Kierstin lives in a 1200 square foot home with two kids, a cat and a stinky golden doodle.
What Causes Household Odors?
You're not a total slob. You know you need to clean out your fridge before leaving for a long weekend and to wipe up spilt milk from under the kitchen table. But why does your house still smell bad? Because bacteria! And mold! And food smells!
Here's where it all hides:
- Your laundry hamper
- The pet's food and water dishes
- Your upholstered furniture
- That pizza that leaked through the pan in your oven last week
- The pillows on your couch where your husband always takes a nap
With a family that includes messy kids and pets, this isn't an exhaustive list for me. Here's where I find bad odors in my home and what I do to clean, and hopefully prevent, them.
Can you use essential oils for odor elimination?
Yes! You can, as long as you do it safely. Here's how I use essential oils to get rid of bad smells in my house:
The easiest way to effectively utilize essential oils as an air freshener is just to diffuse them. I have this diffuser set up in my bedroom which is also connected to the master bath. We're clean people, okay, but sometimes that well-used area of our house gets a funk to it between tub scrub downs and sheet changeovers.
If you've never used a diffuser before it's pretty simple - just use the provided measuring cup to add a little cool water to the diffuser base, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil (I love to use a citrusy oil like grapefruit, lemon or orange, but you can use whichever scent you like best), put the lid back on and just turn it on! Once it gets going it lets off a stream of cool mist (the thing doesn't get hot, it stays cool) and throws the scent throughout your space.
Using Essential Oils for Cleaning
Another way that I use essential oils to scent my home is by cleaning with them.
Again, you can use a citrus scent to rid your house of strong smells or a little lavender if you want to give things a more calming aroma but my favorite is to use this germ fighting blend from Plant Therapy. This is basically a way cheaper version of Young Living's Thieves blend. I'm not really a oil snob and I have to stay within a budget so this is a more affordable option for me and the truth is, if I'm cleaning up a super heavy duty mess, like say raw chicken or eggs, I'm using bleach anyway.
However, when it comes to the daily wipe down of my kitchen counters, stovetop and bathroom surfaces I just mix a few drops of that germ fighting blend (which includes lemon, clove bud and eucalyptus oils) with a cup of warm water and spray everything down before wiping it away with a microfiber cloth. The scent immediately dissipates any lingering cooking odors and gives our home a nice fresh feeling to star the day.
If you have stone countertops or surfaces make sure to check first to see if essential oils are safe to use on them.
If You Have Pets
The stinkiest odor culprits are definitely our furry crew. With two cats and a large dog whose technically still a puppy (and getting into smelly puppy situations), I've got my work cut out for me. If I smell something suspicious, here's where I investigate first.
The Litter Box
This is the most obvious culprit, of course. But even if you've just scooped the litter, you might still be dealing with lingering odors, especially if you haven't rinsed out the box in a while. Or, you know, ever. Not the most pleasant job, here's what you need to properly clean and sanitize a litter box so you can get rid of that nasty bacteria stinking up your house:
- Heavy duty trash bag
- Gentle (bleach-free) cleansing spray that won't negatively interact with cat urine (I use Mrs. Meyers but most Method products at Target are also good for this job)
- A litter scoop if you don't already have one
- A roll of paper towels
- Rubber gloves
- A garden hose, utility sink, or something like that
Cleaning the Box
- Put on your rubber gloves because, ew.
- Get your heavy duty trash bag ready by placing it in a trash can or having a friend (someone who will love you no matter what) hold the bag open.
- Dump the contents of the litter box into the trash bag.
- Use the scoop to scrape anything left in there, especially that caked on little and pee that's stuck to the sides of the box into the bag.
- Once you have your box completely emptied, spray or rinse it down with hot water to remove and urine that's still clinging to the box.
- Dry box with paper towels.
- Spray box down with your cleansing spray. This'll lift any lingering odors and help you to scrub the box down with your remaining paper towels.
- Dry box and refill with litter.
Anywhere Your Pet Sleeps
For you, that might be a nice little dog bed and blanket that you can just run through the wash on weekends. For me, it's the couch because my dog eats every bed I buy her, and since I have upholstered couches that soak in odors she stinks them up. Ideally, the best way to get rid of trapped pet odors in your furniture is to have all genuine-leather furniture.
