a nasty organic,” agrees Scott Androff, president of Atmosklear. “Normally it comes from a baby bottle in a van, rolls to the floor, and you forget about it until you smell it.”

For ridding a car of the spilled milk smell, Mr. Androff recommends spraying the fabric with 40 trigger squirts (a 16-ounce bottle has 1,400 squirts), then waiting five minutes to check the results.

“If that doesn’t work, try mixing the product with soap and water: one cup of water, one cup of Atmosklear and 20 drops of liquid dish soap. Scratch the mix into the surface, wait five minutes, then blot it up with a towel,” he says.

“Atmosklear is an oxidizer. A key component to our formula is having a direct contact with the surface. Odors on a hard surface are carried by oxygen. Oxidization alters the molecular structure of the odor molecule.”

Another challenge for Atmosklear was eradicating the smell of a piece of chicken that had been left in a car for eight months.

“We solved it in 15 minutes,” Mr. Androff boasts.

That particular feat — the chicken had been left in the car of a General Motors executive — led GM to adopt the product to help with “stinky” ventilation systems in old cars and to get rid of old smoke odors.

Atmosklear gets an average 20 calls per day, 82 percent of them pet-related, Mr. Androff says.

Mr. Huffstetler agrees that the biggest issue around the house for most people is cat urine. He recommends spraying the litter box daily to get rid of the smell.

Cats tend to leave a mark in the corners of the room, and dogs usually take the middle of the room, Mr. Androff says. He advises that carpet smells left by pets are best helped by spraying directly onto the carpet (“two triggers for every square foot”) and then lightly brushing in the formula. To treat air in a room, he recommends going to a corner nearest a door and spraying at the ceiling.

It’s possible to treat a wet dog simply by spraying the animal directly. “Every 10 pounds of dog is a trigger, depending on the breed,” Mr. Androff says. He also knows people who have had success spraying a towel and then rubbing the animal with it rather than spraying the pet directly, although manufacturers state that direct spraying is not harmful to either humans or pets.

Getting rid of old smells in carpet can take up to four years without intervention, Mr. Androff notes, but that isn’t as bad as getting rid of old smoke in a room. For that he recommends treating all the furniture and also aiming some at the ceiling because “smoke rises.”

Travelers who often encounter the smell of smoke in hotel or motel rooms might consider taking along a small spray bottle of odor eliminator.

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