How to keep a small kitchen odor-free

All the expert-approved tips you need to keep your small kitchen smelling fresh

Small white kitchen with steel appliances
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If you’ve noticed that your kitchen has a little bit of a smell, you might be wondering how to go about keeping a small kitchen odor-free. The truth is that knowing how to effectively combat odors isn’t always as simple as you might think, but there are a selection of steps that clean experts always suggest taking to combat smelly kitchens. 

While you might think that emptying the trash regularly and cleaning the kitchen would be enough to prevent nasty kitchen odors, it actually takes some rather specific steps to keep a small kitchen odor-free. 

We spoke to a panel of experts, including a professional cleaning expert and a specialist maid service, about all the best ways to approach keeping a small kitchen odor-free, as well as the best small kitchen ideas for ensuring that your space is easier to keep clean. Here’s what they told us.  

How cleaning experts prevent and tackle nasty kitchen odors

Admittedly, there are plenty of kitchen cleaning hacks that you can utilize when it comes to keeping your kitchen clean and tidy. But what about the steps it takes to ensure that, as well as looking clean, the space smells fresh too? This is what the experts have to say.  

1. Keep trash cans clean

Kitchen with white cabinets and silver trash can

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If there's one area of your kitchen that's the most likely cause of bad odors, it's the kitchen trash can, especially if you put excess food waste in there. 

Ryan Knoll, owner of Tidy Casa, says: "Food waste is a primary source of bad odors in the home. This is especially true when it comes to bad smells coming from your trash can."

So, in order to keep your trash can and, by extension, your kitchen smelling fresh, keeping it clean is vital. 

Knoll says: "To clean your trash can, first take out the bag and scrub the inside of the can with warm soapy water (this Dawn dish soap from Amazon would work well for this) and rinse thoroughly. To prevent future odors coming from the trash can place a small amount of cat litter (this Arm & Hammer cat litter from Amazon should work well) in the bottom of the can before replacing the bag."

If you don't have access to cat litter, lemon peels or baking soda (we always like to recommend this Arm & Hammer baking soda from Amazon) are both great alternatives, as both will help to absorb bad odors and keep your trash can smelling fresher for longer. Another option is to use a product like Bin Buddy from Amazon to keep your trash can smelling fresh.

Ryan Knoll
Ryan Knoll

Ryan Knoll is the owner of Tidy Casa and has been in the residential cleaning industry for over a decade and Tidy Casa has served over 100 clients in the greater Phoenix area.

2. Keep your garbage disposal clean

White sink with vegetable scraps

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Keeping your garbage disposal system clean, and making sure that your garbage disposal is unclogged,  is essential for preventing bad odors from occurring in your kitchen. 

Knoll says: "Your garbage disposal gets a lot of use throughout the week. Even if you don’t intentionally place food down the drain, small pieces still make their way into the drain. Garbage disposals will eventually begin to stink. 

"An easy way to get rid of this smell is to cut up a lemon with a few tablespoons of salt and some ice cubes. Place these items in the disposal and run it until the lemon and ice are clear. The lemon will deodorize the disposal and the ice and salt will remove any build-up on the blades."

For refreshing your garbage disposal system, these garbage disposal cleaning drops from Amazon, which have over 4000 five-star reviews, are a great option.

3. Keep your refrigerator clean

White fridge open with vegetables inside

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If your fridge isn't kept clean, you'll find that it starts to get a nasty odor. So knowing the best ways to clean a fridge and the steps it takes to prevent bad smells coming from your fridge is vital. 

Knoll says: "The easiest way to clean your refrigerator is to remove all the items and scrub all the shelves, and drawers. Use a mixture of baking soda and warm water, then wipe down with a mixture of water and white vinegar (we always like to recommend this Heinz white vinegar from Amazon). To prevent odors, keep an open box of baking soda in the back of your refrigerator. This will absorb any funky smells. Replace the box monthly or the baking soda itself will begin to smell."

Once your fridge is clean, a really great hack, that I learned from my mom, for keeping it smelling fresh is to cut a lemon in half and place both halves in the refrigerator. This works to help absorb nasty smells. 

Alternatively, one of these seriously cute toad stall fridge door deodorizers from Amazon should work just as well.

4. Keep the dishwasher clean

Open dishwasher with dishes

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While you might assume that dishwashers are self-cleaning (after all, they leave your dishes spotless), actually they need a little TLC every now and then too. Else, they can end up emitting a rather nasty odor. So, knowing how to clean a dishwasher and what it takes to prevent odors from occurring is essential for a fresh-smelling kitchen. 

Knoll explains: "People often don’t think about cleaning the dishwasher. It’s supposed to clean dishes not be cleaned. Wrong. Even after a few wash cycles food debris and scum will build up in the bottom of the machine creating bad smells. 

