Victoria is a stay-at-home mom, author, educator, and blogger at Healthy at Home. She currently lives in Colorado with her family.
Houses get stinky. It’s a fact of life. Even if you’re single, you use dishes, eat food, fill the trashcan, use the bathroom, take a shower, wear clothes and shoes that get dirty, and sleep in your bed. Every area of your home is at risk for some kind of stench that will need to be addressed at one time or another. If you have kids or pets, the rate at which your home will accumulate bad smells will increase with wet feet, mud tracked in, urine and feces, spilled food and drinks, body odor, etc.
This last couple of weeks, I have noticed some strange smells in my home that I haven’t been able to identify and address. So it was time to do a little more research and get to the root of the smells. Our clothes have been smelling musty, our bathrooms have been smelling, the kitchen has funny smells, and even our bed has started to stink.
Now read this and know that I clean our house meticulously quite frequently, however, it’s been raining every day for a couple weeks, we have two big dogs and two small boys (one potty training), and my husband works hard in a hard labor job where he gets really dirty and sweaty. This is all not to mention that I’ve been doing a great deal of canning and dehydrating lately. Smells happen when you live in a house.
Don't Just Try Covering It Up
Unfortunately, when this happens, most people just try to cover it up. I’ve been there. You burn candles, plug in air fresheners, run a diffuser, or even heat up different herbs on the stove to make the house smell better. While this might work for a little while, you really are just delaying the inevitable. The smells haven’t actually gone away. You just can’t smell them through the variety of fragrances you have going.
You can spend all the money you want on trying to make your house smell better, but at the end of the day, those fragrances are going to run out. When they do, all of those smells will come creeping back. Only if you address the root cause of the smells will they actually dissipate. You won’t have to waste your money on air fresheners unless you really want to.
But where are all of these smells coming from and how can you get rid of them? We’re not commercial cleaner kind of people in this house. I’ve actually worked really hard to get rid of all artificial fragrances and harsh chemicals and clean things with natural products I already have in my home. It’s better for the environment, better for our health, and safer for my pets and kids. So let’s look at the host of natural deodorizing techniques you can use in every area of your home. I’ll be going through all of these this week myself. I’m done with the stink.
For this project, you’ll need most of the same ingredients over and over. Consider stocking up on coffee grounds, cheap vodka, white vinegar, baking soda, lemons, and oranges.
The garage can get pretty stinky. That’s where you store your big trash cans most likely, and it might even be short or long-term storage for a variety of items that you don’t want in the house. The garage is also the perfect place for animals to take shelter.
Here are some ways to tackle some stinky garage smells:
- Trash Cans: These can get super gross. The first thing to do is wash out well with hot soapy water and let dry naturally. If the trash can needs more help, I would use a vinegar and water spray all over, and fill the bottom of the cans with baking soda when the vinegar dries.
- Sporting/Fishing Equipment: Sporting equipment is tricky. Between sweat smells, fish smells, and mud, grim, and/or mildew and mold, sports equipment can get really smelly, but they can be difficult to pinpoint. However, I have one easy solution for you. I would begin by spraying, wiping, soaking or washing with a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water. If, for some reason, this doesn’t work, try straight white vinegar.
- General Garage Stink: Mix 1 cup of dried mustard in a bucket with 3 gallons of water and let sit overnight in the middle of the garage. You could even fill spray bottles and spray the entire garage floor/walls if necessary.
The laundry room is the perfect room for stink, as many families use it as a house entrance. Therefore, it may collect stinky shoes and backpacks, but it also houses all of your dirty clothes at some point or another.
Here are some ways to tackle stinky laundry room smells:
- Washer: You’ll need to clean the outside and inside thoroughly. Start by wiping down the outside and all individual pieces with hot water and a rag. Then pour 4 cups of vinegar inside and run an empty wash cycle set on white clothes and hot water.
- Dryer: Start by cleaning out lint trap and wash the filter. You should then wipe out the inside with 50/50 vinegar and hot water. Finally dry a load of nothing but hand towels sprayed with vinegar.
