Does this sound familiar? It’s been a long day at work, you want nothing more than to come back to your apartment and relax. You walk up the stairs and unlock the door. Before you even have the chance to turn on the lights, your nose tells you what you don’t want to know: your apartment stinks! Sure, once you’ve settled on the couch and turned on the TV, the bad smell seems to have faded. Don’t be fooled–your apartment smells as bad as ever. Your olfactory system has just acclimated itself to the funk. Planning on having friends or a significant other over anytime soon? You’ve got to get rid of that smell first.
Sometimes, just identifying the source of the stink is half the battle. Undoubtedly, you’ll engage in a sniff-n-search operation in an attempt to discern the source of the stench. You’ll move room to room like an airport sniffer dog with a pile of suitcases, frantically smelling the trashcans, the bathroom, the dirty laundry. Sometimes you’ll be able to find the offender, sometimes not. In tiny apartments, bad smells travel fast and permeate every room, making it hard to figure out where all the trouble started.
If you’ve got a mystery smell on your hands, tackle the obvious suspects first. If something smells rotten, pay a visit to your trashcans, recycling bins and refrigerator. Take the garbage and recycling out and then take a good whiff of the empty containers. Sometimes garbage and recycling bags leak foul smelling liquids that breed bacteria and mold. Bins and cans need to be flushed with mix of household cleaner and water from time to time. If you have something serious growing at the bottom of the trash can, you may need to add a sponge and some rubber gloves to the equation. Next check the refrigerator for anything well past its sell date and toss it. If you haven’t already, buy a few boxes of baking soda, rip off half of their tops and place one in your fridge and one in your freezer. Baking soda absorbs odors in enclosed spaces and is well worth the $0.99 you’ll need to spend for each box.
Once potential food odors have been eliminated, move to the bedroom. Are there sweaty gym socks and t-shirts stewing in your closet? Wet clothes can start to harbor smelly bacteria if they sit in the hamper long enough. The solution to this problem is easy. Next check out the bottoms of all the shoes you’ve worn recently. Don’t stop here. If you’ve been wearing flip-flops or suffer from Sweaty Feet Syndrome, give each shoe a quick smell. Baking soda will help absorb odors in sneakers and dress shoes alike; just sprinkle a few tablespoons inside the shoe and let it sit. Flip-flops should be washed with soap and water at least a few times during the summer months.
Once you’ve tackled each of these problem areas, air out the apartment. Open a few windows and set up a fan to create airflow. Then leave for a few minutes and come back to assess the situation with a refreshed nose. Still smell something strange? Maybe it’s your roommate…. a much more complicated problem.
Sometimes there is no mystery smell–as soon as you walk in the apartment you can figure out what’s causing the problem. Pet odors are easy to identify, as is last night’s dinner. Here are some common culprits and ways to take them down:
Smoke: Cigarette smoke smells are notoriously hard to remove. The longer the apartment has been exposed to smoke, the more difficult it can be to remove the smell. If last weekend’s party is the source of the stench, simply airing out the apartment for a few hours may do the trick. For a smoke smell that has set, break out a box of trusty baking soda. Sprinkle it over carpets and let it sit for a day or two before vacuuming. You can do the same thing with upholstered furniture. Mix equal parts of vinegar and water and place bowls of the mixture in each room to help absorb the smell. If your walls look yellowed or stained, smoke might have actually permeated the paint. Mix a small amount of bleach and water. Using rubber gloves, lightly sponge your walls to remove smoke stains and smoky smells.
Fish, hard-boiled eggs and other smelly foods: Fortunately, smells from last night’s dinner don’t tend to stick around long. If you need to get rid of food smells in a hurry, set out a few bowls of the vinegar mixture and aerate the apartment for a few hours. Your oven may be hanging on to strong food smells. Give it a whiff and a wipe-down, if needed.
Old apartment smell, aka “the old-lady smell”: Maybe your grandma’s house smells like fresh baked cookies. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a stuffy, mildewy, hard-to-pin down kind of smell that’s never noxious but definitely unpleasant. Unfortunately, there are many possible causes for an old apartment smell and just as many solutions. Here are just a few of them:
- Humidity: Get a dehumidifier.
- Poor air circulation: Strategically placed fans can improve flow. Spray Febreeze or another odor control spray as well.
- Mildew: Sniff-n-search, followed by a good scrubbing with cleaner and hot water.
- Old wallpaper, old carpets: Bleach solution and baking soda, respectively. No luck? Talk to your landlord.
- HVAC system/air ducts: These should be cleaned and have regular filter changes. Your landlord is probably responsible. Check your lease.
Sometimes it’s not that your apartment smells bad, it just doesn’t smell good. If you’re having a special guest over, showing the apartment to a subletter or having a party, you want the place to smell great. Real estate agents think about this every day. One tactic that they often use to make a home seem more appealing is brewing a pot of coffee or baking a sweet-smelling dessert like banana bread or brownies. Hate coffee? No time to bake? Sprays and candles may be the next best thing. Let candles burn for 10 to 15 minutes to allow their scent to spread across the apartment. Remember to go easy on sprays and perfumes. Your nose will get used to the scent quickly but your guests may be overpowered when they walk in the door.
If you want to experiment with different scents, explore aromatherapy oils. You can buy aromatherapy pots at most home supply stores. They usually feature a small well for scented oil, which sits atop a candle. The heat from the candle will release the scent of the oil, which can cover all kinds of less pleasant smells. You can recreate holiday scents with a few ingredients from your spice rack. Mix a few teaspoons of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves into a skillet and set on low heat. The heat from the stove will open the scents in the spices and change the whole feel of your kitchen. Do you love the smell of fresh laundry? Grab a handful of scented dryer sheets and place them around the house–in drawers, hampers and linen closets.
Do you have any time-tested tactics for making your apartment smell great? Please share them in our comments section!