Part 1: neutralizing odors around the house, in the car
Neuroscientists say humans can distinguish 10,000 scents, though we don’t have names for a lot of them.
Our sense of smell—the olfactory sense—brings depth and emotional richness to daily life.
Think about the feelings and memories that flow when you catch a whiff of fresh-cut grass or lilacs in bloom, bury your face in a sun-dried sheet just off the line, or enter the kitchen just as a cinnamon-rich apple pie emerges from the oven.
Our olfactory system also alerts us to potential dangers: spoiled food, rot and decay, harmful molds. Most American homes contain a variety of sprays, plug-ins, stick-ons, scented candles, and other products designed to mask or remove bad odors.
Many people suffer allergic reactions to the fragrances in some of these products. Some air fresheners contain toxins.
Yet a few inexpensive household essentials you probably have on hand already—vinegar, salt, coffee, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide—will neutralize most noxious odors around your home and in your vehicles.
A few odor-taming tips:
During nice weather, just open the windows! Let fresh air blow through.
To perfume the air naturally, cut a lemon in half and set the cut halves in an inconspicuous place, or rub a bit of vanilla on a light bulb
Most folks know that keeping an open box of plain baking soda in the refrigerator will neutralize bad odors. Sprinkle some into the bottom of the trash can and into the trash bag itself for similar results.
Half a cup of baking soda in two quarts of water and a soft cloth or brush also work well for cleaning the fridge, as well as scrubbing down and freshening the tub, tiles, sinks, drains, trash cans, and toilet bowls. For stronger disinfecting properties, scrub with a strong vinegar solution.
Fresh or leftover coffee grounds will also absorb unpleasant odors in a fridge, microwave, or cupboard. They’ll also sweeten the air inside your car or its trunk. For use in the car, place the grounds in a covered plastic container with holes punched in the lid.
Boil two parts water with one part vinegar in a microwave-safe container to remove bad smells from your microwave. The vinegar smell itself dissipates quickly.
Add half a cup of vinegar to a quart of water and allow to simmer on the stove for a few minutes. This will remove smell of burnt food and many other odors from your kitchen (and burned-on food from your stainless steel pots.)
Soak a piece of bread in vinegar and set it overnight in a lunchbox or wastebasket to remove built-up food odors.
Grind leftover citrus rinds in your garbage disposal to sweeten it. Or dump half a cup of salt down the drain and turn on the disposal. This loosens caked-on food and helps neutralize odor.
You can get most smells out of carpets, rugs, and upholstery (including vehicle interiors) by sprinkling liberally with baking soda. Leave the baking soda in place for several hours, then vacuum or shake it out.
Human/pet urine or vomit on carpets and upholstery can be trickier. If you can get at it immediately, blot first with a towel, then spray the area with a 3-parts cold water/1 part vinegar solution and blot (but don’t rub). Repeat several times if needed, until the smell disappears. The vinegar odor will dissipate in a few hours.
Old-timers swear by this method for removing set-in odors and stains from carpets and upholstery. It works especially well on pet urine and skunk smells. You might want to test for color-fastness by soaking a small, inconspicuous area with the solution and leaving it for 24 hours before you treat the area with the stain.
- Put on a pair of rubber or latex gloves.
- Gently mix a quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, a quarter-cup of baking soda, and a teaspoon of liquid soap in a plastic container. Don’t mix far in advance or store in a closed container.
- Pour or spray the solution directly onto affected areas and allow to sit for 24 hours before blotting excess liquid. Allow to air dry.
Veterinarians also recommend this recipe for bathing a pet that’s been skunked. I’ll post instructions for how in my next post involving natural ways to tame body and pet odors.
Beyond their unpleasant odors, molds and mildews can present special indoor health hazards beyond the scope of this post to describe. Some people are sensitive to certain kinds of indoor molds .
If you suspect a mold problem in your home, don’t rely on simply scrubbing down the area with bleach or masking the odor with air fresheners. Some mold damage  may require professional removal services.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.