Household smells: 41 hacks to get rid of them

Whether you want your house to smell nicer all round, you're fighting a daily battle with a niffy pet bed or there's an suspicious whiff you want to get to the bottom of, our guide to getting rid of nasty smells will give you a fresher home

cleaning a toilet with blue toilet cleaner and a toilet brush while wearing rubber gloves
(Image credit: Getty)

Are there some smells in your house that you'd rather live without? Stinky trainers littering the hall, a dank smell in the living room, a teen's musty bedroom, lingering cooking odours, mildewy undertones in the bathroom? Or perhaps unexplained eggy smells, fishy aromas or scents you can't put your finger on (and would rather not)? Every home, however clean, occasionally suffers from nasty niffs that need banishing. Use this guide to get rid of nasty smells in your house. 

With help from a couple of home fragrance buys and a few of these brilliant hacks, your home will be smelling fresher than fresh in no time.

5 quick hacks to banish nasty household smells

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1. Open the windows

Too obvious? Maybe but sometimes that's all a room needs, especially in winter. Doing so won't just let fresh air in, it let's stale air out and – importantly – stops condensation in its tracks (more on that later). 

2. Be a clean freak

Pollutants in the air cling to house dust and smells cling to fabrics, so it makes sense to empty bins more than once a week, to mop up spills and cooking mess after eating and to vacuum once a week with one that has a HEPA filter (the best vacuums for pet hair will do the trick). 

3. Have a dry-out day 

Remember the olden days when people used to take their rugs outside and beat them, or hang their duvets out of their bedroom windows? They did it for a good reason – getting rid of house dust (er, that's probably mostly your dead skin, people) cuts down on household smells and allowing damp, dank or sweaty fabrics to dry right out prevents whiffy mould and mildew forming.

4. Stock up on bicarbonate of soda

It's officially our favourite natural deodoriser – sprinkle it on carpets for an hour before vacuuming, place it in a cup in a dank-smelling airing cupboard (pssst! Find more laundry hacks like this in our guide), mix it with white vinegar to wipe out a smelly fridge...  

5. Get some house plants

We all know that plants produce oxygen. Enough said – other than that we've got tons of house plant help and indoor garden inspo too to help in that area! 

Using hoover to clean underneath sofa

(Image credit: Hoover)

4 ways to freshen up a smelly hallway

The hallway can be prey to nasty smells that you don't want to inhale when you come home – and that you definitely don't want your guests sniffing when they step over the threshold. Here, we tackle the biggest offenders:

1. Damp coats

If yours never quite dry out before you head out in the rain again, it's likely that your hallway smells a bit dank. Washing and thoroughly drying coats regularly will help, as will opening a window, and whack up the hallway heating up once a day to allow coats to dry. Or, you could put a dehumidifier where it can't be seen (there is such a thing as a cupboard dehumidifier). The same goes for drying washing – allowing air to circulate or taking steps to remove damp air will make your home smell fresher. If you're not sure about how to choose the best dehumidifier, then check out our guide.

2. Smelly shoes and sneakers

Do your gym trainers or the kids' shoes sit in the hallway adding to the general air of mugginess? A quick fix is to have a tub of bicarbonate of soda handy (that helps with dank air caused by wet coats, too), and to sprinkle it into the shoes when you take them off. Leave them overnight, shake them out, and they'll be odour free.

3. Stinky pet beds

Obviously, washing and drying pet beds regularly will keep them smelling fresh – and they'll be more hygienic, too. But if that time-consuming task isn't working for you, putting activated charcoal near their beds will absorb those odours. Find more ways to clean up after your dog in our handy feature.

4. Get a good air freshener

It's worth saying that air fresheners only mask smells and don't get rid of them, but it never hurts to have one in your hallway. Find our pick of the very best air fresheners.

Sage painted door in a hallway with bold geometric tiles

(Image credit: Modern Harlequin)

4 ways to make your living room smell lovely

3 store cupboard stand-by air fresheners

You've probably already got these ingredients, so if you need fresh air in a hurry, try these quick, natural recipes:

Lemons: cut up a couple, pop them in a saucepan, cover with water and boil. This works well for freshening microwaves, too – just swap the pan for a bowl.

Dried herbs and flowers: lavender, rose petals, herbs, whether home-grown or shop-bought can be crumbled into a sweet-smelling pot pourri. Replace as soon as the scent fades.

Essential oils: combine with warm water in a spray bottle and spritz just before guests arrive (avoid spritzing over furniture).

The living room is where you, your kids and your pets spend lots of time and, if the room is an open plan space combined with the kitchen and dining area, it's likely you all spend nearly all your waking hours at home there. Which means it's probably victim to some lingering odours. Here's how to tackle the worst of them:

1. Clean the carpet thoroughly

If you've got carpet, it's important to clean them hard once a week. The quickest odour-removing route is to sprinkle it with bicarbonate of soda, leave for an hour, then vacuum. Find out all our carpet cleaning tricks and hacks in our dedicated feature.

