Let’s face it. Even the cleanest home is going to have stinky smells lurking in it from time to time – because when was the last time you remembered to clean the food trap in your dishwasher, right?
Sometimes household odors are subtle and you become nose blind to them. Other times, they’re more powerful and you start to worry about what your guests will think — while you frantically try to get to the source.
Come on in as we look at ways to tackle indoor odors head-on without using harsh commercial cleaners or masking them with synthetic sprays and candles. These are quick fixes and tips, all of them using natural solutions to put an end to the cringe and make your home smell fresher.
Note: Other than cleaning, one of the easiest ways to avoid a stinky home is to ventilate, ventilate, ventilate! Open your windows in all seasons — even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day in the winter.
Have equipment and supplies ready
You don’t need to stock up on a lot to rid your home of most odors. Here are some of the basic natural cleaning supplies recommended in the tips below. Be sure to follow specific directions and avoid randomly mixing stuff together…but you already know that!
- Baking soda
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Washing soda
- Dishwashing liquid with a degreaser
- Essential oils, optional
Note on essential oils: Consider adding these to your supplies if you want to keep the freshness in your home longer. Choose simple oils like lemon, orange, peppermint or lavender; No need to spend a fortune, just pick one or two of your favorites to have on hand.
Important Safety Tip
Never mix bleach and vinegar since this can create a hazardous gas.
In fact, never mix bleach with anything except water.
Let’s get started!
Refrigerator – If you forget what’s in your fridge, someday soon you’ll open the door to a pungent smell caused by expired, moldy or mushy food. Remove the offenders, of course, and then after a thorough cleaning — add or replenish an open box of baking soda to help absorb everyday food odors. It really works!
The science behind it: Baking soda has excellent odor-absorbing properties because it contains a hydrogen ion that can bind with acidic smells (sour milk) and alkaline (fish smells). Through a chemical reaction, those odors are neutralized into innocuous gases and salts.
Flour (and other common substances like coffee grounds) can also absorb odors but not as efficiently. Stick with the baking soda! It’s completely safe for humans and pets and won’t harm anything.
Here’s a complete step-by-step cleaning guide for How to Get Rid of Funky Refrigerator Smells from Consumer Reports.
Drains and Disposals: So much can lurk here from food waste, sight unseen. You can help eliminate the stink (and keep your drain clog-free, too) by pouring in ¼ cup baking soda, followed by ¼ cup vinegar and some kosher salt, which works as an abrasive. Follow up with boiling water. For more complete step-by-step instructions on heavy-duty cleaning of your garbage disposal, check out thespruce.com.
As a side note: For a quick fix, you can also grind a lemon rind mixed with ice cubes (if you want) to freshen and clean your disposal. Sadly, my current garbage disposal is so weak it can’t even handle the lemon rind…but if yours can handle it — go for it!
Trash Can: Toss a handful of baking soda into the bottom of your kitchen trash can and recycling bin to control odors. Be sure to refresh it every few days or whenever you put in a new bag. To really rid the cans of any offending odors, wash with a solution of vinegar and water as needed.
Bonus Trash Can Tip: I recently saw a hack on Tik Tok for trash cans — and it’s working well for us! Use one of those small round felt floor protectors with a stick-on backing. Add 4-6 drops of essential oils to two pads (peppermint was my choice) and adhere them to the sides of your trash cans. Refresh the scent by adding more drops of essential oils to the pads every now and then.
Dishwasher: It’s meant to clean our dishes, but it can harbor dirt and odors of its own. Be sure to clean the food trap at the bottom of your dishwasher regularly. Check here for Apartment Therapy’s step-by-step instructions on how to clean a dishwasher filter. You only need simple supplies like a sponge, dishwasher detergent with a degreaser and hot water. As a preventive, remove as much food debris as possible before loading dishes in your dishwasher.
Cutting Boards and Sponges: Change your sponge often or clean/sanitize it on the top shelf of your dishwasher. [Read Stop Microwaving Your Kitchen Sponges, if this is you.] Cutting boards harbor a surprising number of smells unless they’re thoroughly washed on both sides after each use, typically with hot water and dish detergent. When a more thorough cleaning is called for, follow these directions:
- Cleaning Plastic Cutting Boards: These are non-porous which allows bacteria to sit on top. As your board gets cuts and knicks, however, there are crevices for odors to hide. Luckily, plastic cutting boards are easy to clean: just put them in the dishwasher or wash them by hand using hot water and dish soap. Be sure to rinse it well.
- Cleaning Wooden Cutting Boards: You can start by using dish soap and a scrub or sponge, being sure to pay extra attention to any cracks where odors can lurk. Be sure to clean both sides, even if you only used one side of the board. Rinse well.
When you use your wooden cutting board for raw meat or poultry, cleaning it with bleach will remove any bacteria left behind. To do this, create a bleach solution with one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of water. Let it sit on the board for two to three minutes and then rinse well. Wash the board once more with dish soap and water. Rinse again and dry.
Microwave: Still smelling something you cooked a few days ago? Clean and deodorize your microwave with a solution of two teaspoons of baking soda mixed with one cup of water. Put the solution in an uncovered, microwave-safe container and zap it on high for three minutes. Then, simply wipe down the interior.
Sinks/Tub/Shower Drains: Hair, body oils and dirt can collect in your drains and cause odors or clogging — yuck! To remedy this, use the same ingredients as for your kitchen sink — except in higher amounts. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Pour boiling water down the drain.
- Add ½ cup baking soda.
- Add ½ cup vinegar.
