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There are many ways to mask bad odors in your home, but how do you truly eliminate them? Here’s how to get rid of bad household smells once and for all!
Why Can We Smell?
Neuroscientists say humans can distinguish 10,000 scents, though we don’t have names for many 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 bed 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, and harmful molds. Most American homes contain a variety of sprays, plug-ins, stick-ons, scented candles, and other products designed to mask or remove foul odors. However, many people suffer allergic reactions to the fragrances in some of these products, and some air fresheners even 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.
How to Get Rid of Bad Smells in the Home
Freshen Stale, Smelly Air:
To perfume the air indoors naturally, cut a lemon in half and set the cut halves in an inconspicuous place.
Rub a bit of vanilla on a light bulb, and the bulb’s warmth will scent the air.
During periods of nice weather, just open the windows! Let fresh air blow through and push out bad smells.
Neutralize Odors in the Kitchen and Bathroom:
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.
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 the smell of burnt food and many other odors from your kitchen (and burned-on food from your stainless steel pots).
Soak a piece of stale 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.
Get Rid of Smells in Fabrics and Carpets:
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.
Urine or vomit on carpets and upholstery can be trickier to remove. 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.
Coffee grounds will 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.
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 dish 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.
Clean Up a Skunked Pet:
Veterinarians also recommend the above recipe for bathing a pet that’s been skunked. After making the solution, massage it into the animal’s fur, then let it sit for 5–10 minutes. Rinse with warm water.
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. 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.
Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles