5 Ways to Remove Odors or Absorb Bad Smells

Updated: January 2024
Lilac flowers in a field

Even homes that are meticulously cleaned can be plagued by foul, lingering odors, often coming from unseen sources. Air fresheners temporarily mask bad smells, but eliminating the underlying cause of the odor is the real goal. With these tips, that goal that can be attained naturally and with minimal use of chemicals.

Keep Drains and Garbage Disposals Fresh

Organic food waste, like the kind that gets trapped in garbage disposals, rots quickly (especially when subjected to moisture) and emanates foul odors. An easy fix is to keep a bag of chopped-up lemons and limes in the refrigerator and toss a few chunks in the garbage disposal every few runs. The citrus will freshen up a disposal temporarily, but should routinely be supplemented with stronger, more acidic white vinegar. Once a month, pour a cup of white vinegar down the drain, let it sit for a half hour, and then rinse. Vinegar has an acrid, noxious smell, but it's only temporary, and its high acidity will kill burgeoning bacteria and other odor-causing elements quickly, cheaply and naturally. 

Make Drunk Air Freshener

Finally, you have a use for that cheap vodka that’s been sitting untouched for years — a DIY air freshener! Vodka evaporates quickly and absorbs odors. Mix one part cheap vodka with three parts water and add a dozen or so drops of your favorite essential oil, such as lavender or eucalyptus. Keep little spray bottles (they can be decorative to match your motif) in places like the kitchen and bathroom.

Kill the Source — And Then Make It Coffee

Removing the source of the odor is the first and most important step to eliminate smells. This could be as simple as taking out the garbage or something as involved as fixing bad plumbing. Once the source of the odor is gone, put used coffee grounds in a bowl nearby, with the room’s windows shut overnight. The grounds with absorb any lingering odor and by the next day, you can throw out the coffee grounds and enjoy fresher interior air. 

Freshen the Refrigerator and Freezer

Place an open container of baking soda in the center of the back wall of both the refrigerator and freezer. Make note of the date you put it in and change it every three months. This is such an effective and commonly-used practice that some baking soda brands even sell containers with special openings just for this purpose. You can also soak a small cotton pad with vanilla extract and place it in the freezer for an effective, natural deodorizer. For the refrigerator, soak a cotton pad in a mixture of half water and half white vinegar.

Air Conditioning and Filtration

Finally, invest in a ductless heating and air conditioning system with a multi-stage filter that traps particulate matter as well as impurities on the microbial level. Many household odors are the result of airborne contaminants that can only be eliminated through deodorizing filters that use natural substances such as catechin or enzymes to attack odor molecules. Some systems incorporate nanotechnology to trap contaminants on the atomic level. Systems like these continuously circulate air so, in addition to filtration, the homeowner gets constant circulation, which eliminates stagnant air and the buildup of moisture.

Several common household items (most notably baking soda and white vinegar) contain powerful properties that eliminate smells without the use of chemicals. But less-commonly known products like coffee and vodka can do wonders when it comes to eliminating, not simply covering, bad smells. Eliminate the source, get creative with what you have on-hand and consider investing in mechanical ventilation and filtration system that works to fight smells 24 hours a day.

Single-family home
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