"To get rid of these odors remove the debris tray and filter and wash in the sink. Replace these pieces, then place two cups of distilled white vinegar (this Heinz white vinegar from Amazon is our go-to) into the dishwasher, not the detergent slot. Run the dishwasher on a hot water cycle for about half an hour. Pause the cycle halfway through so the vinegar and water can soak into the trays, sides, and bottom of the machine. Then finish the cycle. Doing this will break down any detergent buildup, mildew, and bacteria in the machine."

For a pre-made cleaning solution for your dishwasher, this Afresh cleaning powder from Amazon, which has over 50,000 five-star reviews, is a great option. 

5. Ensure that there's adequate ventilation

White kitchen with silver range hood

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If your kitchen lacks adequate ventilation, bad odors are more likely to linger. 

Ben Gold, Cleaning Expert and Founder of Recommended Home Buyers, says: "Ensure your small kitchen has adequate ventilation. Install a range hood or use exhaust fans to eliminate cooking odors and improve air circulation. This simple step can make a significant difference in maintaining a fresh atmosphere."

Angela Rubin, a Cleaning Expert at Hellamaid, adds: "Proper ventilation is crucial. Use exhaust fans, open windows, or invest in an air purifier to improve airflow and reduce lingering odors. Also, placing bowls of activated charcoal (like these activated charcoal bags from Amazon) or coffee grounds around the kitchen can help absorb unwanted smells."

It might sound odd but coffee grounds can be used for cleaning and removing odors, and are a great resource for helping to keep your kitchen smelling fresh and odor-free.

Ben Gold

Ben Gold is the founder of Recommended Home Buyers and a cleaning expert specializing in maintaining fresh and odor-free spaces. With a strong background in real estate and property development, I've garnered valuable insights into efficient and practical cleaning solutions for various environments.

Angela Rubin, cleaning expert at HellaMaid
Angela Rubin

Angela Rubin works at Hellamaid, a top-rated cleaning company in Canada. Hellamaid are industry experts specializing in residential and commercial cleaning services. 

6. Don't attempt to mask smells

Reed differ on tray with greenery

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While an air freshener might help your kitchen to smell fresh in the short term, as the scent wears off the bad odor will still remain. This is because most air fresheners simply mask smells to make homes smell fresh rather than getting rid of them. So, instead of masking bad smells, it's a good idea to find ways to remove or absorb them. 

Gold says: "Utilize natural deodorizers such as baking soda (this Arm & Hammer baking soda from Amazon is a great choice), vinegar, or citrus peels to neutralize odors. Placing an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator or near the trash can effectively absorbs unwanted smells. These eco-friendly alternatives enhance air quality without harsh chemicals."

Or, if you'd prefer a pre-made spray, opting to use an air sanitizer, like this air sanitizing spray from Amazon, is another great option for removing bad odors. 

7. Establish a regular cleaning routine

Person wiping glass table

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When it comes to making sure that your small kitchen smells fresh, putting a regular cleaning routine in place is essential. 

Gold says: "Establish a consistent cleaning routine to prevent odors from accumulating. Focus on areas prone to trapping smells, like the refrigerator, trash bin, and sink. Use mild cleaners (like this non-toxic Method cleaning spray from Amazon), wipe down surfaces (using cleaning wipes like these Clorox wipes from Amazon) can speed up the process), and dispose of food waste promptly to keep your small kitchen smelling fresh."

A great hack for keeping on top of kitchen cleaning is to create a kitchen cleaning checklist that you can follow a check tasks off of.


How can you ensure that trash cans remain odor-free?

Trash cans are one of the most common culprits of bad smells, so knowing how to keep them odor-free is important. 

Angela Rubin, Cleaning Expert from Hellamaid, says: "Ensure prompt disposal of food waste to prevent odors from developing. Line the trash can with baking soda or sprinkle it at the bottom to absorb unpleasant smells. Additionally, clean the trash can regularly with a disinfectant solution."

How can you absorb odors in your kitchen?

A great way to get rid of bad odors in your kitchen is to find ways to absorb them.

Rubin says: "Utilize natural odor-absorbing agents like lemon peels, vinegar, or essential oils. Boil lemon peels in water or leave a bowl of vinegar on the countertop to neutralize strong odors. Essential oil diffusers can also infuse the kitchen with pleasant scents."

Understanding how to keep a small kitchen odor-free can be more challenging than you might think. 

Gold says: "Maintaining an odor-free small kitchen involves proper ventilation, natural deodorizers, and a regular cleaning routine. These practical tips contribute to a clean and inviting space."

It's easy to assume that a spritz of air freshener will ensure that your kitchen smells fresh and clean. But, actually, there's far more to it than that. To keep bad smells at bay you need to remove them, rather than masking them. 

It's also important to understand what the steps cleaning experts always take when cleaning small spaces are.

Beth Mahoney
Freelance journalist

Hi! I’m Beth Mahoney and I’m a former staff writer at Real Homes. I’ve been a journalist for the national press for the past six years, specializing in commerce and trends-related lifestyle articles, from product reviews and listicles to guides and features. With an eye for pretty things (think: quirky wall prints, scalloped edge furniture, and decadent-looking tableware) but a limited budget, I love nothing more than a bargain buy.