My Best Tips for Removing Bad Odors in Your Home

For a faster, more profitable home sale

Lemon, baking soda and Vodka are natural and safe odor cleaners.

Removing bad odors from your home before you place it on the real estate market is more important then people realize.

First impressions are critical in the home selling business and your goal as a home owner, is to make an instant positive statement as soon as buyers walk in the door. You can't do that if it smells bad!

As a former real estate agent, I showed more than a few bad smelling houses to buyers, and no matter how beautifully presented, buyers walked away.

I showed a particular house three separate times, and at each showing, the house reeked of fried fish!

I suspected the renters living there of purposely sabotaging the showings so they wouldn't have to move. Or else they just really liked fish.

Many home sellers think that they're removing bad odors when they use artificial room freshening sprays and deodorizers, but these quickly fade and the problem is still there. 

Besides, most people are suspicious of room deodorizers and can detect that underlying bad smell under an artificial spray.

Avoid those plug-in oil deodorizers. They smell awful and leave a viscous feeling in your mouth. Instead of trying to mask a bad odor, determine what is causing it and fix it. 

Removing bad odors in the kitchen

Your odor cleaning arsenal.

While you have your house on the real estate market, avoid smoking or cooking anything that has a tendency to linger in the air for days, like fried fish, cabbage or cauliflower.

Always use the kitchen exhaust fan when cooking.

Quick odor fixes for the kitchen

  • For quick stinky kitchen relief, boil a cup of vinegar on the stove. Your kitchen will reek of vinegar for awhile, but this will quickly dissipate.
  • Add 2 parts water to 1 part vodka in a spray bottle and spray around a smelly room.
  • A stinky dishwasher - Place a cup with white vinegar in the upper rack of the empty dishwasher and run it through a normal cycle.
  • The refrigerator - Everyone knows this tip. After cleaning your fridge, open a box of baking soda and place it inside. Replace it once a year.
  • Fill a bowl with vinegar and let it sit overnight in a smelly room to absorb odors.
  • For a quick fix, pour white vinegar over a small towel, wring it out and wave it around the smelly room.
  • Place a bowl filled with coffee grounds and orange peels in a smelly area. Place a bowl under the sink, near a litter box, down the garbage disposal or in a bathroom.
  • Scrub out the kitchen garbage can often.
  • Take out the garbage daily!
Fresh lemons are wonderful for cleaning bad smells.

How to clean a smelly garbage disposal

The kitchen garbage disposal is a breeding ground for bacteria caused by of bits of food and grease left behind.

For a quick fix, remove bad odors with citrus

Turn on the water and disposal, then throw in a couple lemon or lime halves. If you're in a hurry, this method will instantly freshen your kitchen.

Ice and salt

Grinding a hard material like ice will scour the disposal chamber of any leftover smelly food particles. With the cold water and disposal running, throw in 2 cups of ice and a handful of rock salt. Run until the ice is gone.

Vinegar and baking soda

Pour 1/4 cup of baking soda into the disposal chamber. Add 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar and let it set for a few minutes. Turn on the tap and the disposal to rinse.

Clean the rubber gasket

Inspect the rubber ring around the opening of the disposal. This ring is a gunk collector and should be scrubbed periodically with an anti-bacterial product, like Johnson Scrubbing Bubbles. 

How to clean the garbage disposal trap

If your disposal is draining slowly, you may have food debris stuck in the trap. (This is that odd-shaped S or P pipe under your sink.)

Instead of using a chemical drain clearing product, remove the trap pipe and clean it out with soapy water and a bottle-brush. Place a bucket under the plumbing before dismantling the pipe.

Removing bad odors in the bathroom

  • Keep the window cracked in the bathroom to bring constant fresh air into the space.

  • Scrub the inside and outside of the toilet with your favorite bathroom bacterial cleaning product. Pay attention to the floor around the base of the bowl, as urine can collect there. (Ugh!) Wipe down the wall behind the toilet, as well.
  • Clean the gunk and hair out of the bathroom drains-- this can often smell bad. 
  • Wipe down the wood bathroom cabinets with orange oil or Murphy Oil Soap with orange extract to make the room smell nice and cabinets shine.
  • Replace the shower curtain, as they can harbor bad smells. If you have a house for sale, treat yourself to a pretty new shower curtain.
  • If you have a persistent sewer smell, a dry P-trap may be the culprit. This drain trap needs to have sufficient water inside to function properly. Shine a flashlight down the drain trap to see if there's any water inside. If not, continue pouring water into it until you can see it inside the trap. Go to Ask the Builder for more information on this problem. You will have to periodically pour water down the trap.

A P-trap is a plumbing fixture with several purposes; It traps debris that has drained from the sink and prevents it from forming a clog deep within the plumbing system. Secondly, it stops sewer gases from passing into the home.

Information by Ace Plumbing.

Removing bad odors in the laundry room

Here's an easy tip for smelly front-loading washers: Leave the washing machine door open. Be sure to close the door when buyers are expected.

Washing machine - Removing bad odors from front loading washing machines is a real concern. The rubber gaskets inside the door seals so tight that air cannot circulate, allowing bacteria (and hair!) to accumulate around the rubber gasket. Your clothing will smell bad too.

Red front loading washing machine.This lovely front-loading washer can harbor bacteria in three different places!

The source of the odor is actually a residue of water, dirt and detergent. Washing your clothes in warm or hot water only slows down the growth of bacteria.

Whirlpool makes a product called, “Affresh”, that you can put in the washer once a month to control the smell, but I'm not a big fan of chemical treatments.

A cheap home remedy is to run an empty wash cycle with 2 cups of bleach and hot water.

