Artist, blogger, freelance writer. Experiences include art, DIY, gardening, storm-spotting, caregiving, farming, reading, and kid wranglin'.
Help! My House Smells Bad!
Want to know some quick, guaranteed ways to make your home smell good? Keeping your home fragrant and fresh requires dedication, but sometimes you need a quick fix.
Maybe unexpected company announced they will be over within the hour, and your house smells stale. Or worse, it smells like the ghosts of yesterday's fried bacon (or onions!).
If you spend a lot of time in your house, then it's easy to become accustomed to the funky odors that outsiders might detect right away. The good news is you can eliminate those pretty quickly, and it doesn't cost very much.
12 Ways to Make Your Home Smell Fabulous Now
- Air it out! It's a scientific fact that old air and new air hate each other, and new air will always win.
- Eliminate the stinky culprits. Tackle the smell at its source.
- Burn, spray, and smoke out the smell. Candles, air sprays, incenses, and plug-ins are excellent weapons.
- Cook something delicious. The smell of fresh-baked bread will conquer any bad smells in your home.
- Carpet freshener is your friend. See my DIY natural recipe below.
- Make a potpourri out of things you already have at home (read on for suggestions!)
- Do a quick wipe-down with a great-smelling household cleaner. Even if you don't have time to clean your entire home, you can give guests that impression.
- Let your washing machine do all the work because one of the most wonderful smells in the world is freshly laundered clothes.
- Use cotton ball perfume bombs. Scatter your home with these little whiffs of pleasure (see how below).
- Candle warmers are magical. Just about any liquid that smells good will smell even better when it is heated.
- Fabric refreshers are on your side. I'll show you how to make your own for pennies.
- DIY furniture polish: A little goes a long way!
1. Air It All Out
The best way to get the old, musty air to move out is to open the windows and let clean, fresh air come in. It's a scientific fact that old air and new air hate each other, and new air will always win.
For best results, open windows in multiple rooms to get a cross-breeze. No wind blowing outside? That's okay. Turn on your ceiling fans and place box fans or desk fans near the windows to draw in fresh air.
This might not be practical if it is very cold outside, but even a few minutes can really help the rooms smell clean. If you just want to impress a few guests, try airing out the rooms they are most likely to visit if it is too chilly outside for opening all the windows.
2. Eliminate the Culprits
A bit more time-consuming, but you won't be free of the yucky smells until you've tackled the source. Sometimes, this can take a bit of sleuthing. Some of the culprits:
- Stinky pet beds/homes
- Gunky garbage disposal
- Unclean upholstery
- Damp laundry
- Ancient leftovers in the fridge
- Ruined produce
- Mildewed bathroom corners or windowsills
- Neglected oven or microwave
- Kitchen and bathroom sink drains
- Untended trash cans/diaper pails
- Dirty throw rugs
- Musty pillows
- Really dusty places
It's no joke—dust stinks! What can you expect from something that is made primarily of decomposing skin cells? To help cut down on dust in your home, try decluttering before you start deep-cleaning. It's much easier to keep clean, clutter-free surfaces dust-free and smelling nice!
Speaking of decomposition, if you notice a particularly rotten stench, you might want to look into corners and behind furniture for dead insects. Deceased crickets and large spiders can really reek.
Sources of Home Odors and Their Solutions
|Smelly Area||Chemical Cleaner||Natural or Homemade|
Pet odor neutralizing spray
Scented carpet powders/Febreeze
Baking soda, borax, baby powder
Hot vinegar or lemon juice+baking soda
Tea tree oil
Rooms in general
air freshener spray, potpourri
Essential oils, dryer sheets, homemade potpourri
Mattresses and pillows
Homemade fabric refresher, diluted Lysol or other cleaner
3. Burn, Spray, and Smoke Out the Smell
Candles, air sprays, incenses, or plug-ins are excellent weapons against bad smells. These products are the strong and fast way to bring some lovely fragrances into your home. However, to keep from being stifled by too much perfume, it is best to make sure all the scents are the same, or at least complementary. Too many different fragrances and your home will smell like a potpourri factory.