2. Clean lightbulbs

We know. Weird. But if you're cooking nearby or if you live with a smoker, it's worth knowing that the grease, dust and smoke in the air will cling to every surface and not just upholstery, carpets and curtains, but to lightbulbs, too. And when you switch on the lights, they'll warm up that greasy combo and it will smell. So, wiping over lightbulbs every week or two as part of your cleaning routine will keep the room fresher.

3. Clean upholstery and curtains

Just like carpets, fabrics will absorb smells and cling on to them. Simply vacuuming them once a week will really help, but the occasional clean with a good quality upholstery cleaner will make all the difference, too. Find the best upholstery cleaners in our guide.

4. Use coffee to clean the air

Let's say you've eaten kippers for dinner and can't quite face the lingering smell tomorrow? Filling a couple of bowls (more in a large, open plan space) with fresh coffee grounds, and shutting the door of the room overnight will absorb the nasty odour. Throw away the coffee grounds and repeat with clingy smells. 

fresh green living room with floral wallpaper

(Image credit: carpetright)

10 ways to banish kitchen smells

Cooking smells are (generally) lovely but stale cooking smells, the stink of leftovers, burnt food odours, the lingering aroma of grease or spices can be somewhat nauseating – especially if your kitchen is combined with your living room. Here's how to combat those cooking odours:

1. Use bicarbonate of soda on floors and worktops, and in the fridge

Bicarbonate of soda:  you can't beat it for preventing odours hanging about. Sprinkle it on kitchen worktops and floors, leave for a good half an hour then vacuum it up. Put an open container of it in the fridge to soak up bad smells (it'll last months). Stash bowls of it around the kitchen. Works like magic. 

2. Use vinegar as a natural deodoriser

Simply spraying a solution of one part vinegar and one part water on countertops and appliances before wiping them down will clean them effectively and banish smells. Don't forget to wipe down small appliances and shelves, too – smelly dirt can cling to everything that's not hidden away behind doors. After a quick fix? Boiling a cup of vinegar in a pan will cut through greasy smells – and the smell of vinegar will dissipate quickly.

3. Deodorise the bin

Every time you take out the trash, clean out the bin. A shot of bleach or (a fave of ours) Zoflora and hot water will do the trick, but you can use our beloved bicarbonate of soda to freshen it up, too. Burnt something? Don't put it in the bin indoors – take it to the outside bin or the smell will continue to permeate the house.

4. Put food in sealable containers

Most foods will stay fresher for longer in sealable containers but there are other benefits: you won't be able to smell them if they're under a secured lid and household pests won't be able to either. (Find out how to get rid of mice if that's the kind of pest you're thinking of.)

5. Clean the dishwasher

Hands up who cleans their dishwasher regularly? We can't see you... but we suspect, from the lack of show of hands in the Real Homes office that it's not often. But... it's one of those appliances that can become smelly, quickly. So, once a month, use a dishwasher cleaner to give yours a clean. You can use white vinegar if you don't have dishwasher clean handy: simply pour it into an upright cup on the top rack of the machine and run the machine empty. We've got tons more tips for cleaning dishwasher in our dedicated feature.

woman packing cutlery in a dishwasher

(Image credit: Getty)
4 ways to clean your vacuum cleaner to banish nasty smells

It stands to reason that a dirty vac is going to make your home smell worse. Keeping its interior clean is key. Always follow your vac's manufacturer's recommendations, but here are some vacuum cleaning hacks to try: 

1. Change the bag if the vac emits a nasty niff. For bagless vacs, empty and clean the canister and filter. 

2. Take the vacuum cleaner apart and look for blockages – hair is often a culprit (worth knowing if you have pets). 

3. Wash and thoroughly dry those parts of the vacuum cleaner than can take it; using a bicarb and water mix will help banish clingy smells. 

4. Put something sweet-smelling in the vacuum canister or bag – anything that won't rot quickly is ideal (think cotton wool pads soaked in lavender essential oil or pot pourri. 

6. Clean the microwave

Same message: microwaves are subject to a lot of food splatter so as well as investing in a microwave food cover, that's easy to pop in the dishwasher, giving yours a regular wipe out (ideally after every splatter incident) then popping a lemon in a bowl of water and cooking it on high for three minutes will make it smell much fresher. The steam this causes gives you a good opportunity to easily remove stuck-on food, too. Find more ways to clean your microwave in our dedicated feature.

7. Banish burnt smells

The smell of burnt food can hang about, but boiling cut lemons in water on the hob will remove the smell. You can even add herbs and spices to the mix to create a unique air freshener. Of course, cleaning the oven regularly helps since food deposits will burn every time you turn up the heat. Check out our quick guide to cleaning the oven for clever cleaning hacks. Use our guide to cleaning stainless steel to add that shine.