But for those of us not able to drop five grand on a new living room setup, an upholstery cleaner will have to do. I use this one to clean my couch, love seat and upholstered glider once every season. To get the most out of it I:
- Fill the cleaning tank with hot, not cold water
- Use a special pet-odor formula within the machine
- Set a fan up to dry the furniture after I've cleaned it so nothing gets mildewed
I also have slipcovers on both sofas that I can pull off and throw in the wash every other week to keep smells at bay. It's kind of a production but since I live in a small space and like to have people over, I don't want my house reeking of pets as soon as they walk in.
If you have pets, there's a good chance you have pet stains somewhere. Thank goodness, my cat has stopped peeing in weird places since we moved into our condo, but sometimes when he's peeing, it leaks out of the seam in our litter box, onto the tile in the utility room. If you have cat pee underneath or next to your litter box it might be reeking up your space without you even noticing.
Lift that thing up and see what the status is. If you need to get fresh or old cat urine out of a rug or carpet here's how. But, if it's just in tile or something similar, you should be able to use paper towels to wipe up the mess and a gentle cleanser, like the Mrs. Meyers I mentioned earlier to clean up the mess. To prevent further stains set the litter box on top of a large plastic trash bag or two.
Dirty Pet Dishes and Mats
Ever noticed a funky fish-tank like smell in your kitchen, mudroom or wherever it is you keep the pet dishes? That could be a build up of mildew and bacteria on your pet's dishes and dish mat.
Cleaning Pet Dishes
To clean the dishes, throw them in the dishwasher with a bleach-based detergent or soak them in the sink with a capful of bleach, then scrub and rinse thoroughly. If there's a lip on the dish (like on the non-skid ones) you'll have to get in those crevices to really scrape out the gunk.
Cleaning Pet Mats
As for the dish mat, toss those waterproof mats—they're hard to clean anyway—and use a fabric placemat or dish towel instead so you can throw it in the wash regularly. Plus, it's easier to tell when those get damp. While those are washing, make sure to wipe the floor where the mat was to get rid of any lingering bacteria which can cause bad odors.
This should be obvious but honestly, I forget sometimes that the easiest way to keep my pets from stinking up every square foot of our house is just to bathe them. When it comes to the cats, this just means a quick brushing followed by a mist of pet spray.
But for my dog, I have to give her a deep clean. Not only is she you know, a dog, but she's also a mop and the catcher of most cups of spilled milk and bowls of shredded cheese. Thinks get gnarly.
Besides getting her groomed every couple of months, I bathe her in our walk-in shower with a dog-friendly shampoo and blow dry her afterwards so she won't spread that damp dog smell.
Use These Things to Eliminate Pet Odors
|Incense||Litter Powder||Fabric Refresher|
Yes! Whenever I've finished scooping my cat's litter box I light an incense to help clear the air of the urine smell. I don't know the magic behind it, all I know is that it works! Not a fan of smoke? Try a lavender or vanilla scented incense instead of a more complicated scent so it'll wear off quickly.
I use the Arm&Hammer brand litter box powder. Sprinkle a little in the box each morning and it'll mask heavy smells until you can get in there to scoop it.
If you don't have time to deep clean your couches or anywhere else your pets decide to make their own, use a fabric refresher to mask the scent until you can. I like Febreeze products for this, but if you want to go more natural mix a few drops of tea tree oil with water and spritz over the affected fabric.
Things to Clean Regularly to Keep Odors From Building Up
I mentioned I live in 1200 square feet right? While it's not exactly a tiny house, there isn't exactly a ton of space to hide—or get away from—bad smells. That means I've gotten pretty good and tracking down and getting rid of them. Here's what I clean regularly to keep my house smelling acceptable.
In the Bathroom
This is the first place we're going to look, right?! Clean these things in your bathroom to freshen up the most popular room in the house:
- The laundry hamper. If it's spilling over with clothes it's probably also spilling over with your whole family's combined body odor, potty training accidents and mysterious food stains. Set aside a couple of hours to work your way through the catastrophe and use a special odor-eliminating powder or detergent if you've got a some mildewed stuff in there. My daughters are still at that age where sometimes there's accidents on the way to the bathroom and milk and ice cream festers in their clothes all week before laundry day, so I use one of these on my daughters' laundry loads and make sure to run the machine hot to get all of the stink out of their wardrobe.
