Musty spare rooms…lingering cooking smells…dogs overdue for baths. Even well-maintained homes develop unpleasant odors from time to time. Living in a foul-smelling home could leave you in foul mood—what people smell affects how they feel far more than they tend to realize.
Here are natural ways to solve 11 common home odor problems…
Stinky dishwasher. Mold or mildew usually is the culprit when dishwashers develop unpleasant odors. Pour several cups of standard household vinegar into the bottom of the dishwasher, and let it sit for an hour. Then run the dishwasher through a full cycle. You don’t need to add soap. The vinegar should kill any mold and mildew.
Alternative: If you know your dishwasher is going to sit unused for a few days or longer—when you go on vacation, for example—sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda inside. This reduces the odds that it will smell musty when it is next used.
Malodorous microwave. Unpleasant smells can linger in a microwave. Cut up two or three oranges (or another citrus fruit), and put the pieces in one to two cups of water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave this fruit/water combo until the water boils, then stop the microwave but leave the microwave door shut with the steaming mixture inside for at least another 15 minutes. When you do eventually remove the bowl, leave the microwave door open for a few minutes.
Tip: Select a bowl that has a wide opening for this—the greater the surface area of water, the more effective this odor-removal strategy will be.
Smelly kitchen sink drain/garbage disposal. Pour one-half cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by one cup of vinegar that you’ve warmed up slightly in the microwave (warming the vinegar makes it more effective) — foam might rise up out of the drain. Wait 15 to 20 minutes, then put the stopper in the drain and fill the sink with cold water. When the sink is nearly full, remove the stopper. (Do not let the sink get so full that it overflows when you reach in.) The rush of water down the drain will flush away both the baking soda residue and any bits of food that were rotting in the drain.
If you have a double kitchen sink, it works best if you do this in both sinks at the same time.
If it’s a bathroom sink drain that’s smelly, pour one-half cup of hydrogen peroxide down the drain. Use the highest concentration hydrogen peroxide you can find—it’s available at grocery stores and drugstores (it won’t damage pipes). Hydrogen peroxide is especially effective at clearing away the hair and skin-oil–based residue often responsible for unpleasant bathroom drain smells.
If you want, before pouring in the peroxide, you can lift out the stopper and remove any hair and gunk that may have gotten caught on the underside of the stopper.
Foul-smelling trash cans. Anytime you throw out something that’s especially smelly, put a few drops of lemon essential oil or vanilla extract on a paper towel or paper napkin and place this in the trash on top of the smelly garbage.
Also: Sprinkle a little baking soda into the bottom of the can each time you change trash bags. Occasionally wash out trash cans with hot, soapy water.
Lingering cooking odors/smoking odors. Dampen a dish towel or hand towel with vinegar, then wring it out over a sink until it is no longer dripping. Walk around the affected rooms waiving this towel around like a flag for a few minutes. This will not remove all of the odor, but it often can reduce it by more than half.
Act fast—the longer you wait, the more odor-causing molecules will settle onto surfaces and into carpets and fabrics where more extensive cleaning might be required to remove them.
Rank refrigerator. Save the squeezed-out remains of a lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit after you use the juice in a recipe or drink. Place these fruit remnants in a small bowl, pour a few tablespoons of salt on top of them, then put the bowl in the fridge. The bad odor soon should be replaced by a fresh citrus smell.
Alternative: People often place a box of baking soda in the fridge to absorb odors, and baking soda can indeed be effective here. But if you choose this solution, pour the baking soda into a bowl (or some other container with a wide opening) rather than leave it in the box. The more baking soda surface area exposed to the air, the greater its odor-absorbing capacity.
Outside the Kitchen
Dogs in need of baths. If your dog isn’t smelling its best but you don’t have time to give the pet a bath right away, sprinkle a little baking soda onto the dog’s fur and massage it in by rubbing against the direction of the fur—that helps work the baking soda all the way down to the dog’s skin.
After a few minutes, brush out the baking soda—brush against the direction of the fur first, then brush as you normally would. This is the best way to remove the baking soda that has worked deep into the coat, particularly with shaggy dogs.
Cat litter boxes. Sprinkle a little baking soda into the litter box before you put in fresh litter.
Warning: Cats can be finicky about their litter boxes—any change in smell can cause them to relieve themselves elsewhere in the house instead. If your cat does this when you add baking soda, change the litter again immediately and do not add baking soda. It isn’t worth battling with a cat over this—you won’t win. The only safe way to control litter box odor with a very finicky cat is to change its litter box more often.
Bedrooms. Place a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillows, then put the pillows in the dryer for five to 10 minutes on the fluff or low-heat setting. This will leave the pillows smelling clean and fresh, and most people find the scent of lavender very relaxing—that’s why baby oils often are lavender scented.
Musty closets and spare rooms. Fill a shallow bowl with fresh ground coffee, and place it in this underused space. Coffee grounds not only have a pleasing aroma, they do a wonderful job of absorbing musty smells in confined spaces.
Sick rooms/hospital rooms. Each day, place two to three drops of orange (or lemon) essential oil on a tissue. Wave the tissue around in the air of the sick room or hospital room for a few minutes, then discard it in a trash can in the room.
People tend to associate orange and lemon scents with cleanliness and health, so this actually can help sick people feel a bit better. It certainly supplies a more uplifting odor than the typical medicinal hospital room smell.
Example: When I did this in a friend’s nursing home room, everyone who came in commented on the wonderful smell. The doctors even stayed longer than usual.
Simple Way to Make Your Whole Home Smell Fresh
Place a few drops of lemon extract or lemon essential oil on the filter of the home’s forced-air heating/cooling system. Each time the heat or air-conditioning comes on, it will circulate the clean, pleasant smell of lemon throughout the home. A single application typically lasts for a few days, though this varies depending on how often the system runs. Do not apply more than a few drops of essential oil or extract, or the smell could be overbearing.
Alternative: Slowly simmer pieces of cut citrus fruit on the stove in a large pot of water. If you don’t have any citrus, cinnamon or rose petals smell nice here as well. This is a better option in winter than in summer, however, because the simmering pot will heat and humidify the home.