- Dirty clothes: Clothes have multiple opportunities to get that musty smell. If they sit in the basket for too long, if they get washed but not dried right away, if they get dried but not removed right away, and if they sit clean in the basket too long, they can quickly start smelling musty. However, you can head off the smell by washing your clothes in a cup of vinegar in hot water.
The kitchen is the prime location for smells with dirty dishes, cooking, the trash can, and even food storage places that can collect rotting food. Animals also like the kitchen for the special treats that can be found. And let’s not forget the kitchen sink with the stinky disposal and kitchen sponge.
Here are some ways to tackle stinky kitchen smells:
- Trash Can: To keep the smell down in your kitchen from the trash can, begin with a covered trash can if possible. Make sure to take out the trash often, especially if something particularly smelly is put in, and then add orange peels or baking soda to the bottom of the can or trash bag when putting in a new bag. If the trash can itself is pretty grimy, wash out with soap and hot water and dry with towels before putting in a new bag.
- Dishes: Dirty dishes just sitting in the sink tend to get smelly really fast. Make sure that you are rinsing and loading your dishes right away into the dishwasher, or at least rinsing them off before leaving them in the sink.
- Dishwasher: The dishwasher itself can get stinky every so often as well. To combat the smells inside your dishwasher, run 1 cup of baking soda through a rinse cycle with your dishwasher empty.
- Disposal: Maybe it’s your disposal that’s smelling. Running lemon peels, salt, or even baking soda and vinegar through the disposal, followed by boiling water, you should get rid of the smell. It needs to be cleaned every so often to maintain the clean though.
- Sponge: Sponges are often the culprit of the smell. Every week or so, soak your sponge in vinegar, letting sit for about 5 minutes, and then rinse with hot water. The key to keeping it from smelling is to let it dry thoroughly between uses.
- Refrigerator: With all of the wet foods being stored inside, your refrigerator is bound to stink from time to time. You may even need to filter through your foods, clearing out foods that are going bad once a week or so. In the meantime, you can wipe the sides and shelves of your refrigerator with vinegar and hot water and allow to dry, or leave baking soda, coffee grounds, a wet cotton ball, a raw potato sliced in half, or even tea bags laying out on the shelves to absorb any food smells.
- Oven: To get rid of any smells in your oven, slice 2 lemons and bake them on a cookie sheet for 60-90 minutes at 225 degrees. Afterward, wipe the walls and racks down with a wash rag dipped in hot water.
- Microwave: When your microwave starts to smell, heat up a bowl of vanilla extract and water, or 1 cup of water with 3 T baking soda for about 3 minutes and then wipe down the insides with hot water.
- Pantry: Even the pantry can start to stink, especially if foods like your onions and potatoes start going bad inside. You’d obviously want to start by getting rid of the offending foods, and then leave a bowl of coffee grounds, or an open package of baking soda out to absorb the smells. You won’t want to use them afterward though. Throw them out and replace them every month or so.
- Lunch boxes: To get rid of lunch box smells, soak a slice of white bread in white vinegar and leave it in overnight.
- Cutting boards: For smelly cutting boards, wipe down with vinegar or lemons and let them dry naturally. This will also disinfect them after washing.
- Cooking smells: The biggest offender in the kitchen seems to be cooking smells. To get rid of them, cook a pot of 1 cup of water to 1/2 cup of white vinegar until all of the liquid is gone and the smell should be gone too.
The living room is not generally a place you’d think about being stinky, but it’s a high traffic area that can accumulate carpet smells, spilled food smells, and definitely stinky shoes by the front door smells.
Here are some ways to tackle stinky living room smells:
- Furniture Stains: If you have stains on the furniture that are making your living room smell bad, just spray vinegar and water on them to clean them, and then dust them with baking soda to deodorize. Let soak in for 10 minutes or so and then vacuum off.
