Quick fixes for smells in the home

Hank Bailey
Hank Bailey
Published on October 21, 2019

One of my kid’s recent vocabulary words found use for today’s blog. It’s the word “inured.”

That’s just a fancy way of explaining how we can, over time, become accustomed to something unpleasant.

If you’ve ever lived near roosters or chickens, railroad tracks or under the flight path of a local airport, you know what I’m talking about. At first, the noise may have been a nuisance, but after many a sleepless night it became torture. Yet overtime you got used to it and those noises blended in with the other noises in life that you hardly notice.

It’s the same with smells. We become accustomed to the odors in our home and it’s not until either someone very honest comes to visit or we return home after some time away that we realize just how stinky the home is.

While pets and smoking are obvious causes of home odors, other sources are a bit harder to track down. Let’s take a look at some of the first places to check if you have stinky house.

That “smell” coming from the kitchen drain

If you’ve ever been hit in the face with a sewer-like odor coming from the kitchen sink’s drain, getting rid of it almost becomes your life’s mission.

Plumbers recommend that you start with the simple causes during the process of elimination. In this case, start with the garbage disposal.

After time, food particles can become stuck on the blades. As they build up, and decay, they’ll become smelly.

Empty a tray of ice cubes down the drain and let the disposal run until they’re ground up. Then, run cold water through the drain for about 30 seconds.

This is the fun part: pour ½ cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by a cup of vinegar (white or apple cider – it doesn’t matter).

Like a child’s science project, the drain will begin to foam and fizz and pop. Allow the self-made volcano to erupt to its fullest and when it’s finished, run hot water down the drain.

If the stench remains, and it resembles the smell of rotten eggs, you may have a larger problem.

It could be hydrogen sulfide gas, also known as “sewer gas,” coming from the main sewer line. “Sewer drains that have dry traps can allow hydrogen sulfide gas to enter the home,” according to experts at the Illinois Department of Health.

While breathing low levels of sewer gas won’t typically cause health problems, at high levels, “hydrogen sulfide gas can make you sick and could be fatal,” according to the health department.

While we can’t vouch for this detection method (published at WomansDay.com), it may be worth a try. Pour one teaspoon of peppermint oil down the kitchen drain, followed by hot water.

Walk around the home, especially to rooms with sinks (bathroom, laundry room). If you can smell the peppermint, call a plumber. The trap may be dry or even cracked.

Wait – while you’re in the laundry room

Laundry rooms centrally located within the home are often an overlooked cause of household odors.

Naturally you’ll want to be more mindful if you are one of us who allows the wet load to sit too long. After a load is finished, and you’ve removed the items from the washer, allow the washer door to remain open so that the moisture dries.

If your washer has a rubber seal around the door, clean it periodically with a solution of equal parts of white vinegar and warm water.

Newer washers have self-cleaning cycles that should be set in motion once a month. If your front-loading washer lacks this feature, run an empty load of hot water to which you’ve added 2 cups of white vinegar to the detergent dispenser.

Allow the cycle to complete and then run another, long, hot cycle with 1 cup of baking soda added to the drum.

Top loaders get a bit of a twist on the procedure, according to the experts interviewed by Today.com.

Again, set the washer to the hottest setting, at the highest water level. Place four cups of white vinegar in the detergent dispenser (or in the drum if your washer lacks a dispenser). When the machine fills and begins agitating, set it to pause and wait one hour before allowing the cycle to continue.

Run a second cycle with 1 cup of baking soda added to the hot water.

Are you really going to eat off those dishes?

Our dishwasher is the workhorse of the kitchen. Experts say it should be cleaned once a month and it’s an easy process. Run a load, without dishes, but with 1 cup of vinegar added.

You may also want to do a deep cleaning to get rid of the food debris that can cause quite the stench. This process is a bit more complicated, but worth it if it gets rid of odors.

Your owner’s manual may have deep-clean instructions. If not, the following procedure should help.