- Wait 10 minutes.
- Pour boiling water in again.
- Flush with hot tap water.
Toilet: Scrub your toilet regularly — paying extra attention to unseen areas under the rim. You should also clean your toilet brush with bleach and water since smells can lurk there, too.
Mildewy walls/surfaces: Unless you take preventive measures, moisture is bound to linger in your bathroom, potentially leading to unwanted smells. The best solution is to leave a window cracked when you leave the room, if you can.
If there’s no window, run an exhaust fan for at least 30 minutes after every shower. Running a fan isn’t as energy efficient – but this is one time we can justify it.
Tip: To check the efficiency of your exhaust fan, try sticking a square of toilet paper to your fan while it’s running. If it stays in place, your fan is likely working okay. If not, it’s time to thoroughly clean the fan or replace it.
Damp, Musty Towels: In some homes (hello kids and teens!), it’s a constant battle to avoid damp, smelly towels. The goal is to hang towels, completely spread out, so they can dry thoroughly between uses. Wash them often, of course.
Sometimes those musty smells will linger even after the towels have been laundered. I’m a little embarrassed to say this has happened to us a few times…even with no kids at home! In that case, follow these directions to remedy funky-smelling towels:
- Wash the towels separately in warm water with one cup of white vinegar. Add the vinegar to your fabric softener compartment, if you have one — so it goes into the final rinse cycle. If you don’t have a separate compartment, pour the vinegar in once your washer is full of water.
- Do a second wash cycle with a small amount of detergent. This will assure you won’t have any left-behind vinegar smell. Be sure to dry the towels really well before putting them away.
Washing Machine: Like our dishwashers, a smelly washing machine seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Their designs, however, lend themselves to a few spots needing extra attention — like the rubber gaskets which are magnets for lint and dirt. Turns out front-loaders tend to be more prone to bad smells than top-loaders.
There are a number of natural ways to deep clean your washing machine, including with bleach; peroxide; vinegar and baking soda; or Borax and washing soda.
Check out Home Depot’s website for a complete guide to How to Clean a Washing Machine. You’ll need to scroll down a little to get the specifics for each washer type and method.
Stinky Hampers: While you’re waiting to get to that pile of dirty clothes (ew!), try sprinkling some washing soda on it. This is different from baking soda and can be found in the laundry aisle of any grocery store.
Shoes/Boots: You don’t need to buy a commercial shoe and boot deodorizer to rid your family’s footwear of those funky smells. I’ve had good luck with different home remedies. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Add baking soda and whole cloves and/or cinnamon stick pieces to a clean sock and place one inside each shoe; leave for a few days.
- You can also buy large resealable tea bags (check Amazon) and add baking soda and 5 to 6 drops of essential oils to them. Iron to seal the bag shut and place inside your shoes for a few days.
Pets: This topic should be a whole post of its own, I think — maybe for another day? In the meantime, remember to wash leashes, dishes, mats and bedding frequently. Most importantly, keep your pets clean and address any accidents ASAP. Read more at How to get pet stains out of carpet.
Mattress: Vacuuming your mattress regularly with a natural deodorizer makes a big difference. Be sure to read DIY Mattress Cleaner to Control Dust Mites (And Why You Should Use it) right here on the blog. Aside from controlling odors and mites, this practice is especially beneficial for those with asthma and other respiratory issues.
Use an Air Purifier: We debated the merits of this for quite a while. Do they work? Are they worth the expense? In the end, we bought a small portable air purifier for our bedroom which we run at night. Purifiers can trap dust, pollen, smoke and pet fur — which can all contribute to unwanted smells. Be sure to do some research first and buy one with a true HEPA filter and a carbon filter.
Carpets: You’re probably familiar with sprinkling baking soda on your carpets and letting it sit for a bit before vacuuming. There’s no need, in my opinion, for commercial carpet fresheners unless there’s a bigger nasty problem going on.
It’s so easy to make your own natural version of Carpet Fresh! Add an essential oil to baking soda (lemon or orange are good) — about 10 drops for a cup or two of baking soda, mixing well. Sprinkle it on your carpets and let it sit for 30 to 60 minutes. Most folks get impatient and only allow 10 minutes. But the longer time allows the baking soda to do a better job of absorbing odors.
Upholstered Furniture: Our sofas and chairs can harbor some interesting smells which often go unnoticed because we’re so close to them. The easiest and safest way to address them, in my view, is to use baking soda to absorb the odors much as you would on your carpets and then vacuum it with an upholstery attachment.
Go slowly with any suggestions to use vinegar or other liquids on your upholstered furniture. If you bought an upholstery-protection-plan — you could end up voiding your warranty. In that case, be sure to contact the manufacturer for help before trying different cleaning agents.
Take it in Baby Steps
That wraps it up for now! I hope you found this guide to tackling household smells helpful. In most cases, there’s no need to buy any heavy-duty commercial products to keep your home fresh-smelling. Just try to keep up with cleaning (paying attention to some hidden areas) and when a problem occurs — address it as soon as you can.
Now Let’s Hear from You!
We’ve covered a lot of simple ways to get rid of smelly household odors today. Now I’d love to hear from you. Are there any problem areas of your home not mentioned? Did you learn anything new? Please leave a comment so we can all learn from each other.
I am not a licensed nutritionist, medical professional or cosmetics expert. The information provided on Honest + Simple is for general informational purposes only. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food + Drug Administration and are not intended to treat, prevent or cure any disease. Before making decisions about your health or other concerns, please consult a qualified professional and do not rely on this website for medical advice.