- Shoes at the Door: For stinky shoes at your front door, I would start by getting a breathable shoe rack to get them off the floor and give them access to fresh air, and then I would suggest a spritz of vodka in each set with a spray bottle. The vodka will quickly get rid of any smells.
- High Traffic Areas: For areas of your carpet that get a lot of traffic and therefore get stained quickly, spray with a 50/50 water to vinegar solution, and then press a towel over the top to absorb the stain. For further stain and smell removal, dust the area with baking soda, let sit for 10 minutes and then vacuum up.
This is one area you wouldn’t think of for stinking, but if you consider the dirty laundry in the corner and the smells accumulating from your oily skin in bed every night, you may rethink it.
Here are some ways to tackle stinky bedroom smells:
- Blankets and Sheets: Your blankets and sheets get exposed to your sweat and body oils all night every night, so they are bound to smell eventually. Simply wash them in hot water once a week.
- Pillows: Your pillows are no less vulnerable to your smelly sweat and oils. You should also wash them in hot water with a 1/2 cup of vinegar once a month or so, and then dry them in the sun. The trick to keep the filling inside from shifting around, is to wash them in a machine without an agitator, and/or stuff the washer with 4-5 pillows so they can’t be rearranged while washing.
- Mattress: Even your mattress needs to be deodorized periodically. While washing your sheets and blankets, simply sprinkle it with baking soda, let it soak in for 10 minutes or so, and then vacuum it up.
In our house, this is one of the worst places. I guess we don’t use them enough and so they stay closed up and hot, thereby trapping any mustiness inside and infiltrating everything inside. These smells I think are the most easily handled though.
Here are some ways to tackle stinky closet smells:
- Clothes: Clothes can easily smell musty when they are smashed together in a closed, muggy closet for a long time. In order to get rid of the mustiness, don’t hang anything back up that has already been worn and make sure your closes are being washed in the right amount of detergent in hot water to get rid of any bacteria. Even too much detergent can leave a film on clothes that starts to smell. Try placing orange peels or baking soda on a shelf in your closet, or in socks between your clothes. For a quick fix, you can actually spritz your clothes lightly with vodka. Once the vodka evaporates, so will the smell.
- Shoes: Shoes are the same. If they are left damp, sweaty, or muggy, especially locked up in a muggy closet, they tend to stink and make everything around them stink. Try crushing sage leaves inside your shoes between uses, or for a quick fix, spritz some vodka inside them. Once the vodka evaporates, the smell will too.
- Other: For your clothes closet, or any other closet in the house, you can hang an orange and clove pomander (made by poking cloves into an orange), eucalyptus branches, or even clean socks full of coffee grounds to absorb the smells and freshen the area.
If there is a stinky place in your home, this is where it’s going to be. We have two little boys, and I have a stinky husband. Between our toddler peeing on the floor, and my husband washing off all of the grease and grime from his hard workdays, these rooms get super gross.
Here are some ways to tackle stinky bathroom smells:
- Toilet: In order to clean and freshen your toilet naturally, pour 1 cup of vinegar into it, close it up for 10-15 minutes and then go back and scrub it clean, wiping the outside and inside. You can even spray hydrogen peroxide on every surface, allowing it to do its work in the bowl for 10-15 minutes before going back and scrubbing it.
- Trash Can: Keep trash can emptied for a start to keeping the smell at bay, and periodically wash the can out with soap and hot water, leaving a dusting of baking soda in the bottom. The baking soda will even help the entire room stay deodorized.
- Tub and/or Shower: Even tubs and showers can get grimy and stinky. Scrubbing them down with a baking soda sprinkle or paste will keep them clean and smell free.
- Floor: To keep floors free of smelly stains, periodically wash or wipe it down with 1 cup of vinegar per 1 gallon of water.
Sometimes no matter how hard you look, and clean, the smell just seems to be everywhere. In this case, you may be looking at dirty carpets, cigarette smoke or other smells in the walls, or even just the general air quality in your home. All of these can easily be tackled as well.
Here are some ways to tackle stinky all over the house smells:
- Pets: To quick clean your pet and get rid of any smell, sprinkle baking soda over their fur and rub it in. However, a good bath and dry outside once a week or so is always best.
