Cleaning Tips For Smelly Houses

Stinky smells can arise from a variety of sources: pets, mildew, smoke, trash… The worst part is, even if you clean every day and your home is spotless, a random smell can make buyers and visitors think your home is unclean or worn out.

When staging a home, I try to think with all 5 senses, and smell tends to be the easiest for homeowners to miss. After a while, our noses become immune to certain smells, and the stink can take over. Having a clean smelling house goes a long way in first impressions with buyers.

However, the old adage of baking cookies or using potpourri is lacking. What about the unplanned visit? You don’t always have time to throw a dozen cookies in the oven. Or what about the buyers who are sensitive to smells? Potpourri can make the experience of being in your home a nightmare.

Rather than covering up smells, I always suggest cleaning them or neutralizing them. If you just cover up a smell, it will come back. If you clean it, you have a better chance of eliminating it, or at least lessening it so you can cover it up.

As the first in the three part series on eliminating smells from your home, we will discuss flooring surfaces because it is the first place to attack when trying to eliminate smells. Daily traffic brings in mud, pets use floors as bathrooms, and typical cleaning isn’t enough to get all the smell causing grime out.

I have used all of the products below and find them to be very effective. I tried to include both inexpensive solutions and name brand products. Although the brands tend to work a little better as they have more active ingredients, the cheaper solutions are remarkably effective and great for those on a budget. As a disclaimer: Please always do a test area before using any product on any surface.

Cleaning Hard Floors

Homeowners often overlook hard floors as sources of smells because they assume hard surfaces cannot absorb odor. However, all flooring surfaces are porous, and those tiny holes will soak in anything that lands on them, just like carpet. The three basic cleaning techniques for hard floors are:

1. Sweep with Baking Soda: Sweep all floors. Spread baking soda all over the floor. Let it sit overnight and then sweep in the morning again.

2. Mop with Vinegar and Water (Okay for hardwoods, tile, linoleum, etc): Whip up a solution of 1/4 cup white vinegar and 30 ounces of warm water. Put in a recycled spray bottle, and then spray on a cotton rag or towel until lightly damp. Then mop your floors, scrubbing away any grime.

3. Mop with Bleach and Water (Tile and linoleum ONLY): An effective sanitizer is a weak bleach/water solution. Put on some gloves to protect your hands-you don’t want any bleach to come in contact with your body. Work in a well-ventilated area because the fumes should not be inhaled. Mix: ¼ teaspoon bleach with 4 cups cold water.

Best Hard Floor Odor Absorbers

-Baking Soda

-Arm and Hammer Pet Fresh Carpet Deodorizer ($5): Works great on hard floors, also!

-Nature’s Miracle Stain & Odor Remover, 1 Gal ($25): You can mop with this as a final clean to neutralize any remaining pet odors.

Vacuuming Carpets

Vacuuming is a chore no one likes to do, and as a result we often rush through it. When trying to get odors out, it is important to follow these steps:

Step One: Vacuum slowly and deliberately. Imagine you are driving a Zamboni at a hockey rink, taking deliberately slow steps. Pay particular attention to corners and where the wall meets the floor and doorways. You are trying to get as much hair, dirt, dander, and allergens up as possible. Don’t forget to vacuum under your furniture.

Step Two: Spread an odor absorbing powder on the carpet and let it sit overnight.

Step Three: In the morning, vacuum slowly and deliberately again. The powder will absorb any scents the vacuum missed.

Best Vacuuming Odor Absorbers

-Baking Soda

-Arm and Hammer Pet Fresh Carpet Deodorizer ($5)

Steam Cleaning Carpets

Before steam cleaning, always vacuum first. I like to take deep cleaning a step at a time, going from the most basic to the most involved because homeowners are busy enough as it is. Although steam cleaners can cost between $20 and $50 to rent, it may be a worthy investment to get rid of difficult odors, especially if stains are present. The directions vary, but typically you should expect it to work like a vacuum with three steps:

Step One: Use the steam cleaner to apply the solution to the carpet, making it wet but not soaking.

Step Two: Vacuum up the wet solution with the steam cleaner.

Step Three: Let it dry over night, making sure not to allow anyone or anything to walk on the carpet.

Best Steam Cleaning Solutions

-Vinegar Only Option: The vinegar only smells while wet, and as an added bonus, it doesn’t leave behind a residue. Use in a 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water ratio.

-OxiClean ($6) + Vinegar Option: Use one scoop of OxiClean Stain Remover ($6), one cup of Febreze Extra Strength ($5) OR one cup of vinegar, and the recommended hot water. The outcome is not only clean, but it also kills all odors.

-Bissell 2X Pet Stain and Odor Advanced Formula ($15): Works great for all stains, not just pets. If you do have pet stains, it helps remove the making scent and discourages pets from resoling the area.

In the second of the three part series on eliminating odors from homes, we will focus on soft surfaces, walls, kitchens and bathrooms – the trickiest parts of a home to clean. We’ve all been there: something smells irritably awful in our home. We walk around, using our nose like a bloodhound, trying to hunt down the source of the offending odor only to find it hiding in something we’re just not sure how to clean. Carpets and floors are easy – but things like sofas, curtains, and walls can be daunting.

Upholstery Cleaning Solutions

Mist upholstery with any of the following products to make upholstery smell fresher. You can also use the products on draperies. Products are listed from least expensive to most expensive.

-Vinegar: The vinegar only smells while wet, and as an added bonus, it doesn’t leave behind a residue. Use in a 1 vinegar to 10 water ratio.

-Febreze Linen and Sky ($6 each): I know their marketing comes on a little strong, but Febreze really does work! PLEASE be careful which Febreze scent you chose. I always suggest scents with “cotton” or “linen” in the title, as those are the lightest and least offensive to picky noses.

