Hanna KielarUPDATED: May 31, 2023
We’ve all been there before: You walk into your home and immediately smell something funky. Your mind starts to race as you wonder what could be causing such a stink. You might even walk around your house, nose in the air, thinking you can sniff it out.
Sometimes even the tidiest homes can house odors that go unnoticed until they’re, well, noticeable – I’m talking straight up stinky.
They’re usually found in areas that don’t get a regular cleaning: in the crevasses of cupboards and cabinets, the inside of a kitchen or bathroom trash can, even near the lost leftovers abandoned at the back of the refrigerator.
To help you on your hunt, and possibly save you from embarrassment when a roommate walks in on you sniffing your trash can, we reached out to Debra Johnson, a home cleaning expert at Merry Maids, to learn about finding and eliminating household odors.
If your home is producing an odd smell, it’s probably a sign that you need to clean. Whether it’s the dishes, the laundry or the refrigerator is up for you to discover.
“Household odors can come from all sorts of places around the home,” says Johnson. “Some of the most common are mildew from damp laundry, garbage disposals or trash cans that haven’t been cleaned or deodorized, or lingering smells from cooking. Unbathed pets and their bedding and litter may also be another source.”
This is by no means a comprehensive list of possibly putrid places in your home, but it’s a start. So now that we know where to look, how do we eliminate the odor? Let’s talk about that next.
You could light a candle, open a window or even spray down the affected areas, but at the end of the day, you’re covering the odor, not getting rid of it.
“Treat the cause, not the symptoms,” Johnson advises. “One common mistake many people make is masking the odor. A candle or room spray may smell nice but won’t prevent the smell from returning.”
Instead of suggesting temporary fixes, we’ve broken down the ten common odors you may be experiencing in your home, along with ways to eliminate them.
When you’re cooking a particularly pungent meal, like fish, Johnson advises combatting the odor before it even has a chance to settle by using two different kinds of vinegar.
Before cooking, place a few bowls of regular vinegar around the kitchen. The vinegar will help prevent stenches from lingering after cooking. You can also simmer distilled white vinegar on your stovetop after your meal for the same effect.
Baking soda also has your back when it comes to odors. If your trash can is giving you grief, give it a good wash and wipe down, replace the bag with a fresh new bag and sprinkle baking soda inside of it. The baking soda will act as a neutralizer and prevent stinks in your kitchen. Try this in your bathroom trash can as well.
You can also place a jar of baking soda in your fridge to combat any odors from rotting produce, old meat or spoiled dairy. Johnson recommends first cleaning out your refrigerator by throwing away unrefrigerated produce or other foods before they spoil, and then filling a mason jar with baking soda, poking a hole in the lid and setting it in the fridge to absorb odors.
If your garbage disposal is the culprit for odors in your home, citrus is your new best friend, according to Johnson. Simply turn on your garbage disposal and drop orange or lemon rinds into it while you run the tap. Johnson suggests doing this every week or two to keep it smelling fresh and clean.
Your dirty dishes might not be the only cause of odors in your kitchen. Kitchen cleaning supplies, like your sponges, towels and scrubbing tools, might have collected bits of food and are now starting to rot and give off a smell.
Johnson recommends washing and replacing these cleaning supplies as needed. You can also soak dish cloths in bleach water once a week to kill off any bacteria or odors.
The best way to avoid mildew odors in your laundry room is by staying on top of dirty laundry (especially damp towels). However, if you’re finding that your clothes aren’t the problem, you might want to give your washing machine a good scrub with hot water and baking soda.
Clean the rubber seal around the machine drum with baking soda, removing any mildew or debris, then pour one cup of baking soda into the washing machine, running it on hot water (without clothes). Fill the fabric softener dispenser with white vinegar and run through a regular cycle.
Other than the obvious odors that might be coming from your bathroom toilet, shower and tub, make sure that every time you take a hot shower you leave your bathroom door open to allow proper ventilation into the room. Lack of ventilation can cause condensation buildup, leaving water on your walls and floors that could cause a mildew odor.
When it comes to smelly furniture, carpet and other fabric-based materials in your home, Johnson’s go-to is baking soda. She suggests sprinkling baking soda where it smells before vacuuming the area. If you have pets, Johnson recommends keeping them out of the room until you’ve finished vacuuming.
Regularly dust and vacuum the floors in your home, your furniture and your curtains at least every other week so you can remove any dirt or soil that has built up.
If you have one or more pets in your home, they could be causing the smell. Johnson asserts that regularly washing your pets and keeping their bedding and litter boxes clean can help you stay on top of the stench.
Make sure if you have pets that you’re also vacuuming more often than you would without – Johnson suggests at least twice a week. This will also give you a chance to look for accidents on your floor. For any pet-related stains, sprinkle baking soda on the affected area and vacuum over it when the baking soda has set.
Other areas to check around your home are the high-traffic spots where your family spends the most time. Make sure no one in the family is leaving food, dirty dishes or piles of dirty laundry in their room, suggests Johnson.
Additionally, stay on top of their shoes and sneakers, leaving any outdoor shoes outside or in the garage and using foot odor products on any indoor shoes.
More important than getting rid of the odor is eliminating the chance of the odor coming back. While you can never fully prevent stinks and smells from entering your home, Johnson suggests creating a regular cleaning routine and sticking with it.
“Preventing household odors can be much easier than getting rid of them – and a little effort here and there can go a long way,” Johnson adds.
No matter how much or how often you clean your home, odor will still find its way in. Just remember to tackle household odors before they get out of hand, and if you’re unable to find and eliminate odors, call the professionals at Merry Maids.