  • Remove the bottom rack from the empty dishwasher.
  • Inspect the drain and remove any debris.
  • Wipe up food scraps and other nasties from the bottom of the dishwasher.
  • Locate the dishwasher’s filter (if it has one) and remove it. Open it and clean out debris trapped inside. Rinse it well in hot water before replacing it.
  • Use a damp rag to which you’ve added a few drops of liquid dish detergent or vinegar to wipe down the dishwasher door along with its seals and the dishwasher’s racks and spray arm.
  • Use a toothpick to pick out any debris in the holes in the spray arm.
  • Check for other areas where food debris or a buildup of soap may be causing odors (for instance, around the soap dispenser and the inside of the door).
  • Run an empty load to which you’ve added dishwasher cleaner or 2 cups of vinegar.

Appliance owners’ manuals contain a wealth of valuable maintenance and cleaning information.

If you’ve lost yours you may find one online. Go to your favorite search engine and enter the name of the manufacturer and your appliance’s model number.

Any bad odors as a result of your pet friends?

Probably the closest, most real life example, I can make in this blog post to us becoming used to smells in our homes is to share with you some feedback from two listings where showing agents shared their experiences and that of their buyers on several particular showings.

“They didn’t like the back deck or the bathrooms, but their biggest turn off was the cat smell.  Not sure if the cat is still living there but if you could do something about the smell, I think that would be our most constructive feedback.  Good luck to you!”

“FYI smelt like doggie?? I would recommend air fresheners.”

“Very strong pet Odor”

I could give you more as the examples never end when there are strong cat (litter boxes) or dog odors. In a realtor.com post that dealt with dog smells, the author offered some great advice related to removing dog smells from your home.

Cleaning expert and happy dog owner Leslie Reichert, aka The Green Cleaning Coach, shares her routine on how to get rid of dog smells in the home:

  • Vacuum dog beds once a week.
  • Wash dog beds every other week.
  • Vacuum floors twice a week depending on the type of dog and its shedding pattern.
  • Wash hard floors like tile and vinyl with a strong cleaning solution and very hot water.
  • Use a cover on any furniture that dogs are allowed on and wash the cover weekly.

The post goes on to discuss some natural dog odor eliminators. According to Liz Alterman, “Liberally sprinkling baking soda, a natural odor eliminator, on your furniture or carpet and allowing it to sit overnight is a great first step to neutralize dog smells. Plus, it’s completely safe for your fur baby.

Another option is to look to your bar cart. Reichert advises spraying areas where dogs lie with vodka. Really?

“Yes, vodka will remove the dog smells when it evaporates. I do this three times a week,” she says.

How much should you use? “Just a spritz,” she recommends.”

Purify the air

Pet owners looking to remove odors, dander, and animal allergens find this purifier highly effective.
Pet owners looking to remove odors, dander, and animal allergens find this purifier highly effective.


“While air purifiers definitely make a positive difference, they need to be high in quality,” says Reichert, who recommends Austin products such as the Air Pet Machine Air Purifier (Amazon, $594.99).

This model’s multistage filtration includes a true HEPA filter, which traps 99.97% of allergen particles. With three speeds, it purifies up to a 1,500 square foot space.

Soak it in

Because it contains no harsh chemicals or masking fragrances, this continuous release gel is safe to use around people and pets.
Because it contains no harsh chemicals or masking fragrances, this continuous release gel is safe to use around people and pets.Amazon.com

“When you’re dealing with stubborn dog odor, you want something that will absorb the smell, not mask it.” Reichert recommends Fresh Wave Continuous Release Odor Eliminator (Amazon, $39.03).

“Made from extracts of soy, lime, pine needle, aniseed, clove, and cedar wood, Fresh Wave odor-removing gel is both biodegradable and nontoxic. Best of all, it’s an odor neutralizer,” Reichert says, “not a cover-up.”

Spray and neutralize

This is strong enough to tackle skunk odor. Who could ask for more?
This is strong enough to tackle skunk odor. Who could ask for more?Amazon.com

“If you want more of a spot-cleaning spray,” Reichert recommends the Citrus Magic Pet Odor Eliminator (Amazon, $9.40), which neutralizes the strongest pet odors on contact. Thanks to a blend of vegetable enzymes, its nonstaining, noncorrosive formula can be used on any surface, including … wait for it … your dog’s coat.

These are just a few suggestions and examples of ways to handle those odors we once again become “inured” to over time. Please always feel free to reach out to me with questions. Also, would love your insights into handling pet or other odors around the home and what you found as successful!

For the complete post I referenced above entitled, “How to Remove Dog Smells From Your Home (Because Honestly Fido Stinks),” please feel free to click here for more!

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