Note: Don't use them in the kitchen while you are cooking. Some smells just do not go well together, and it may be more repulsive to your guests to smell onions mixed with fruity potpourri, floral airspray, and soapy candles than to just smell the onions themselves.
4. Cook Something Delicious
Speaking of onions, not all food smells are bad. In fact, I have a friend who uses onions to her advantage. She fries an onion up before family gatherings, so everyone is greeted at the door with the delicious smell of fresh, home-cooked food. (The trick here is that food smells are great when they are fresh, not stale.)
Steer clear of heavy, greasy smells like garlic or bacon, but consider baking bread, sautéeing a pan of fresh rosemary, sticking some cinnamon sticks in the slow cooker, or mulling some wine. Bake up a batch of cookies or banana bread and that warm, sweet goodness will prevail over everything else.
5. Sprinkle Carpet Freshener Liberally
You can make your own carpet freshener or use a store-bought version. Either way, sprinkling the carpet and then giving it a quick vacuum can make a big difference in only a few minutes.
If you have light colored carpet, you can even get by with leaving the powder underfoot—just sweep it into the fibers for longer-lasting deodorizing. A huge plus to this is that when you vacuum up carpet fresheners, your vacuum cleaner will smell good, too.
If you don't have any carpet refresher on hand and there's no time to make some, a quick sprinkle with baby powder works well, too, but I would not recommend it for darker carpets, especially if you are in a hurry. It can take a while to vacuum it up entirely, but the light, sweet scent is oh-so-worth the trouble.
6. Make Your Own Potpourri
This is super-easy. You don't even need to dry any flowers. All you have to do is boil a pan of water on the stove and add items that smell great, like orange peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and essential oil.
You can mix and match for the perfect scent. The steam will carry the smell throughout the house.
If you need something even stronger, try filling the bathtub halfway with hot water and adding a few drops of scented oil. You could even use a yummy shampoo.
7. Do a Quick Wipe-Down With a Household Cleaner
I recently discovered citrus-scented Lysol. It smells wonderful! I keep some diluted in a spray bottle and use it whenever I need a clean smell in a hurry (or whenever I need to sanitize something).
Since you can wipe just about anything with Lysol, it's easy to go over furniture, tables, the fridge, the counters, and other un-fresh places in those few minutes before guests arrive. You can also add some to your toilet bowls, and the scent will quickly fill your bathroom.
My all time favorite cleaner is regular Pine-Sol. I keep it diluted in a spray bottle to use as both a cleaner and a room deodorizer. I love the way it makes the house smell almost outdoor-sy after it has dried. Perfect if you don't like heavy, floral or fruity scents.
8. Let Your Washing Machine Do All the Work
One of the most wonderful smells in the world is freshly laundered clothes. Except, for some reason, it always smells better at other people's houses.
Although science hasn't solved that mystery, it works to your advantage. If you need the house to smell good quickly, go start a load of laundry. Unless you are one of those people who avoids laundry at all costs, you should have enough items lying around to at least tumble a small load. (With a scented dryer sheet, of course!)
You can also use scented dryer sheets instead of cotton balls to tuck around the house. Tucking one into a sunny window can make the whole room smell as clean and fresh as your laundry room, too.
9. Use Cotton Ball Perfume Bombs
This is an old trick, but it really works to make your house smell good. Soak cotton balls in your favorite scented oil or cologne and tuck them around the house, out of sight:
- Between cushions
- In silk flower arrangements
- Behind furniture
- In the A/C panel
- In your vacuum canister
These are little whiffs of pleasure to be encountered by anyone who roams around your home. Just don't forget where you hid them all.
10. Candle Warmers Are Magical
If you don't know what a candle warmer is (aka a candle burner or candle plate), you have been missing out. This little gadget heats jar candles slowly, making the candle last longer and the fragrance smell stronger.
But don't stop with candles! Save those empty candle jars and use them to make your own potpourri. I've used them to heat a lot of different concoctions on my candle warmer:
- A favorite shampoo
- Fabric softener
- A favorite cleaner (Mr. Clean with Gain, yum!)
- Essential oils
- Febreze (diluted)
As far as I know, just about any liquid that smells good will smell even better when it is heated. This is safer and more efficient than leaving the stove on for hours to boil potpourri, too.
