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How do you fix a smelly house?

Having a smelly house can be very frustrating. Odors can permeate the air and fabrics, making your home uncomfortable. However, there are many steps you can take to get rid of stubborn smells and freshen up your house.

What causes household odors?

There are many potential sources of bad smells in a home. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Pets – Pets can cause odors from accidents, fur and litter boxes.
  • Mold and mildew – Excess moisture can lead to mold growth and musty smells.
  • Cooking smells – Food odors from cooking can linger, especially from frying, broiling or baking.
  • Cigarette smoke – Smoke odors soak into carpets, walls and fabrics.
  • Trash and garbage – Rotting food and other decaying waste can produce foul smells.
  • Dirty laundry and fabrics – Sweat, bacteria and mustiness from unwashed fabrics contributes odors.
  • Plumbing issues – Sewer gas and backed up drains create nasty smells.
  • Chemicals and cleaners – Some household products have strong, lingering odors.

Pinpointing the exact source of the smell is the first step toward getting rid of it.

How to locate household odor sources

Finding the origin of a household smell can take some detective work. Here are some tips for tracking down odor sources:

  • Follow your nose – Move through the house and sniff around to isolate the location of the odor.
  • Check for visible signs – Look for water damage, mold growth, pet accidents and other visible signs that may explain the smell.
  • Look behind and under appliances – Odors can collect behind refrigerators, stoves and washing machines.
  • Inspect trash cans and drains – Rotting waste in bins and backed up sinks and drains can smell.
  • Change air filters – Dirty air ducts and filters can circulate stinky air.
  • Talk to neighbors – Neighbors may notice outdoor smells you have not.
  • Test after rain – Moisture can intensify musty earthy smells from foundation and crawlspace issues.
  • Consider timing – Cooking, pet, laundry and bath smells may point you to the source.

With some detective work, you should be able to pinpoint the origins of mysterious house odors.

Tips for eliminating common household smells

Once you know what’s causing odor issues, you can take steps to eliminate them. Here are some tips for remedying some of the most common household smells:

Pet smells

  • Clean up accidents promptly and thoroughly with enzymatic cleaner.
  • Wash pet bedding regularly.
  • Keep litter boxes fresh and clean.
  • Bathe pets often.
  • Groom pets to control dander.
  • Vacuum and shampoo pet areas frequently.

Mold and mildew smells

  • Fix any moisture issues like leaks to control mold growth.
  • Disinfect surfaces with white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Run dehumidifiers to keep humidity low.
  • Increase ventilation in problem areas.
  • Throw away any moldy materials that can’t be cleaned.

Smoke smells

  • Clean walls, fabrics and surfaces with vinegar.
  • Shampoo carpets and upholstery.
  • Wash and dry clean smelly clothing and fabrics.
  • Use air purification systems with HEPA and carbon filters.
  • Repaint smelled-up walls with odor blocking paint.
  • Consider professional duct cleaning if smells linger.

Sour laundry smells

  • Clean the washing machine with vinegar or baking soda.
  • Check laundry detergent amount and use less if too much.
  • Dry small laundry loads promptly.
  • Check washer drain hoses for blockage.
  • Wash workout clothes promptly after wearing.
  • Disinfect front loaders between loads.

Sewer gas smells

  • Pour water down floor drains to prevent gas escape.
  • Clean sink and tub drains regularly.
  • Use a plunger to free clogged drains.
  • Have a professional snake severely clogged drains.
  • Seal pipe leaks with epoxy putty.
  • Consider vent pipe issues and check the roof vents.

Tailoring your cleaning strategies to the specific smells in your home is the best way to get rid of odors at the source.

General tips for freshening household air

In addition to remedying specific odor causes, some general house cleaning strategies can help freshen the air. Here are some tips for freshening your home’s smell:

  • Clean frequently – Regular vacuuming, dusting, mopping and cleaning keeps odors from building up.
  • Let fresh air in – Open windows regularly to circulate fresh outdoor air.
  • Use exhaust fans – Ventilate kitchens, bathrooms and laundries when cooking, bathing and doing laundry.
  • Change AC and furnace filters – Clean filters prevent circulation of stinky air.
  • Simmer potpourri – Citrus peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves and other spices in simmering water scent the air.
  • Use baking soda – Baking soda absorbs odors in carpets, fridges, bins and other places.
  • Set out charcoal – Activated charcoal absorbs and neutralizes smells from the air.
  • Use air purifiers – HEPA and carbon filter purifiers remove smells.
  • Plant herbs – Fragrant herbs like mint, rosemary, basil and lavender scent the air when brushed.

Combining regular cleaning habits with some air freshening tricks can keep your whole house smelling cleaner.

When to call in professional help

Though most household smells can be remedied with diligent cleaning, sometimes professional help is needed:

  • If smells return shortly after cleaning, there may be a source you haven’t identified.
  • Severely smelly carpets or fabrics may need deep cleaning services.
  • Heavy smokers, pets or hoarding situations may require odor remediation specialists.
  • Sewer gas may signal plumbing issues needing professional repair.
  • Critter or rodent infestations can create pungent odors.
  • Musty earthy smells could mean foundation, crawlspace or attic mold issues.

Don’t hesitate to call a cleaning or odor control service if smells persist after thorough DIY efforts.

Products that help eliminate household odors

Specialized products can help remove stubborn house smells. Here are some of the best odor fighting products:

Product Use for
White vinegar General cleaning, fabic freshening, mold removal
Baking soda Air freshening, carpet/fabric deodorizing, fridge deodorizing
Hydrogen peroxide Disinfecting, mold killing
Enzymatic cleaner Pet messes, urine odors
Odor killing primer/paint Smoke, pet, cooking smells on walls
Activated charcoal Air purification, odor absorption
Citrus peels Simmering potpourri
Essential oils Aromatherapy, odor masking

Using the right product for the smell you are trying to remove is key to getting rid of odors effectively.

When to consider replacing smelly items

Sometimes odors can become so soaked into fabrics, carpets and other materials that cleaning cannot remove the smell. At that point, it may be better to just replace the smelly items. Consider replacing:

  • Old carpets with severe pet urine or smoke smells.
  • Fabrics that retain odors even after washing.
  • Mattresses soaked by bedwetting or other spills.
  • Smelly throw rugs.
  • Stinky furniture with pet smells ground into the upholstery.
  • Curtains holding cooking or smoking odors.
  • Pet crates and beds that remain smelly after washing.
  • Cardboard or fabric storage bins that absorb room odors.
  • Plastic food containers retaining food smells.

At a certain point, it’s best to just invest in a replacement for household items that stubbornly hold bad smells.

Preventing future household odors

Prevention is the best way to keep your house always smelling fresh. Here are tips to prevent odors:

  • Stay on top of household cleaning.
  • Clean up spills and messes promptly.
  • Take out trash regularly.
  • Fix any moisture issues.
  • Clean lint traps and appliance filters often.
  • Wash laundry, bedding, towels and pet items frequently.
  • Clean litter boxes daily.
  • Air out the house regularly.
  • Follow good food storage habits.
  • Clean dishes promptly after meals.

Making household cleanliness a priority is the best way to avoid unpleasant odor build-up over time.


Bad household smells can be annoying, but with some diligent cleaning and use of odor fighting products you can freshen up your home. Identify the source of odors, tackle them directly, and also implement preventative cleaning habits. With time and effort, you can get rid of stubborn smells and keep your house fresh.