The Most Common Stinky Smells in Your Home and How to Get Rid of Them
Scent events can be sudden—think a spritz of perfume or the discovery of last week's unemptied lunch box. But malodors—sour and pungent smells—are often indicative of a more serious home hygiene issue like unwanted moisture or germs. These offensive odors tend to develop over time, such as when the scent molecules from our bodies or pets get trapped around the house.
When scents build up gradually, it's easy not to notice them. "Our brains are trained to notice new scents," says Emily Calandrelli, a science expert and host of Emily's Wonder Lab on Netflix. "When there's a lingering scent—even a bad one—your nose treats that as white noise; you don't notice it anymore." Here's how to de-stink common problem areas right under your nose.
1. Focus on Air Quality
"Open the windows!" says environmental toxin expert Tonya Harris. "Houses built in the last couple of decades are more tightly sealed, allowing less air exchange." Make opening windows a habitual part of your cleaning routine.
Boost your air-scrubbing efforts with an air purifier. Look for one with a charcoal filter to help neutralize odors, a HEPA filter for allergens, and an air-quality monitor. The unit's CADR (clean air delivery rate) tells you how much air is filtered per minute in a certain square footage.
2. Treat Upholstery
The key is to remove or neutralize scent molecules embedded in your furniture, rugs, and curtains—not just cover them up. Regularly launder, vacuum, and brush the items you can. Underfoot, try Aunt Fannie's Carpet Refresher ($11, Grove Collaborative). Sprinkle generously, wait for 15 minutes, then vacuum away.
For furniture, spritz on Febreze Unstopables Touch Fabric Spray ($6, Walmart), which traps and neutralizes odor molecules. The formula reactivates whenever you touch the fabric—great for high-traffic areas.
3. Eliminate Common Culprits
A full trash can or gym bag in the hall is an obvious stink culprit you can quash simply by removing or cleaning; start there. You'll have to work harder to find and remedy the more generalized atmospheric odors, and here, perspective is important. Calandrelli suggests assessing your home the next time you return after a few days away. You'll be better able to detect smells you might have become accustomed to. Or ask an honest friend to give your home a critical sniff test so you can troubleshoot.
6. Banish Kitchen Smells
When you cook, turn on the vent fans to circulate air and filter out smells and toxins. Empty your garbage often and, between every bag change, hit the inside of the can with a disinfecting spray like Scrubbing Bubbles Multi-Purpose Disinfectant ($4, The Home Depot). The same rules apply for recycling—empty and disinfect the bin often. A few times a year, give the cans a thorough wash with soap and water.
Dank drain? Mix 1 cup each of baking soda and vinegar. Pour down the drain, let rest for an hour, then flush with warm water. Citrus peels can be an easy fix for stagnant garbage disposals. Add small peels and a cup of ice to the disposal while running cold water. If the funky smell persists, try Affresh Disposal Cleaner Tablets ($4, Walmart), which cut odors with foam. Use an old toothbrush to clean under the drain's rubber splash guard.
5. Fight Bathroom Odors
Start with the toilet and use a combo cleaner-disinfectant to wipe around the seat, lid, and hinges. When you clean the toilet bowl, target under the rim. We like the OXO Good Grips Toilet Brush with Rim Cleaner ($28, Bed Bath & Beyond) for its angled bonus brush.
To manage moisture—a major catalyst for foul odors, mold, and mildew—make sure your exhaust fan is working effectively. Use this easy test: Hold a square of toilet paper up to the fan cover while the fan is running. If the paper doesn't stay in place, the fan is not doing much more than making noise and might need a deep clean or replacement. Vacuum or wipe down the cover regularly. Keep your drains as clear of hair and gunk as you can get them.
6. Freshen Pet Products
Just like bedsheets, dog bedding should be laundered often. (It doesn't hurt to keep Benji regularly bathed, too.) Between washes, try Fresh pet odor eliminator from Molly Mutt ($15), a spray that uses natural enzymes to remove odors. Launder pet bedding with a sanitizing laundry detergent.
Litter woes? Scoop early and often (sorry). Whatever litter you use, sprinkle Arm & Hammer Double Duty Litter Deodorizer ($4, Petco) in the box base between litter changes. It neutralizes that distinctive ammonia odor and helps keep clumps from sticking.
7. Don't Forget Nooks & Crannies
Good old-fashioned baking soda can help bust up musty smells in stuffy spaces. Harris's DIY air freshener: "To a small Mason jar, add a half-cup of baking soda and a few drops of essential oil. Poke some holes in the lid of the jar, then just swish it every couple weeks to refresh the scent and the odor-absorbing qualities of the baking soda."
For high-traffic areas (and gym bags), use a Moso Natural Air Purifying Bag ($10, Bed Bath & Beyond). They're odorless, chemical-free, and filled with charcoal that neutralizes smells. Avoid keeping dirty clothes in your closet and empty your hamper often—it absorbs smells too, so clean and disinfect it frequently.
Stop shoe stink at the source with Zorpads Shoe Inserts ($10 for 2 pairs). These ultrathin, NASA-tested "stickers" fit any shoe and won't leave a mess.