What's That Smell? Cleaning Tips to Combat Unpleasant Scents

Updated February 19, 2016
a coffee cup full of coffee beans
Did you know that coffee beans or vinegar can remove any almost any nasty smell? Check out more stink-eliminators the pros use in clients' homes. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)

Got a foul smell in your house that won't go away? Cleaning pros offer tips on deodorizing scents left by kids, pets and other mishaps.

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Sniff, sniff... what IS that smell?! Whether it’s reeking teenagers, burnt toast or just an overall funky odor emanating from your house, consider these insider home odor-removing tips from highly rated house cleaners on how to seek out and destroy the stench.

Vinegar: Your secret weapon

“If you’ve burned something, get a washcloth or small hand towel wet with vinegar and whirl it around in the air for awhile,” says Debbie Groothuis, owner of Bizzy Bee Housecleaning Service in Snohomish, Washington.

In fact, our experts say vinegar is a secret weapon that serves as a “de-stinker” for many unpleasant aromas. “You can place bowls of white vinegar or coffee beans in each room to absorb any odors,” says Kim Condon, vice president of Godsend Cleaning in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Stinky sink? Pour vinegar down the drain to eliminate any unwanted smells. “The key is maintaining the home so it doesn’t have bacteria growth,” says Kevin Wagnon, owner of My Sweet Clementine Pure & Natural Housekeeping in North Charleston, South Carolina. “Bacteria is what causes homes to stink.”

Wagnon offers a natural deodorizer recipe for carpets, sofas and mattresses: one-part vinegar mixed with one-part water, and add five to 10 drops of clarifying essential oils such as lavender, tea tree or eucalyptus. “Just shake and spray it on,” she says. “The vinegar smell will disappear within an hour or less once it dries.”

Angie’s List member Lucinda DeMarco of Cottageville, South Carolina, hired My Sweet Clementine and says she’s most impressed with how wonderful the house smells when they’re done cleaning. “They use natural cleaning agents, like Happy Lemon Mint Bubbly Scrub Cleaner. They also pour scented oils down the drain to make them smell good. I use scented oils and candles in my house, but never thought of pouring them down the drain!”

The terrible toilet

One area to consider, especially for parents with little boys, is the bathroom wall next to the toilet.

“Behind the toilet can be especially gruesome,” Wagnon says. “Boys don’t always aim with accuracy and this can lead to a bad urine smell in the bathroom. Most likely it’s from your walls. Try spraying your walls with warm vinegar and letting it sit. If you have tile with grout, spray the grout as well. Then simply wipe away. This will kill the bacteria causing the odor.”

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article that was originally posted on Feb. 28, 2014.

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