Getting rid of odors in a house
Eliminating odors in the home
We’ve all been there. You walk into a house and a smell hits you. Maybe it’s the overwhelming scent of fresh paint, a musty smell from the house being closed up for too long, or even just the unpleasant odor of your pet. Either way, you think, “I’ll open the windows, and it will air out.” But, after several days of letting the breeze blow through, the smell still lingers. Now what?
Removing common household odors
Depending on which type of odor you’re dealing with, there are several easy-to-find items that are natural odor eliminators. Learn how to get rid of smells from:
- Fresh paint
- New carpet
- Musty basements
Note: Before using products on any surface — including carpet, hardwood and laminate — check with the manufacturer to determine whether it is recommended for use.
Fresh paint smells
Even if you use low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint, there could still be a lingering scent after it dries. While the compounds that cause the smell have to dissipate, it’s possible to help the process along. Believe it or not, one of the easiest ways to remove paint odors is by using an onion:
- Take a medium to large onion and peel and halve it
- Place it on a plate in the room (away from kids and pets) and leave it overnight, cut side up, so it can absorb the smell
- Repeat this several times if the odor is especially strong — usually works in just a few nights
Charcoal briquettes on a plate will also get rid of the paint smell, but charcoal can take longer to absorb odors.
Does the house smell like wet dog? A deep carpet cleaning should help since the oils that cause the wet pet smell get trapped in carpeting.
If there’s a pet urine smell, there are several things to try depending on the type of flooring you have. The most popular remedy for removing pet odor in carpet is making a mix of hydrogen peroxide (1/2 cup), white vinegar (1 tsp), baking soda (1 tsp), and orange essential oil (a few drops). The mixture both absorbs the smells and neutralizes the odors.
- Test an inconspicuous spot for colorfastness first, and then spray it on the carpet
- Empty the spray bottle when finished as chemical reactions could occur if left sitting for too long
- After the spray dries on the carpet, vacuum it up
For hardwood floors, make a mixture of water and a pH-neutral cleaner. To make a pH-neutral cleaner, mix ¼ cub of liquid dish detergent with one gallon of hot water or ½ cup of white vinegar with one gallon of hot water (commercial pH-neutral cleaners are also available for purchase).
- Mop the floor with this mixture (first test in an inconspicuous area to ensure it doesn’t damage flooring). Avoid using too much water because sitting water can damage the wood floors.
- For stained areas, try sprinkling dry baking soda over the spot and letting it sit for an hour
- Clean up the baking soda by blotting it with hydrogen peroxide and a rag
- If pet odors persist, try a hardwood floor enzyme cleaner (can be found in most stores)
New carpet smells
New carpet odors are caused by a chemical called 4-PC. When the chemical starts to evaporate (a process called “off gassing”), it smells. Though this can’t really be sped up, you can help eliminate new carpet odors by using charcoal air filters, an air purifier ionizer, or doing frequent baking soda sprinkles:
- Apply a light layer of baking soda to the carpet and allow it to sit for an hour (be careful not to walk on it!)
- Vacuum up the baking soda
- Repeat this process once a week as the off-gassing continues
- Circulate fresh air during off-gassing to help clean the air
If the previous residents were smokers, you may notice a lingering smoke smell. One of the quickest ways to eliminate it is to put a fresh coat of odor eliminating paint on the walls. Another option is to use an ozone generator — it attacks the source of the smell and permanently removes odor. If you don’t want to buy an ozone generator, check with local hardware stores or professional cleaning companies—they may be available for rent.
Note: The home should be unoccupied to use an ozone generator.
If you’re not able to replace the carpet, do a baking soda sprinkle like the one mentioned above.
For hardwood floors and walls, a good wipe down with pH-neutral cleaner can help get rid of smoke smells.
- Use a microfiber cloth and wipe down all of the surfaces.
- Make sure to rinse the rag out often and change the water mixture as the smoke residue will come off as you wipe everything down.
The best way to eliminate mold odors is to get rid of the mold itself. Because mold can cause damage as it penetrates the walls or surfaces, contact a professional to find and remove it. In the meantime, clear the odor by using a charcoal filter or an air purifier.
Musty basement odors
Stagnant drains, mildew build up and dampness can create a stale odor. If you find mildew on surfaces (you’ll see growth that looks like black or greenish spots), clean it with bleach to kill the mildew and remove the odor.
For homes that have been shut for long periods, there are many things you can do to get rid of the musty odor. Ideas include:
- Treating drains with a mixture of baking soda and vinegar to freshen them up
- Sprinkling baking soda on carpets and then vacuuming it up
- Changing out air filters in the ventilation system to remove any lingering odors trapped in the filter
- Opening the windows and letting the home air out
- Diffusing essential oils to freshen up the air — grapefruit, lemon, sage and orange will help eliminate odors in basements and older homes
When to call in the experts
If you’ve tried multiple home remedies, and the odor still lingers, it may be time to call in professionals. While home remedies work for most odors, some smells are stubborn and require a deeper cleaning and more targeted treatment. Experts are able to more precisely identify the areas the odor is coming from and what is causing it.
Tell us what works
Have suggestions for fellow readers? We would love to hear them! Leave a comment below to let us know what DIY odor removers have worked for you.