It's a cheat, but a good cheat. Heating a cleaning mixture (dilute it first, trust me!) can make it seem like you've been slaving away all day over a hot mop.
Candle warmers are cheap too so you can have several working at once to help make you seem like the domestic goddess (or god) that you know you really are.
11. Fabric Refresher Is On Your Side
You can use Febreze brand (or generic alternatives) to take the stink out of furniture, carpets, and curtains. The result is a fresh (rather than perfumy) scent.
Another great trick I have used is to lightly spritz fabrics with a bottle of diluted Lysol. Whereas Febreze temporarily masks scents, Lysol kills the germs and bacteria causing the odors, so it lasts a lot longer. The kind I use leaves the sofa smelling faintly of oranges.
If you want something a little more clean or soapy-smelling, you can make your own fabric refresher by diluting some fabric softener in water. Homemade Febreze for just a few pennies? Life can't better than that!
12. DIY Furniture Polish
To me, most furniture polish brands get smelly after they've sat on the furniture for a couple of hours. Recently I've been making my own.
If you have a lot of wooden surfaces, you can try this, too. Take a carrier oil (such as olive oil) and add a drop or two of essential oil and a little vinegar.
Use just a bit for dusting and polishing. It will cut through fingerprints and dust, shine up the wood, and leave behind whichever scent you chose to add. (I tend to go for clove and lavender because they last a long time.)
Think of it as getting two jobs done at once: You are removing that stinky dust and replacing it with a much more inviting perfume.
The Smell of Home
Keep On Top of Household Odors and Always Have a Home That Smells Great!
Most of these "solutions" are quick fixes for semi-emergency situations. Like when your mother-in-law decides to do a home inspection, or you want to impress that date who is coming to pick you up in an hour.
For long-term good smell, you really do have to keep the odors from starting in the first place. See option two above for places that need daily or weekly attention to prevent a build-up of horrific, hair-curling stench. And don't forget to air your house out regularly. It is good for you, your house, and your future guests.
© 2014 Jayme Kinsey
Fin from Barstow on November 18, 2019:
Some good advice and i like the table with the chemical and the natural options.
I think lemon works very well. I'm not sure about boiling peels in water or the DIY furniture polish, but I may give it a try.
Debbie Capps on August 30, 2019:
love all of the ideas! since I have 2 dogs and a cat I am always concerned with any smell. One thing I read was the garbage disposal. I was always fighting that one. then my mom gave me the perfect recepie. whenever dishes are done we always take a cup of icecubes from the freezer and drop a bit of pinesol on them before dumping them in the disposal and run it. the ice cleans up any gunk left in there and the few drops of pinesol makes it always smell fresh and clean. I always sprinkle a bit of baking soda on fresh vaccumed pet beds too. also in the cat litter so it doesnt get too bad.
Eric on January 15, 2018:
An excellent way to clean your garbage disposal is to use a toilet brush on it. My disposal was smelly and I found a thick coating of gunk stuck to the interior. I scrubbed it with my toilet brush and it was squeaky clean. I've found I need to do this about every three months.
Leslie6654@yahoo.com on September 08, 2017:
I do Fabuloso on the stove too ! Great fast fix!
Joann on July 28, 2017:
Buy some plugins and then put them all over the house and open one and sprinkler all over the house all over on even outside the house by the front door and it smells so nice really don't last that long but it helps I even you can put some in a pot on the stove and boil it and it makes the house smell real nice
Yvonne on March 02, 2017:
Great ideas. I also use diluted fabuloso in a pot on the stove burning on low for about 20 min at a time throughout the day. Great for getting rid of stale cig smoke smell.
JR Krishna from India on August 22, 2015:
I use scented candles. When we sit behind closed doors, we don't actually realize the bad smell.
One of my friends suggested that candles without scent also help in removing bad smell especially the smell after cleaning fish.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 15, 2015:
Very useful. I love the scented dryer sheets tip for the windows, though I have only doors and only one window and door in front of my apartment. Would that work as well? Voted up!
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on November 10, 2014:
These are all wonderful tips!
