Skip to content
Home » Cleaning » Odors


Q. Our house smells sour (motel room like) no matter what we do!! We are very clean people– got any suggestions on how to permanently get rid of the odor. I’m tired of covering it up with candles, sprays, etc. I’ve even tried baking soda in the carpets! I also have to be careful because my children have horrible asthma/allergies. Thanks, Heather :)

Dear Heather, I’ll bet that something (probably pet urine) is in your carpet pad. Cleaning the carpet only treats the surface, not the carpet pad. If you don’t want to replace the pad, try using a steam cleaner and add a scoop of Oxyclean to the cleaning solution. Good Luck, – Katie

Buy a large pump of “FEBREZE”…it works on everything. Smelly hampers, sticky rental cars, sleeping bags that reek of camp fire, you name the smell I have used febreze. You can get it at the supermaket. Another idea is to use a citrus odor neutralizing spray, I used this at a Salon I worked at to rid the place of perm smell. BB

If you have a forced air heating and cooling system with ducts, get the ducts checked. We have a 45 yr. old house that had mold and LOTS of build up of dirt and other nasty stuff apparently causing an odor. The ducts were rusting out and we needed to have them changed. The newer ones are much more energy efficient. We have saved money on A/C costs this summer. Get a company that cleans ducts to inspect them. Some have a camera that can show you what is in your ducts. But be careful who you get. Use a reputable company and check with the Better Business Bureau. Ask them for references. Some only clean a short way and spray a deodorizer. The estimate we got to clean ours was only $350.00 less than new ones cost us. This was not cheap but we have a grandson with asthma, too. We thought it was vital to his health to do this.

You may have a mold of some sort growing in your carpet or behind your wallpaper.  Create a bleach solution (1 to 10 to start, then up to 1 to 4 if it does not work) and gently wash down all of your walls and mop boards.  Rent a hot water carpet cleaner (I actually purchased one and I use it four times a year) and put a bleach solution into the reservoir rather than the soap they try to sell you  (add a drop or two of dish soap, but no more:  it is the water that cleans, not the soap.  Adding too much soap will actually make your carpet dirty because it does not rinse out of the carpet and soap bonds with dirt.).  I have never had this bleach solution discolor even a very dark carpet.  It kills “everything” that might be causing an odor and the hot water cleaning really helps allergies as well.  Keep babies off the rugs as breathing chemicals of any sort is especially bad for them. If after cleaning like this the smell comes back more quickly than you think it should, get a dehumidifier.  Dry out the living quarters first, and then clean out your basement so it is empty of anything that could hold moisture and run it down there as well. Make especially certain to remove cardboard boxes.  Never run a dehumidifier where you have an open window or you are trying to dry out the atmosphere!  An air conditioner actually works even better because of the filtering system in it, but it is too cold where I live to still be using one. Finally, one of those devices that produces ozone or air-born hydrogen peroxide can also work, but they tend to be expensive and may not get to the root of the problem.  Covering or filtering odors is always more costly than eliminating their source. – Judy

At our last house we had the same problem ! I too burned many candles and complained about the smell. It was the old shingles ! We replaced them and instant relief ! The 25 or 40 year olds shingles had been covered up for many years & had years to mold and smelled terrible!! Good luck….. Lisa

This is for Heather with the sour house smells. We also had house smells and allergies. I burned many a candle trying to get rid of it. We decided to pull up our wall-to-wall carpet and that is where is smells were. We completely got rid of it and the stinky tack board it was attached to. We cleaned and painted our cement floors and the smells are gone. We use area rugs in the rooms now and it has really helped us. – Robin.

To get rid of any unwanted odor in the home place a bowl of white vinegar in an out of the way place in the room where the odor is strongest. Within 24 hours the odor will be almost undetectable. Within 48 hours it will be gone completely. It does not mask the odor but gets rid of it.

Perhaps it’s because there is a moisture problem. You may have molds/mildew in hidden areas. You may have to have a professional evaluate this status. Check your crawl space or basement for molds. A dehumidifier (standing unit or an addition to your heating and air conditioning units) may eliminate the problem. However, existing molds or mildew would have to be cleaned. Molds and mildew can trigger allergy and asthma symptoms for anyone in the house. Another “quick fix” to odors is charcoal briquettes hidden in inconspicuous places or small bowls of white vinegar here and there.

