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Things to Clean to Make Your House Smell Better

Kierstin lives in a 1200-square-foot home with two kids, a cat, and a stinky golden doodle.

Is your house sometimes stinky? Learn how to improve the smell in every room!

Is your house sometimes stinky? Learn how to improve the smell in every room!

Why Does My House Stink?!

You're not a total slob, and neither am I. We both know that we need to clean out the fridge before leaving for a long weekend and to wipe up spilt milk from under the kitchen table. So how does the stink still build up even with regular cleaning? Because bacteria! And mold! And food smells!

Where Odors Hide

Here's where the smells all hide:

  • The laundry hamper
  • The pet's food and water dishes
  • Upholstered furniture, rugs, carpet and other soft surfaces (like bedding, pillows and curtains)
  • Inside your kitchen appliances

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.

Bathroom textiles harbor bacteria and mildew that make your home stink.

Bathroom textiles harbor bacteria and mildew that make your home stink.

The Bathroom

This is the first place you went sniffing for clues, right? Besides keeping your toilet, shower, and sinks scrubbed on the regular, here's some other stuff that might be making your bathroom a hub for household odor.

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 some mildewed stuff in there.

What You Need

  • If you don't already have one, get a multi-unit laundry sorter so you can organize your loads without creating piles on the floor. If you do have one, throw the fabric part in the wash, too, since that absorbs stink.
  • An odor-blasting laundry pod. My daughters are still at that age where sometimes there are accidents on the way to the bathroom, and milk and ice cream festers in their clothes all week before laundry day. 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 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.

What You Need

  • A tea tree–based cleaner (Dr. Bronner's castille soap in tea tree is great for this).
  • A floor mop (or microfiber cleaning cloths). I use my floor mop as if I'm painting, along with a tea tree–based cleaner to wipe away bad smells.
Remember that hampers and baskets made of fabric can also trap the odor of the clothes you throw in them.

Remember that hampers and baskets made of fabric can also trap the odor of the clothes you throw in them.

The Bath Rugs, Shower Curtain, and Liner

That stuff gets ripe with mildew, even if you can't see it!

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What You Need

  • Odor-blasting laundry pods. Once every week or so, strip your bathroom (yes, even the shower liner) and throw everything in the wash with an odor- and mildew-blasting laundry pod.
  • A mildew-fighting spray. 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.

What You Need

  • A sanitizing wipe or spray
  • A stainless steel trash can that absorbs less odor (optional—consider buying one)

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.

What You Need

  • A vacuum with an extendable wand
  • A microfiber cloth for getting in any crevices the vacuum misses
Food smells lurk everywhere in the kitchen.

Food smells lurk everywhere in the kitchen.

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 are four other things to clean and how to clean 'em!

The 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. 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.

What You Need

  • A trash bag (or composter if that's more your style)
  • A vacuum or broom and dustpan to get rid of any onion skins, potato dirt, or errant mini-marshmallows shriveling up in the corner of your pantry
  • Sanitizing wipes to kill the odor-causing bacteria
  • A solid air freshener to clear the air and prevent bad-smell buildup; I like Citrus Magic because it still keeps my kitchen and pantry area smelling like, well, food. But refreshing.

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 you forgot to clean it out.

What You Need

  • A microfiber cloth
  • White vinegar and table salt. I use a mixture of these two ingredients as an abrasive to wipe my oven out after holiday bake-a-thons.

The Microwave

I can't be the only one with cheese splattered 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. While you're at it, pull the ring and rotating microwave dish components from inside and give them a scrub down in your sink to get at all of the little crevices.

What You Need

  • A microwave safe mug or bowl
  • White vinegar
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths - I use these ones to clean my kitchen since the don't look stained even after destroying the caked on sloppy-joe leftovers in my microwave.
White vinegar is an excellent and effective all-purpose cleaner for around the house. Just dillute it with water and you're good to go!

White vinegar is an excellent and effective all-purpose cleaner for around the house. Just dillute it with water and you're good to go!

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.

What You Need

  • Trash bag or composter to throw the rotting produce into.
  • Sanitizing wipes to wipe up any leaks from the countertop around your rotting fruit.
  • A new fruit bowl (there's a good chance that if your fruit rots quicker than you can eat it, your produce isn't getting enough airflow - replace solid bowls with a pretty metal collander or a tiered fruit basket.)
Fabrics trap odors all over your house.

Fabrics trap odors all over your house.

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:

Your Bedding

Noticing a certain staleness in the air? Bet it's your bedding. Here's how and how often to wash it.

What You Need

  • Laundry detergent
  • Bleach (for your pillows)
  • Stain remover

The Curtains

You probably don't think about your curtains often but they're just hanging out there absorbing all of your shrimp stir fry and Saturday morning bacon aromas. Slide them off their rod every once in a while, toss them in the wash on a gentle cycle and hang back up to dry.

What You Need

  • A gentle laundry detergent
  • Room or fabric refresher to lightly mist over your curtains as they dry. I like Mrs. Meyers Honeysuckle, it gives our home a clean, sweet smell.

Throw Pillows

Again, fabric. Soaks in odors. Wash these regularly or at least wipe them down with a disinfecting wipe every couple of weeks.

What You Need

  • An odor blasting laundry pod
  • Wool dryer balls - I like putting these into the dryer with my couch and bed pillows because they help keep them fluffed and wick away moisture, making my pillows dry quicker while reducing the liklihood of mold.

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 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.

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