Laura Schneider from Minnesota, USA on November 02, 2014:
You're my hero! I got so many great ideas out of your article I can't count them! I love all of your home-made solutions to stench and look forward to trying them. Here's one that I've used in the past: turn on the bread maker and enjoy hours of homey goodness smells. Thanks again for your great ideas!! My dog and I might finally declare peace, or at least a truce :-) .
Shasta Matova from USA on November 02, 2014:
Each home does have a distinctive odor and I have tried to make sure that the odor in my home is a good one, but I'm not sure I always succeed. I have an "odor day" at my house, where instead of random cleaning, I clean things that might be causing an odor. This means cleaning out the refrigerator, taking out all the trash, changing bedsheets, washing dishes and doing all laundry. I hadn't thought about dust as being the cause of odor, but yes, you're right. And books and paper tends to get musty too.
You're provided a great list of tips on making the house smell good.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on November 01, 2014:
One of my children gave me a candle warmer last Christmas, and I love to melt cinnamon scented candles I buy at the candle store.
I love the way Pinesol makes my house smell, too. I think we all get accustomed to our own house's smell and don't notice the smell as much as guests would.
Great Hub, voted UP, etc. and shared.
Fiddleman on November 01, 2014:
Great hub and wonddrful common sense suggestions. The house always smeels good with those aromatic candles and a good mopping with pinesol. Taking out the garbage and keeping short accounts with the laundry hamper help. Nothing like opening a window or two to let in fresh air.
Pollyanna Jones from United Kingdom on November 01, 2014:
In England, we have something called "Cooks Candles"; they come in a little tin and are to an old formula that neutralises strong smells from cooking. They were a godsend when I was suffering from morning sickness too! I make sure our windows are opened at least an inch each day, to circulate the air. Can't beat it to freshen up the house.
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on November 01, 2014:
Opening the windows for a good air out is the best way to get rid of stale household smells. Even on a bright winter day, I turn down the heat and open up. But I find evenings can be the worst. After preparing a delicious dinner which often includes sauteed onions and other things that smell great when cooking and eating, I find that afterwards, it stinks to high heavens. The old cooking odors wind their way up the steps and right into my bedroom.
Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on October 31, 2014:
Gee, Jayme, I'd never heard of candle warmers. Thanks! But putting a tensy-tiny drop of your favorite essential oil on the bulb of a lamp (before turning it on!) will serve the same purpose in a pinch. I've also just wet a clean bath towel and thrown it into a dryer with a fabric softener sheet to get that "fresh laundry" smell in a hurry.
Great tips! Upped and shared! ;D
MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose from Washington State on October 23, 2014:
Airing it out is my favorite choice and using lots of great candles with awesome scents.
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on October 23, 2014:
Thanks! Love these ideas. ..especially the cotton ball. Bombs.
Anna from chichester on October 22, 2014:
Excellent tips! Certainly for any household with pets these are really handy to have read!
Karen Kay from Jackson, MS on October 21, 2014:
Wow these are awesome tips! I am kind of paranoid about how our house might smell to guests, since we get used to the way it smells.... and we have cats! I am definitely using some of these.
Tanya Jones from Texas USA on October 21, 2014:
Great hub. Some wonderful ideas. I've been looking for a way to scent my apartment. Incense doesn't work. I want the scents to hang around for a while.
Snakesmum on October 21, 2014:
Love the idea of cotton ball perfume bombs! Just got to try that one. You have some really good ideas here, and sometimes the cat smell gets a bit much, not to mention the cooking aromas. Thanks for the tips.
Country Sunshine from Texas on October 21, 2014:
I keep my windows open as much as possible, as I like the smell of fresh air. I hadn't thought of using diluted Lysol, but think I'll keep some handy in a spray bottle. Good tips!
Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on October 21, 2014:
Good suggestions. I do many of these, but opening the window is my favorite. (Or cleaning). :)
Marina from Clarksville TN on October 16, 2014:
Yesterday I did smell my laundry and I was thinking maybe I just don't put enough of the detergent in. My husband uses more I think so it did smell good.
FlourishAnyway from USA on October 16, 2014:
So many of us are nose blind that we should probably do these things anyway, even if we believe our house already smells good.