- Pet Odors: For pet odors in your home, you can have small bowls of coffee grounds, vinegar and water, or even baking soda set around your home in inconspicuous places to absorb any smells.
- Carpet: Baking soda, being a great deodorizer all around your home can be sprinkled directly on your carpet and then vacuumed up after 20 minutes or so.
- Walls: Yes, even the walls can stink, especially if someone before you smoked, had pets, or cooked smelly foods. First, wash the walls in warm vinegar. I highly recommend painting a smell/stain blocker like Kilz on the walls first, and then repaint with fresh paint. You won’t completely get rid of any past absorbed smells, but you can do your best with the vinegar and then seal all else in with the Kilz.
- Air in Your Home: Sometimes it’s just a general funk in your home that you can’t make disappear. Try opening windows on nice breezy days, investing in houseplants that absorb smells like snake plants, English ivy, lady palms, or dracaena, and don’t forget to let in the sunlight every morning. That alone will go a long way towards getting rid of smells in your house.
- Smoke: For smokers, or smoking visitors, leave a bowl of vinegar water out in any room that needs deodorizing.
- Floor Drains: And finally, it’s wise to even deodorize your floor drains in the kitchen, bathroom, garage, or wherever with baking soda and white vinegar, followed by boiling water.
What If You Can't Remove the Odors
Even worse, when you have tackled the entire house and you know that you should have been able to find the smell, and you still haven’t, you may need to consider other options. There are also some smells that you need to learn how to identify, because if they are in your house, you could be in danger. Let’s look at some of these now.
For any of these smells, I would seek a professional right away as these smells could mean a danger to your health or life.
- Animal in walls – decomposition or wet dog smell, call pest control
- Gas – rotten egg, go to a neighbor’s house and call the gas company
- Mold – musty, pungent odor, call a professional
- Sewer smell – call a plumber
- Smoke - like something burning, call an electrician
- Old cigarette smoke – third hand smoke danger, call a cleaning company
How to Prevent the Smells From Coming Back
Now that your house smells wonderful, how do you keep the smells from returning? The first step would be to make sure and create a regular cleaning routine. Once a week for some jobs and once a month for others should be good for maintaining that clean smell in your home. Open your windows to let sunlight in during the morning time and open them for fresh air on nice cool days.
You could even purchase an ozone generator or air purifier to run all of the time and get rid of bad smells for you. If you are a smoker, cook lots of smelly food, or even have pets, this may be a good idea for your home. We have an ozone generator for our home that we run periodically, usually when we are going to be away from home for a while. This way, any smells that are building up, or have been left by the renter before us, can be taken care of while we’re gone.
Boy, after this project, I’m going to have the best smelling home on the block! Good luck in your home deodorizing! I’ve already gotten started with my laundry room first. I can’t wait to tackle my closet and have some nice smelling clothes again.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Victoria Van Ness
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Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on August 28, 2018:
Absolutely! I work really hard to keep our house clean, but it gets its own funk from time to time and areas that you'd never think to clean end up needing some attention.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 27, 2018:
What a huge number of great suggestions! My husband quick smoking several decades ago, but he never smoked in the house. He always smoked on the porch. I hate what cigarette smoke does to a house.
I don't relly think our closet smells too bad, but it sure needs a cleanup. It is amazing how quickly things can get stacked up in a place that doesn't show, then the rest of the house looks good.
Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on August 27, 2018:
lol I do Eric and thank you. I try. Try olive oil or lemon juice, or both, lemon juice first.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 27, 2018:
Love this. I do, and teach in my home deep breathing exercises. Every morning and evening. Do not do that if you have some stinkies. My eight year old claimed it yesterday as a way to get out of cat and cow stretching. That old "schnozz" is awesome. Hooray for the natural like you point.
You just might be the best home stuff person I know. Perhaps a little long here I had to break it down in between dusting my wood surfaces.
Organic for wood? I am sure you know.