- The bath rugs, shower curtain and liner. That stuff gets ripe with mildew, even if you can't see it! Once every week or so, strip your bathroom of these things and throw them in the wash with one of those laundry paks I use for my kids' clothing. Between showers, spray it all down with a tea tree based spray (here's a homemade one) to keep mildew and bacteria at bay.
- The trash bin. You already know that you need to wipe down the sink and toilet but it's definitely a good idea to hit that trash bin too, especially if you're using grocery bags that tear easily to line it. Check for leaky liquid and whatnot before wiping the whole thing down with a sanitizing wipe.
- The exhaust fan. Look up and make sure the exhaust fan isn't clogged with lint. If it is, it won't work properly, making it hard to dehumidify your bathroom and leaving a chance for mildew and mold to grow and stink the place up. If it's looking suspicious, turn it off, grab your vacuum and a wand extension and suck up anything that's clogging it.
- The walls. If you have tiled bathroom walls, you probably already clean them on the regular, but if you have good ol' drywall in there like me, you might be neglecting to wipe 'em down. I don't know about you, but mine start to hold mildew odors if I don't clean them top to bottom. To do this, I use my floor mop, as if I'm painting along with a tea tree based spray to wipe away bad smells.
In the Kitchen
Is your kitchen holding some odd scents even after you've changed the trash, inspected under the sink and cleaned your garbage disposal? Here's four other things to clean:
- Your pantry. Unfortunately I always believe I'm a pioneer woman and that I need like 20 pounds of potatoes and onions. Then, three weeks later, that stuff is rotting in my pantry with what I imagine to be similar to the smell of death. Toss old root vegetables and wipe down the shelves and floor with a sanitizing wipe to get rid of any lingering bacteria that could be stinking up your kitchen.
- The fruit bowl. Likewise, fruit rots pretty quickly too. I should have thought of this before asking for a $100 3-tier fruit stand for my birthday. If you get a whiff of oh-hell-no every time you walk past your counter, dig (carefully) for moldy oranges and fermenting apples.
- The microwave. I can't be the only one with cheese caked in there. Microwave a mug of equal parts white vinegar and water for 2 minutes then use a microfiber cloth to wipe away the softened bits of leftover lasagna and lentil soup.
- The oven. It may not stink when you're right in front of it but turn on a dirty oven and you'll suddenly remember that your forgot to clean it out. Again. I use a microfiber cloth, white vinegar and table salt (as an abrasive) to wipe mine out after holiday bake-a-thons.
Around the House
Never underestimate the power of fresh air. Whether it's the dead of winter or the dog days of summer, opening up all of your windows to get a cross breeze going during the most comfortable part of the day, even if it's just for five minutes will do a lot to cleanse your home of stinky smells. Here's some other stuff you can clean if you're on a roll:
- Curtains. Like couches and rugs, curtains soak up all of the food odors that build up. Slide them down and throw them in the wash to quickly freshen up your home.
- Throw pillows. Again, fabric. Soaks in odors. Wash these regularly or at least wipe them down with a disinfecting wipe every couple of weeks.
- Bedding. Noticing a certain staleness in the air? Bet it's your bedding. Here's how and how often to wash it.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Kierstin Gunsberg
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on March 16, 2020:
Excellent article. Nice tips.
Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on April 16, 2019:
Great tips. For me, the waste bin is the worst especially during summer. So I don´t really wait until it is full. Thanks for sharing.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 15, 2019:
Excellent tips! I have three indoor cats. Adding straight baking soda to the litter box is one way to cut down on odors. I use Scoop Away for Multiple Cats. I find it to be the best at fighting stinky business.
I'll have to keep your tea tree oil tips in minds. I don't use bleach because we're on septic. Bleach kills the good bacteria in the tank. I also prefer to use chemical-free products in my home. Tea tree oil seems like a great alternative.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on April 12, 2019:
We have two furry babies (well, old ones) that love THEIR upholstered couches. You're right, the leather ones we also have are the best and I will never, ever get upholstered ones again.
Love the helpful humor!
Robie Benve from Ohio on April 12, 2019:
Great tips! For me the worst is usually is the waste basket (quick fix though) and yes, that oven right after it becomes hot when I need to bake something, I remember it needed cleaning, lol.