How to Get Rid of Bad Smells in Your House for Good

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated July 27, 2022
Man opening window letting fresh air in his house
Photo: Andrey Popov / Adobe Stock

Because games are fun, but “what’s that smell?” isn’t one of them

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Looking for ways to de-stink your home? Bad smells happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with them. Imagine being greeted by scents of lavender and citrus rather than stale pet dander or last night’s dinner. Here’s how to get rid of bad smells in your house, no matter what’s causing that stench.

Why Do Bad Smells Linger in Your House? 

Sometimes the source of a bad smell is easy to find: perhaps you left out a glass of warm milk on your nightstand or abandoned a full trash can while you went on vacation. But even if you take care of the issue, that smell can hang out long after you’ve taken out the garbage. 

If you don’t have adequate airflow in your home or delay taking action on the stench, expect some stinky air to be an issue for a while. In this case, simple acts like opening a window can go a long way.

However, if you’re not quite sure where that icky smell is coming from, and it just won’t go away, it could be a sign of a larger problem. Water damage, mold, persistent pet accidents, or a pest infestation can all cause some lingering foul odors. Consider this smell your first clue, and keep an eye out for any visible signs of mold, odd behavior from pets, or pests making your house their home. 

What Absorbs Bad Smells?

First thing’s first: If you want to get rid of bad smells in the house, you’ll need to have your cleaning arsenal stocked with deodorizers. Here are some easy household items to keep on hand to banish bad odors. 

Baking Soda

Baking soda is best for odor absorption in concentrated areas, like inside your pantry shelves or your fridge. Keep an open box in these areas to prevent odors. Baking soda is also a powerful cleaning agent and can be used to absorb odors in carpet or furniture stains, so keeping an extra box handy is never a bad idea.


You can use vinegar to get rid of musty odors in your home and laundry. When combined with baking soda, it also creates a fizzy cleaner that will spruce up surfaces while eliminating odors.

Lemon Juice 

Have half a lemon left over from dinner? Use fresh lemon juice to neutralize odors in kitchens. Spritz it inside your trash can to avoid that lingering garbage aroma. A little lemon juice in the sink or garbage disposal can also kill off the nasty smells from old food scraps that fell into the sink.


Use lavender to freshen up stale and musty environments such as closets and dresser drawers and even help repel moths. Luckily, it also doubles as decor—you can create charming bowls of dried lavender potpourri or keep bundles of fresh lavender in vases to get rid of bad smells throughout the house.


You’re probably familiar with the enticing scent of coffee in the morning, but did you know that the grounds or whole beans can also keep gross smells at bay? You can dry out used grounds or use fresh grounds in a bowl in the fridge or pantry to absorb odors.

Activated Charcoal

Like baking soda and coffee, you can place activated charcoal in smelly areas to neutralize the odor thanks to its porous nature. You only need about a teaspoon to do the job.

Store-Bought Cleaners

A store-bought cleaner is also a good option; just make sure it’s an actual cleaner and not simply a deodorizer. Those air freshening products only mask the odor rather than attack the source of the yuck. Look for enzymatic cleaners to banish everything from oil and grease smells in the kitchen to pet urine on the carpet.

How to Get Rid of Bad Smells

Once you’ve identified the tools you’ll use to get things smelling their best again, you’ll want to follow the steps below.

1. Find the Source of the Bad Smell

Whether you want to get rid of a musty or sour smell in your house, you need to identify where it’s coming from. Many different areas in the home can produce smells that are unpleasant, and simply lighting a candle won’t get rid of the smell itself; it will just cover it up. 

While you should certainly follow your nose here, if you still can’t find the source of the stink, try some areas like bathrooms, basements, crawlspaces, garages, trashcans, and behind appliances.

2. Encourage Airflow

Once you’ve identified the source of the stench, it’s time to get fresh air moving through your home. Open windows to get fresh air in and bad air out. Turning on the air conditioner or a fan can help, too. 

3. Clean and Deodorize

With the windows open and the bad air moving out of the home, it’s time to get to work fighting the source of the bad smell. Wipe spills, clean stains, or scrub away messes that are causing the stench. If you’re not confident that you can clean regularly enough to keep odors at bay—or just aren’t quite sure where to start—a cleaning company near you can help.

