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How to Get Rid of Unpleasant Odors in your Home

USA, House, Residential Building, Outdoors, Building Exterior
Xacto/ Getty Images
USA, House, Residential Building, Outdoors, Building Exterior

Xacto/ Getty Images

There’s nothing less inviting than walking into a home with a bad smell. There are many things that can contribute to a home’s less than rosy scent. Pets, smoke, mold and mildew, and cooking can create odors that permeate the air and linger around. These odors will eventually penetrate into the walls, carpeting, and furniture. I will share some simple steps to help prevent and remove these potentially offensive odors.

  • Open your windows! The best gift you can give your home is the gift of fresh air. Whenever possible open the windows and let the airflow through. Even on a cold day, open your windows for a few minutes. Fresh air quickly and naturally removes airborne odors like those from cigarette smoke and cooking.
  • Vacuum. Regular cleaning of floors, carpets, and upholstery such as couches and curtains will help keep your room smelling fresh. To carpeting, you can add a room deodorizer or baking soda. Simply sprinkle onto rugs and carpeting and let sit long enough to absorb the oil and dirt before you vacuum.
  • Wash. Clean hard surfaces regularly. Glossy paint, hard flooring, countertops, sinks, and tables with soap and water or a mild cleaner that is appropriate for the surface being cleaned. Using a mixture of equal parts of white vinegar and water, you can create your own cleaner that is environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and effective for all surfaces. Lemon, substituted for the vinegar, also has antibiotic properties. For those areas where odors can really accumulate, such as bathrooms and kitchens, a cleaning solution may be more effective in removing those really tough odors. Bleach whitens and it is also effective in killing and removing mold spores.
  • Bright ideas. Clean light bulbs. Dirt and oils can accumulate on lightbulbs and the heat accentuates these odors. From time to time with a lightly damp cloth, wipe the lightbulb clean. Do be careful to not let the damp cloth touch the metal part of the bulb.
  • Filter it. Clean and change your filters in your heating and cooling systems. This will not only improve air quality, but it will make your heating and cooling systems much more efficient. Also, be sure to check and replace the filter in your vacuum cleaner.
  • Repaint. When it seems that you have tried everything and nothing seems to work, repaint your space. The fresh paint will cover the old paint and get rid of the bad odors associated with it.

What you can do: A Room by room guide

living room modenr

Mint Images/ Getty images

Living areas

Bedroom, family, and living rooms are fairly simple and straightforward to keep clean and tidy, and therefore odor-free. Regular vacuuming and dusting should be sufficient. If you are a smoker, someone in your home is a smoker or has entertained a smoker, making sure that the room has plenty of ventilation is key. Open windows when necessary and consider purchasing an air purifier. Fresh flowers always help to eliminate odors and candles can temporarily mask smells too. Bed linens and upholstery should be washed and laundered on a regular basis. The curtains should be cleaned as well. If an odor persists in your rugs or carpeting, it may be time to replace them. Walls, if painted in a semi or high gloss, or covered with wallpaper, should be wiped down with a lightly soapy, damp sponge from time to time.

Modern and urban apartment interior with white colors, some plain concrete details and some blue colors. Living room connected with kitchen.

itchySan/ Getty Images


Kitchens, with all their traffic and uses, are rooms where odors accumulate and trap. Cooking leaves a film of light grease in the air that clings to walls, light fixtures, floors, countertops… well, everything really. If you have an exhaust fan, use it. Use it regularly when cooking and keep it on for a while after cooking. Keep your countertops clean and wipe them down with a homemade or store-bought cleaner at the end of every day. Floors should be vacuumed daily as well, especially in the homes with (messy!) children and pets. Crumbs and pet hair and dander are not only unsightly but will be tracked through the rest of the house. Wipe down the stove-top after use as well as anything that might be on or near it. It’s inevitable to avoid cooking splatters. At the end of the day wipe down sinks. Natural, or products made with bleach will kill all harmful bacteria. If your dishwasher has an odor place a cupful of vinegar on the top rack and run a cycle. Do keep a container of baking soda in the refrigerator to absorb odors, and change replace every couple of months. Wipe down doors and shelves on a regular basis as well.

Bathtub and sinks in bathroom

Mint Images/ Getty Images


Due to the heavy moisture content in these often small rooms, mold and mildew have a tendency to grow here. Keep bathrooms ventilated when using the shower or bath. Ventilation, in this room, is perhaps the single most important thing one can do to keep this space odor-free. If you don’t have a fan, then do be sure to keep the windows open. Wipe down the sink and bathtub on a regular basis, using bleach to keep the mildew at bay. Wipe down walls with a damp sponge, mop the floors, and keep the toilets clean. If you have a bathroom that doesn’t get much use, say in a guest room, do go in and run the water, flush the toilet and open the window from time to time. Avoid using those plug-in room fresheners, they tend to be overwhelming and often are worse than the odors they are trying to mask. Some people keep their kitty litters in the bathroom. Kitty litters have a strong odor, even when clean they emit a strong odor and can permeate the air and affect the rest of the home. If you have a pet, especially a cat, an air purifying system is a must. Room sprays and deodorizers last only a short while. Reeds infused in essential oils are available all over the place in mild and pleasant fragrances. These scents last longer until the oils are absorbed by the thin reeds.

Washing machine and dryer in a luxury bathroom.

imaginima/ Getty Images

Laundry Rooms and mudrooms

Dirty socks, sweaty gym clothes, and smelly sports equipment can leave these spaces smelling, well, less than rosy! Basements, even finished ones, tend to smell musky. They’re cool and damp and often humid. A dehumidifier will get rid of excess moisture which will help keep the mold and mildew and musky smell at bay. Since dehumidifiers must be emptied place them near the bulkhead doors, sump pump, or sink. Washing machines often harbor unpleasant odors. To rid the unpleasant smell place a cup of vinegar or a cup of bleach in the machine and run it one full cycle. Because washing machines tend to be airtight, mildew can form. To prevent this simply leave the machine door open between uses. Lastly, this may seem so basic, but keep on top of your laundry and don’t let those smelly items accumulate for too long. Never toss wet towels into hampers. Let them air dry first before doing so. If your mudroom and laundry rooms are on the main level, they’re likely highly trafficked areas. Mud and dirt from sneakers, cleats, and boots are often tracked in. To prevent the dirt from being tracked through the rest of the house, keep a broom or a small portable vacuum cleaner nearby. If possible ask children and guests to leave their shoes by the front door, and those that get the dirtiest may want to be kept out in the garage. In short, a clean home is generally a pleasant smelling home. Vinegar and bleach are wonderful cleaning agents that also remove strong odors. If these don’t work, you may want to hire a professional cleaning service to come to your home for a thorough cleaning.

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