-Febreze Extra Strength ($5): Although it goes against my scent selection rule, I find this helps permanently remove tricky odors better than regular Febreze. The downside: the scent isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so it’s best to use it when you have a few days to let the smell fade.

-Nature’s Miracle ($11): One of my all time favorites for removing tough pet odors. You can use it just like Febreze, but it is specially formulated to work on pet odors. It even has a fresh, clean scent!

Wash Curtains, Drapes, and Bed Linens

Curtains, drapes, and bed linens like bedspreads are items homeowners rarely clean. They tend to hang out in the background, and we forget how many odors they are capable of absorbing. I like to clean my fabrics once yearly to remove all the dust and grime, but if you are noticing a persistent odor and you aren’t sure where it is coming from, curtains, drapes, and bed linens are often the culprit. Sometimes you have to dry clean them, but often you can place them in the laundry with your regular detergent, following the care instructions on the tags.

Wash the Walls

Cleaning walls not only works, but it’s a lot cheaper than repainting! If you don’t have time to wash all of your walls, you can use this process to spot clean particularly dirty area. Remember: Only wash walls that are wall-papered or painted in satin, semi-gloss or glass finishes (NEVER flat paint, and only sometimes eggshell). For cleaning textured walls, use nylon socks instead of a sponge or cloth to avoid leaving material chunks behind. And because walls are more sensitive to liquid, ALWAYS test a small area first.

Step One: Move all furniture, pictures, etc… away from the walls.

Step Two: Find a starting corner, and work your way around the room, top to bottom using a mop or damp cloth.

Step Three: Wipe with clean water.

Step Four: Dry cleaned walls with a towel.

Wall Cleaning Formulas

-Ammonia Formula: Use clear ammonia, which is generally sold in janitorial supply stores. Because of its strong odor, only use it in well-ventilated areas. Mix 1 to 2 cups of ammonia per gallon of water. Using cool water is best as it creates fewer fumes.

-Ammonia, Vinegar, and Baking Soda Formula: If you are worried about pets soiling the walls (ammonia is the main ingredient in urine), this formula works best. Mix ½ cup ammonia, ¼ cup white vinegar, and ¼ cup baking soda to 1 gallon warm water.

-Woolite for All Delicates ($6): This is the simplest to make and the gentlest cleaner. Use a capful of Woolite in a bucket of water.

-Mr. Clean Extra Power Magic Eraser ($10 for 8): Use a Mr. Clean Magic Sponge on any tough spots or to spot clean. This will keep your walls looking great, and eliminate painting as often.

Bathroom and Kitchen Cleaning

There are a million bathroom cleaning products on the market, but I’ve found a few that work better than others at getting bathrooms and kitchens clean AND smelling great. Also note, the bathroom and kitchen are the only room in the house where I would use citrus scented products for a freshly cleaned smell.

Lysol Basin, Tub, and Tile Cleaner with Citrus Scent ($5): I use this on all my surfaces as it is effective, gentle, and removes germs.

-Formula 409 Natural Stone Cleaner ($5): If you have granite, marble, or travertine surfaces in your kitchen or bath, this product is both cost effective and cleaning effective.

-Scrubbing Bubbles Bathroom Cleaner, Lemon Scent ($8 each): I have a glass enclosed shower, and nothing removes the water spots and stains like Scrubbing Bubbles, a sponge, and a squeegee. It’s the only thing that works for me, and there is no elbow grease involved. The scent is always fresh and clean.

-Lysol Power Toilet Bowl Cleaner ($3 each): Keep one under every bathroom sink in your house for easy access and cleaning! It removes all the stains, and in my experience, it helps PREVENT odors from forming.

-Windex Glass Cleaner ($5): No bathroom is clean without a sparkling mirror, and Windex is a great old standby. Generics work just as well, but can leave more streaks if you aren’t careful. You can use this on polished nickel surfaces, also.

In the final part of our cleaning series, we will discuss how to maintain a freshly-cleaned scent now that you have fully cleaned your home. Long term odor control solutions deal with absorbing offending odors before they have a chance to penetrate the floors, walls, fabrics, and other surfaces of your home. Air freshening solutions are great for quick pick-me-ups. Used in conjunction, these solutions will help keep your home smelling as fresh as it was when you first cleaned it.

Odor Controlling Solutions

-FRIDGE IT Carbon Odor Absorbers ($3.95 each): These don’t have a scent themselves, but they help to eliminate odor by absorbing it the same way baking soda works in a refrigerator. You can hide them in decorative vases, baskets, or bowls in extra-stinky areas of your home like the kitchen, bathroom, mud room, pet area, or kids’ playroom.

-Holmes® True HEPA Allergen Remover ($100): Most air purifiers don’t work, and some are even bad for you. The ionizers create ozone, which actually harms your lungs. The Holmes line with carbon Arm & Hammer®-enhanced filters work amazingly well. There are 4 speeds to allow for a quiet run, and they even control the odor from my cats’ litter box!

Air Freshening Solutions

Try to keep the air in your home as fresh as possible. If you use air fresheners, I suggest scents with “linen” or “cotton” in the title as they tend to be lighter and less offensive to people with sensitive noses.

-Fresh Air: Keep windows open as much as possible, letting in fresh air.

-Febreze NOTICEables Alternating Scent Oil Warmer, Clothesline Breeze & Meadow Songs ($9 each): I prefer the Febreze NOTICEable line because the scents are light and they last longer than most plug-in style fresheners.

-Febreze Air Effects ($9.99 for 3 pack): Great for quick touch-ups, but not for consistent use.

-Glade Sense and Spray Clean Linen Scent ($9.99 each): I love this product as it works like typical scent sprayers, but it’s automatic and doesn’t use more than necessary. DO NOT put it where it will spray on people, and always put it away before a showing.