4. Change Air Filters

HEPA-certified air filters are a great resource because they help filter the air and eliminate bad smells. Of course, an air purifier is only as effective as its filter, so make sure you follow your air purifier’s guidelines and regularly change the filter. Most companies suggest changing it every three to six months for best results.

5. Use Deodorizers

Once you’ve found the source of the smell, cleaned it up, and opened the windows, it’s a good time to put out or refresh odor neutralizers throughout the home to take care of any lingering smells. Use those coffee beans or baking soda in bowls or jars, or place vases of lavender in each room. This step can help eliminate the old smell and keep new odors away.

Tips for Handling Common Bad Smells in Home 

Bad smells are bound to crop up again no matter how careful you are. Here are some common sources of stench to investigate, plus how to clean these areas.

Woman taking garbage out of the trash container
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

Trash Cans

Clean out your trash can with soap and water (it’s easiest to do this in the driveway). Then, sprinkle a tablespoon of baking soda into the dry bottom of the can to help absorb any new smells.

Garbage Disposal

Sometimes, food gunk can get stuck in the garbage disposal, leading to a smell that takes over the kitchen and ruins dinnertime. Luckily, cleaning it is easy. Squeeze some lemon juice into the sink area for a fresh smell. Or, for a deeper clean, drop lemon slices or rinds, small ice cubes, and a pinch of salt into the garbage disposal and let it run for a few seconds until you’ve crushed up the lemon and removed the smelly gunk for good.


When last week’s leftovers are pushed to the back of the fridge, that old food smell will drift into the kitchen every time someone grabs a can of soda. First, clean out old food containers and toss wilted veggies. Wipe down any sticky spots or spills. Then, add an open box of baking soda to absorb any smells.


If you just can’t seem to pinpoint a gross smell in the kitchen, it may be coming from the dishwasher. To deep clean your dishwasher, start by wiping out any visible food bits on the base and drain of the appliance. Then, you can begin cleaning individual parts. 

  1. Remove and rinse the filter. 

  2. Remove and wash any additional removable parts.

  3. Place a cup or bowl of distilled white vinegar on the top rack.

  4. Run the dishwasher on a hot wash cycle.

  5. Wipe down the walls and base of the dishwasher.


It’s easy to forget about food left in the pantry. While shelf-stable goods aren’t likely to stink, there could be some expired foods or spilled items that are causing a foul odor. Clean up any food and toss expired items. Then, place bowls of baking soda or coffee beans on the shelves to neutralize future smells.


No one wants to clean the toilets, but when this chore goes undone, the whole house suffers for it. Clean and disinfect the toilet, including the bowl, the seat, the tank, and the base, at least once a week.

If the unpleasantries linger, it may be due to an issue with your sewage system or septic tank, if your home has one. Contact a plumber if the smell doesn’t go away after a thorough cleaning or if it gets worse.

Showers and Bathtubs

Soap scum and mildew could be causing a stink in your bathroom, so make sure to scrub down the shower and tub once every two weeks. Another potential source of the stench? The shower curtain and liner. Be sure to wash the curtain and cloth liner once per month and clean plastic shower liners at least once every three months.


Stinky sneakers and gym clothes can leave a closet smelling like a locker room. Regularly washing your clothing and putting dryer sheets inside your sneakers when they aren’t in use can help. You can also spray the interior parts of your closet with equal parts vinegar and water to help deodorize.


Water damage, potential pests, and lack of air circulation can leave basements smelling musty. Keep things dry with a dehumidifier in your basement, and try leaving out a bowl of vinegar for around 15 minutes to neutralize any odor.

Carpeting & Furniture

Hire a local carpet cleaner to shampoo your rugs and eliminate bad pet aromas. In between visits, sprinkle baking soda on dried, clean furniture and carpets, let it sit for 30 minutes, and then vacuum it up to remove the most intense pet smells.


When it seems like you just can’t pinpoint the source of odor in your home, it may actually be the walls that need a good scrub, especially in homes where previous occupants were smokers. 

Easily remove odors by washing down the walls with a baking soda and vinegar solution. If using a multi-surface cleaner, make sure you can use it on painted walls.

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