Home Ownership

How to Get Rid of Common Household Smells

Whether it’s musty, dusty or downright funky, nobody likes to live in or visit a home that smells bad. 

Unfortunately, odors have a knack for seeping into places, and they can be really hard to get out. New homeowners struggle to eliminate the smells left behind by the old homeowner’s pets, showers start to stink hopelessly of mildew over time, and “boy moms” everywhere struggle to eliminate the odor from dirty socks and old shoes in every room.

Candles, incense, essential oil diffusers and electric deodorizers can mask the smells – but they won’t eliminate them. Chemical cleaning agents may or may not help, and can quickly become noxious. Usually, either of these options just has you trading one overpowering scent for another – and that’s not helpful in the long run.

So, what can you do? Here are some tips that should help you banish some of the most common unpleasant household odors for good:

The Bad Smell Is Coming From the Sink or Dishwasher

Something smells outright rotten every time you walk into the kitchen. You’ve cleaned your cupboards and the fridge – and even washed the trash can – but you still keep catching that distinctly unpleasant odor. You just can’t place the source.

It’s probably your sink or your dishwasher. Drains in both tend to collect little bits of food in their filters. As those particles break down and start to rot, bacteria will develop – and so will a pretty awful smell. 

You can defeat this odor pretty easily: Clean all filters and traps with hot water, then pour hot water and white vinegar down the pipes. If it’s the dishwasher, add a couple of cups of white vinegar to the drum and run the hot water cycle. 

The Closets, the Hallway or the Drawers in the Furniture Smell Musty

Any dark, closed space in your home can develop a certain musty, musky smell over time that’s not particularly wholesome. Worse – anything you store there can eventually pick up the same scent, including your clothes.

Whether it’s a hall closet that doesn’t get much use or an antique chest that just smells dusty and old, you can take the same approach: Mix about one-half cup of baking soda with a quart of warm water, and wipe everything down to almost instantly banish that smell. 

To keep the odor away for good, add a few drops of white vinegar to some crumpled tissue paper and tuck it inside whatever space you want to keep fresh. If you want a sweet, compelling scent to replace the old, you can use a few drops of vanilla on the paper instead. (Just remember to occasionally replace the tissue paper for long-lasting freshness.)

There’s a Mildew Smell in the Bathroom or Mud Room

Damp spaces are a magnet for mold spores – so bathrooms and mud rooms tend to end up with mildew pretty fast. (Even when you can’t see it, you may smell it!) 

Once again, soap, water and white vinegar are your best friends in this process: 

  • Pull everything that can be moved out of the space that needs to be cleaned and wipe down any non-porous objects with soapy water and a sponge.
  • Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar and spray all tiled areas, including floor tiles and showers. Let sit for about an hour.
  • Use a soft scrub brush or cloth to wipe off the vinegar and any mildew or mold spores that may be hiding.

If this is only a one-time issue or an occasional problem, you may not have any reason to be concerned. If it’s a chronic problem, however, you may need to get a professional take on your ventilation system. Poor ventilation in bathrooms and mud rooms can allow moisture to build up and lead to additional problems.

It’s Really the Whole House that Smells Bad

If your entire home seems to have developed a lingering odor that you can’t really place, you probably need to do a deep clean. This is particularly likely if you’re a new owner and it still smells like the old owner is living there – or an ex-smoker who is trying to eliminate the residue of the past.

You’ll need to roll up your sleeves and pull out all the stops for this one because the problem is likely tiny molecules that are embedded in fabrics and clinging to the walls. This means:

  • Strip rooms bare of blankets, pillows, curtains and rugs and wash them all with hot water.
  • Add a little dish soap to a bucket of warm water and wipe down the walls, doors, window frames and baseboards.
  • Rent a carpet cleaner and deep clean carpets, bigger rugs and upholstered furniture and mattresses.
  • Tile floors can easily be cleaned with a combo of warm water and white vinegar, but you need to look to professional sources if you’re tackling wood.

Granted, this is a lot of work – so nobody will blame you if you hire a cleaning service to handle the job for you. This may be a particularly wise route to go, also, if you’re trying to clean up a home prior to listing it for sale and your time is limited.

Fighting common household odors is an ongoing battle for most homeowners, but practice makes perfect. Once you learn to identify the source of your smelly problem, you can more effectively defeat them!