Lori Colbo from United States on October 15, 2014:
sheilamyers on October 14, 2014:
Sharkye: Thanks for the additional information and advice. I'll do some research before using anything.
Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on October 14, 2014:
So many good ideas for an instantly fresh-smelling room here. Realtors promote the use of the cinnamon spice mixture on the stove (or warming device) for a homey smell during open houses. I like the open the windows idea and running a load of laundry. Sometimes I pour bleach in the corners of the tiled shower and I'm amazed at how the clean scent permeates the entire house. As a bonus, it kills that pesky mold that tends to find damp places like the tub. Up and interesting.
oldiesmusic from United States on October 14, 2014:
Nothing feels worse than a stinky room especially that my nose is so sensitive. I do my own efforts to make my house smelling fresh, but I thank you for additional tips. They're very helpful for me.
Marina from Clarksville TN on October 14, 2014:
The same with me Sharkye11. I can smell how great other people's laundry smells and not mine!! My daughter always comments how other people's laundry smells better than ours. Yes the senses getting used to a smell can be so frustrating!! :-)
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on October 13, 2014:
@Sheila -- I'm not sure. I would probably research it or call a vet just to be safe. I used Febreze with my cat and she was never sick, but she also never licked anything but her food bowl and her fur, and she never got on the upholstered furniture.
As for Lysol, I've diluted it for years as a cleaning solution. We used it on the farm and it was fine for animals, and we used it in both the nursing homes where I worked and at the children's museum. I think animals (or kids) would have to consume quite a bit for it to be toxic, and the taste would probably stop them from drinking that much.
But I would recommend asking a vet, if you are really worried, or if you have pets that are more likely to lick. The fabric softener solution might not be a good idea in that case, but the Lysol would probably be okay, or water with a drop or two of essential oil.
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on October 13, 2014:
@Marina -- I guess so. Its funny how it happens though. It seems like I wouldn't be able to smell laundry at my mother's house, since we use the same soap, but I can. To me, my own clothes just smell like water, and a faint trace of the dryer sheets. But other people comment on how nice they smell, so I guess I'm doing something right!
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on October 13, 2014:
@Bill--Yep, houses with pets can be a bit smelly at times. I learned most of these tricks because we had the cat, and the house is small...so it seemed like the litter box was in every room! We also had a pretty funky turtled at that time, too. Hope some of these work for you! Thanks for reading!
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on October 13, 2014:
Nothing like a clean-smelling house. I like the natural way of running a lemon, orange, or lime peel through the garbage disposal to remove odor and make it smell like citrus. Also, there is a type of lamp one can buy that has an odor eliminator built in. It uses a fragrant oil of one's choice, and doesn't just mask odors. I have one, and I'm ashamed that I can't remember the name of it. Very good hub.
sheilamyers on October 13, 2014:
These are some great tips. Some I've heard about; others I haven't. I'll have to try the homemade fabric freshener; however, I do have a question about it. I've never used Frebreze or any of the others because I'm paranoid my cats will lick it and get sick. I've always heard that if Lysol is diluted enough, it's safe for children. Is the same true for pets or should I check the internet for more information about it?
Marina from Clarksville TN on October 13, 2014:
I think the reason why it smells better at other people's homes, the laundry, is that at our own home we get used to the smell and then don't smell it.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 13, 2014:
Thank you for the ideas. With two dogs and a cat, we need this.
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on October 13, 2014:
Thank you, prairieprincess! I got the idea for the laundry because my mother's house always smells SO GOOD. And even though I use the same soap, dryer sheets, etc., I could swear my laundry has no nice smell. But other people walk in and comment on it, so I always use it is as a super-fast way to make everything clean-smelling if unexpected guests drop in!
And I love my candle warmers! I had two, but one finally just fell apart on me. I will have to replace it--its indispensable! Hope it works for you too!
Sharilee Swaity from Canada on October 13, 2014:
Hi Sharkeye! This is a great article and it deserves more comments, but I am honoured to be the first one. You did give me a new idea: the candle warmer, and I hadn't thought of doing laundry for the smell but you are right ... it does smell good! Have a great day. Pinning this one!