Another problem area is the soap dispenser. Be sure to pull out the detergent containers occasionally and clean them out.

The worst smell will come from the rubber gasket ring that seals the door of the washing machine, caused by soap scum and grime will build up. If you have pets, fur will collect in there as well. Follow the maintenance instructions in your owner's manual to clean the gasket.

Or try my favorite all-purpose bacteria and virus killer for removing bad odors; Johnson Scrubbing Bubbles Bathroom Cleaner. 

After cleaning the gunk out of the rubber ring of the washing machine, spray on the cleaner, making sure to get it into the crevasses of the ring.

Let it stand for five minutes, then wipe clean with a wet rag. Be sure to rinse thoroughly.

Watch this really good (and entertaining!) video by DirtFarmerJay on how to get rid of front loader washer stink!

Removing pet odors from your house

English Springer Spaniel puppy.Cute, but smelly!

Meet Lucy, my English Springer Spaniel. Adorable 95% of the time-- not so cute after a roll in a pile of spawned-out dog salmon.

Even when clean, pets still have a particular odor, so be meticulous about cleaning up after them. 

Keep pet cages spotless, fish tanks sparkling and litter boxes clean when you are trying to sell your home. You don't want home buyers to discover "floaters" in the fish tank.

Little things like this really turn off home buyers, and they may assume that your home is neglected as well.

Keep carpets vacuumed and floors freshly mopped. Have your carpets professionally cleaned.

Treat pet "accidents" with cleaners specifically designed to get rid of odors and stains. A couple good ones are; "Stink Free Instantly," available at Petco and "Get Serious" Extract.

"Get Serious" extract actually removes pheromones in the odors so pets won't re-mark the area. Look for this product at or Amazon.

Removing bad odors from a cat-urine soaked carpet is impossible. Often, the urine penetrates the padding and soaks into the floor below. There's only one solution. The carpet, padding, and often the flooring must be removed and replaced.

Activated charcoal will absorb bad odors

Activated charcoal is great for removing bad odors.Activated charcoal powder

Activated charcoal is one of the best odor neutralizers available and very affordable. It works by absorbing toxins and other substances that need to be removed from the environment.

Activated charcoal is a carbon that has been treated with oxygen, making it highly porous. It's used in water filters, medicines, home remedies and chemical purification.  

Activated charcoal absorbs pet odors, mildew smells, chlorine, human waste, etc. You can buy activated charcoal in many forms;  loose, in filters, bulk, or in hanging deodorizers such as the, “Innofresh Activated Charcoal Pet Odor Absorber.” 

Make your own odor-absorbing activated charcoal hanger by filling cheesecloth, plastic mesh bags or even socks with charcoal. Hang in any room that needs deodorizing.

Or fill a glass jar or plastic container (puncture some holes in the lid) with charcoal and place near the source of the smell.

Put activated charcoal near pet cages, litter boxes, garbage cans, diaper pails, gym bags, empty closets, smelly garages, attics, basements, smelly shoes, refrigerator, freezer-- you name it. Replace after 2 months.

Interesting fact:  Activated charcoal was first produced for use as air filters in gas masks during World War I and II.

Look for activated charcoal at Amazon, your local pet or health food store, or the swimming pool supplies section of home supply centers.

How to get rid of cigarette smoke smell and residue

Trisodium Phosphate will remove grease and cigarette smoke residue from walls.TSP removes grease and cigarette smoke residue from walls.

Heavy smoking will cause cigarette build-up to seep into your upholstered furniture, drapes, carpets, ceiling, walls and even into your duct system.

If you have cigarette build-up in your house, you'll need to scrub your walls and ceilings with a mixture of TSP (trisodium phosphate) and hot water.

TSP is a powerful liquid that cleans, degreases and deglosses surfaces in preparation for paint. Mix according to the manufacturer’s instructions, sponging a small area at a time. Rinse thoroughly. 

Once dry, you can paint. And please, smoke outside until your house is sold!

Year ago, when I was paint illiterate, my husband and I bought a 100-year old house that had yellow cigarette stains (left by the previous home owner) on the entry walls and ceiling. No problem!

I washed the stains off, then painted. After the paint dried, I was horrified to see the yellow stains re-emerge!

After a few frantic phone calls and a trip to the hardware store, I cleaned the walls with a TSP solution and was able to successfully complete the job.

For cigarette-saturated furniture, air your upholstered furniture outside and give it a good shampoo. Let it dry in the sun if possible.

Cigarette infused draperies will need to be dry cleaned and carpets shampooed.

How to remove odors in the garage

For smelly garage floor oil spots, use a grease-cutting cleaner like “Goo Gone Grease Cutting All Purpose Cleaner” to clean. You can buy this product at any home supply center or hardware store.

Or sprinkle kitty litter or sawdust on the grease stains-- let it set for 24 hours. Sweep up, then wash with a power washer and/or degreaser to remove any remaining residue.

Get rid of musty odors

Zep, mold and mildew remover.

Go straight to the source of the odor by getting rid of mold and mildew. If you suspect that you may have a toxic mold, like black mold, be sure to have it tested by an expert if the mold covers more than 10 square feet. 

Removing bad odors from clothing isn't always possible. To remove smelly mildew, add 3/4 cup white vinegar to a load of wash. (No detergent.) Repeat if necessary. Do a final wash using detergent.

Sometimes, just an old box of mildewed paperwork or books will make an entire room smell bad. You'll have to toss out things like this.

If your house continues to smell musty, you might want to check your air ducts and arrange to get them cleaned out. My brother once found dead mice and nests in his forced heat air ducts! 

For overall household odor removal, watch the instructional video below by

Return from removing bad odors from your home to depersonalizing your home

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Updated 12-16-2022