We have lived in several homes with disturbing smells. One was a trailer where cats had urinated in carpeted rooms and the carpet reeked especially on damp days. Cats also apparently loved to pee into your registers. We also once had a strange pile of goo in our vents that just reeked. We did end up moving, and replaced the carpet for the new tenants; we hope it solved the problem. Another problem could be mice in your vents. Finding the source of the foul smell is going to be tough. If you have pets, smell around your baseboards as you enter the house because pets have obnoxious habits. One house we had the previous owner had covered up a damp basement smell with a special type of cedar chip hidden behind light switches in the basement. We discovered in the spring there was a huge crack that leaked water into the laundry right into the drain. Cost us bucks to have it excavated and sealedIT was dry after that and the basement did not smell. Another home we found carpet hidden in a tiny basement room that reeked of cat urine. We dealt with that. Other problems we’ve encountered are unvented basement bathroom toilets, or wet vented plumbing. Or damp pantries. Or bathrooms with no windows or exhaust fan. Use your sniffer nose and go around each room to see it certain areas have a higher concentration of odor. Check your weeping tile drainage in the basement (a hole with a cover in your basement floor) to make sure it is flowing. Make sure your vent stack from your bathrooms is not plugged on the roof.

Sometimes carpets are steam cleaned unprofessionally and a lot of water remains. This causes mildewing and a related odor. Remove your carpets and put in hardwood or similar type flooring, with area rugs that can be cleaned outside of the home and dried before returning to the area. If your carpets are ten years old, it doesn’t hurt to remove them. Check for urine staining on the wood underneath. You can try disinfecting the wood, and then staining it to seal in the smell if you can’t bear tearing out the sub floor. Make sure your furnace is in good repair and is not leaking noxious gases, and check your natural gas lines for loose connections. Rule out all the smells one by one. Some cooking habits (ie curry, certain sausages, cabbage, etc.) leave smells behind that can be rather odious when you come back from being somewhere else. Good luck. RS

Odors in the Microwave

Q.   Some popcorn got burned in our microwave; consequently, our microwave not smells like burned popcorn. Do you have any suggestions as to how to get the odor out?  Thanks — TFeauto

• Boiling a cup full of vinegar and then washing the inside and tray with it  has helped me. Ivy R.

• A solution of 1 cup water, add 1 tblsp vinegar or 1 tblsp of lemon juice or any liquid that is acidic.  Tis’ better to smell lemony than burnt. Robert

• First, remove the tray, wash it in soapy dish water and wipe down the walls, floor, ceiling and door of the microwave. Then, leave a dish with about a quarter cup of whole cloves in the microwave until you use it again. Should help. Carol W.

• Use vinegar in a glass and microwave it, then after it boils, remove and use paper towels to clean your microwave, it should smell fine. Psneath

• In my kitchen I use white vinegar mixed with water – (I use half water / half vinegar but you can dilute it more or less)- in a spray bottle to clean my "over the stove" microwave and my all black, ceramic top range. If there is a big spill, just clean first with a hot soapy dish cloth, wipe with a paper towel or clean rag, then spray with the vinegar solution and dry with a paper towel. This cuts any leftover grease, deodorizes, and leaves a shiny surface. I also use it on other appliances and counter tops. There are no chemicals – or chemical smells- to contaminate food, and the vinegar doesn’t leave an odor. To get that smell out of the microwave, be sure to clean ALL five surfaces inside the oven: top, bottom, sides and back; as well as the inside of the door. Paula

• This is in response to the woman who asked about getting the smell out of her microwave. I have a couple of suggestions that she might try, depending on what she has on hand. A couple of slices of lemon placed in the  bottom of a cup with a little water and then microwave on high for five minutes can be very effective. It can also be very frugal if you have lemon that is leftover or has gotten a little dry in the refrigerator. The other idea is very similar. put a mug of water in the microwave filled about half way with water and then a couple of tablespoons of either lemon juice or vinegar. The measurements are just a guess because I just put some water in the mug and then a splash of the juice or vinegar. I hope this helps. Jennifer S

• This will help your microwave smell better!  Squeeze a lemon into a cup of water.  Drop the remainder of the lemon into the cup too and microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes.  Let it sit in there until cool and microwave again for a minute.  Wipe out the microwave with a damp cloth, and it should smell better!  Good luck.  Lisa

• Put about a tablespoon of vanilla in half a coffee cup of water. Bring it to a boil in the microwave (time varies depending on the power of your microwave). Let it sit with the microwave unopened for about 4-5 minutes. This will also clean your microwave, just open after the 4-5 minutes and wipe with a damp cloth. Even the really stuck on stuff just wipes off. Hint: the steam from boiling is what cleans it, it needs to sit that 4-5 minutes to work, but if you let it sit too long then it is stuck on stuff again.