Best kitchen cleaners

Best kitchen cleaners
Make the kitchen sparkle with our pick of the best kitchen cleaners.

8. Clean cutting boards

It's easy to clean plastic and glass chopping boards: simply put them in the dishwasher after every use. But if you use a wooden one, it's a different story. If yours still smells despite being washed, cut a lemon in half, dip it in salt, and rub it over the board. Then wash as usual. 

9. Wash the washing machine

Washing machines are big germ-harbouring havens – and bacteria leads to nasty household smells (find out more about banishing germs from your home in our dedicated feature). So, cleaning your washing machine is a no-brainer. Mould and mildew builds up in the seal and the powder drawer (get rid of mould and mildew all over your home with our help, too), while the drum can remain forever damp if you don't leave the door open between washes. Washing machine cleaners will keep yours fresh – and keep your washing white (did we mention we have loads of great laundry brightening hacks, too?). But you can find more ways to clean your washing machine in easy steps with our guide. 

10. Deodorise the waste disposal 

It makes sense that a waste disposal smells but it's easy to sort with a natural remedy. Simply drop cut citrus fruit into the mechanism while it's running. Follow that up with a cup of white vinegar and cold water. The vinegary smell will soon disappear. 

The best mould sprays

The best mould sprays
Need something heavy duty? Or eco-friendly? We've found the best mould sprays for your home.

4 ways to make your bedroom a scented haven

1. Freshen up your mattress

Let's not be coy: we spend many hours every night sweating in our beds. So it's no wonder they smell musty pretty quickly. The solution? Back to good old bicarbonate of soda. Sprinkling it on your bed, leaving it if for an hour or so then vacuuming it up will give it a quick refresh. Of course, washing bedding, including pillows and duvets, as well as bedlinen regularly will all help, and will get rid of dust mites, too. Find more ways to clean a mattress in our guide.

2. Cut down on condensation

Condensation is a result of poor ventilation and that, as we know, brings with it mould, mildew and odours. So, cutting down on condensation (skip to our guide on how to stop condensation to find out more) is a must-do. Opening windows is the easiest way to do it, but dehumidifying products will help, too. 

3. Air clothes before you put them away

Putting away damp clothes – or clothes you've been wearing that seem quite clean but will have your body's moisture clinging to them – will make your wardrobe and drawers smell musty. So, air clothes thoroughly before you put them away, invest in a wardrobe dehumidifier or leave wardrobe doors or drawers cracked open to help keep the interiors fresh. A bag of dried herbs in each will up the scent, while a pot of open bicarbonate of soda will remove that dank smell. 

4. Keep pets off the bed

Yeah, we know. They're cute, we love them, they look at us with big, pleading eyes... But pet dander is a) smelly and b) a lovely dinner for dust mites, all of which adds up to a smellier bed, bed clothes and bedroom. 

3 ways to make your bathroom sweet-smelling

4 smells you need to investigate fast

1. Smell of rotting meat

If you've had to get rid of rats or mice recently, it might be that you can smell their remains. First, we're sorry. Secondly, you need to find them because the smell won't go quickly and will be attractive to other household pests

2. Rotten eggs

This is usually down to poorly fitted or faulty plumbing, which is allowing the smell from your drains to travel up into the bathroom. Bleach will help temporarily, but long-term, there's nothing for it but to call a plumber to remedy it. 

3. A fishy smell

This could be due to electrical problems, so check sockets and outlets for scorching or melting – and call a registered electrician to deal with any issues. 

4. Gas

If you smell gas, don't hang about. Check gas appliances that might have been left on by mistake are turned off and open windows. If the gas is a leak, turn it off at the meter, call out an engineer pronto, and don't turn use anything electrical or light flames. Our advice? Go outside until the engineer arrives. 

1. Ventilate the bathroom 

There's no getting away from it – opening windows or having an extractor fan will remove nasty odours and introduce fresh air, which will, in turn, stop mould and mildew build up, which brings with it its own smells. 

2. Clean, clean, clean

We've put together guides on bathroom cleaning (see below), but don't forget to clean those often overlooked areas such as right behind the toilet, that corner of the shower where mould is beginning to thrive and, of course, the bin.

3. Wash the shower curtain

The shower curtain is susceptible to mould growth. Put it on a hot wash every time you wash your bathroom towels to keep it smelling fresh. 

Best bathroom cleaners

Best bathroom cleaners
Get the job done fast with our pick of the very best bathroom cleaners.

More cleaning and organising hacks:

Lucy Searle

Lucy is Global Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of in 2018 then moving to Homes & Gardens in 2021. She has also written for Huffington Post, AOL, UKTV, MSN, House Beautiful, Good Homes, and many women’s titles. Find her writing about everything from buying and selling property, self build, DIY, design and consumer issues to gardening.