• The easiest way I’ve found to remove microwave odors is to boil two cups of water & the juice of one lemon – leaves your microwave smelling lemon fresh & it also helps loosen built on spills etc. Bridget

• For cleaning the microwave, I generally use a glass measuring cup.  I put about a third of a cup of vinegar and fill it with water.  I set the microwave to about 6 minutes (till the liquid boils).  Let the liquid sit in there about 10 minutes to steam.  Then just wipe everything off, it will wipe clean with ease.   I send this to say that when I do this, all odors are gone as well, even though its not the main purpose.  I have a great nose, and always can smell what has cooked in there, and after this method, its gone. 

• Set a glass container of white vinegar and water…about half and half in the oven, uncovered. Set it for 3 minutes on High and wipe out the inside of the oven once you take it out. Or: Crumble plenty of newspaper and stuff them in the microwave. Do NOT run it. Instead, shut the door and leave it at least overnight. Then clean it out with baking soda and water. Either way, the odor should be gone. Janet

Removing Gasoline Smells

Q.    I accidentally spilled gasoline on a foot pad for the back seat of my car.  I have tried detergent, Clorox mixture, and sunshine.  So far, I still cannot get the smell out.  Does anyone know how to do this? Thanks Joanne

I have used sliced potatoes. For some reason they soak up the smell. It works every time I get gas for the lawnmower and it spills on the carpet in my car. I have also heard that kitty litter will do the same thing. Hope this helps.  Vickie

I’m willing to bet that the reason you can’t get the smell out is that the petroleum product has soaked farther into the padding and upholstery than you have successfully cleaned.  Water won’t do it, because you’re working with an oil and need to use something that is a grease dissolver.   My grandfather (the mechanic) used this:  Soak the area thoroughly with a mixture of 1-2 cups plain white vinegar mixed in 1 gallon warm as you can stand water, then use lots of clean white towels and a brick, clamp or something else to add weight (your own tired arms will do, too) to wick out all of the petroleum and water solution.  Follow with a rinse of warm water mixed with baking soda (1 1/2 cups per gallon), then again wick out until as dry as you can get it.  You will probably be best served to use something warm to dry the rest of the upholstery, so it doesn’t mildew. Kamia

Getting Cigarette Smoke Smell Out Of The Car

Q. We recently purchased a used vehicle.  The vehicle smells strongly of cigarette smoke.  Does anyone have any ideas on how to get rid of this odor?

A. Try Fabreze or a like spray

A. Ex-smoker and Ex-hair stylist…there are several citrus products out there that are made to neutralize odors rather than cover them up. I used one at the Salon when Perm solution stunk up the room. – BB

A. There is a substance called “sweet rock”. I have seen it sold at large gas station/convenient stores and truck stops while traveling. I do not know the more scientific name for this substance, but it will remove any odor any place any time. It is a very porous material that soaks up every smell around. It works even if flat, but it is often sold carved into animals and such and ready to hang on your car mirror. Judy

A. Hi, This is in response to the readers who have odors they cannot get rid of in their car (smoke) and home (motel madness!)  Leave a dish of citrus peels in the car and wherever the odor is in the home.  I had a "vomit on a very hot summer day" smell in my car and it went away in a few days with the citrus peel.  The trick is to leave it until it dries out. Hope this helps! – Monica

A. This is a suggestion for the above question regarding cigarette smoke in the car. Use some coffee (not already perked) and put it inside a sock. Tie the end of the sock. Then, just put it in the car, maybe under the car seat and it will take the odor out. It works really well at getting rid of lingering odors anywhere, not just the car. – Robin.

A. This will also work for the cigarette odor in the car. Place a bowl of white vinegar in the car and leave over night and the next day the smell should be gone. This worked for a friend who had some meat fall out of her grocery bag in the trunk of her car in the summer in Florida and found it a few days later by following her nose. She could still smell it even after having the car professionally cleaned. At her wits end she tried the vinegar and it worked.

A. Years ago my mother in law bought a used car that had been used by some kind of Dr. The inside had a medicinal odor. They suggested she put a fresh l/2 can of coffee on the floor in back seat and start it on fire. The burning coffee grounds took the smell out pretty good. This might work for the cigarette odor in car and also for the lady with the smelly house. Not guaranteed but worth a try. – Ruth