Making Your Apartment Smell Great

in Health & Safety on by

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!

37 Responses to “Making Your Apartment Smell Great”

  1. January 14, 2008 at 9:00 am, Guest said:

    Great idea for making the apartment smell good: I happen to enjoy the smell of poo. So, when I drop a hearty log in my bowl, I let it float in the toilet for a few hours. I leave the bathroom door open and let the fresh turd-smell fill the apartment. Other ideas for making your apartment poopy-fresh is if you step in a big pile of dog poop outside..instead of cleaning the bottom of your shoes off, walk around your apartment with them on and really grind those dog logs into the carpet. This will keep the room smelling great for weeks. If i’m in a hurry and I know company is going to be coming over, I will try to pinch off a quick loaf, and simply hide it in the corner. The hot steamer that you put on the floor will fill the air in no-time and get that apartment smelling poopy fresh right before anybody gets there. Oh how I love poop!


  2. January 14, 2008 at 11:41 am, Guest said:

    For a quick fix, I like to use incense sticks. The room will smell great while burning but it does tend to neutralize after it stops. At least the unpleasantness is gone.I recommend Nag Champa for a nice earthy scent.
    But sometimes incense sticks tend to smell artifical. Another thing I like to use is raw resin. (ex. frankincense, myrrh, etc.) Burn it on charcoal or on a skillet.


  3. January 18, 2008 at 3:17 pm, Guest said:

    I have a patient convalescing in my home. Many times the house can end up smelling like a convalescent hospital i.e. urine smells, etc. It used to distress me very much until I discovered the power of citrus. I use a spray made of orange peels and you would be surprised how effective it is in neutralizing smells. Taking this concept further, I began to leave bowls of discarded orange peels especially around the bathrooms and kitchen and it was just as efficient if not more so than the spray. Hope this helps!


  4. January 19, 2008 at 11:03 am, Guest said:

    Yeah I tried that, it works.


  5. January 20, 2008 at 1:05 am, Guest said:

    I think you need help…Sick SICK


  6. January 20, 2008 at 11:12 pm, Guest said:

    OMG that was soo nasty i couldnt stop laughing though!just wasnt expecting that


  7. February 05, 2008 at 4:53 am, Guest said:

    I think you must be ——–, loving poop so much…


  8. March 21, 2008 at 9:58 am, Guest said:

    Pet Urine in carpet I have a friend who moved into a apartment and I notice three yellow stains in the carpet told the manager she said make a not of it. Later on that night I realized it is urine The smell will not go away we cleaned the carpet or self the owner will not do anything she says the carpet was clean before we moved in. we did our own walk through when we moved in the manager did not want to so we found everything wrong wrote it down then went to have it notarized to give ot the manager the next day. What can I do this smell is making me sick PLEASE HELP


  9. March 27, 2008 at 9:07 pm, Guest said:

    shampoo the carpets with borax and vinegar. 2cups vinegar 1 cup borax per gal.last for months plus no fleas and no soap scum.


  10. April 08, 2008 at 10:16 am, Anonymous said:

    I need info on renters rights about replacing carpet.It was my understanding that apartmentts for health reason and good air quality ,they are required to replace carpet every 5 years.Is this true and where can I find info as to how many years before I have a right to demand new carpet to help with mt allergys


  11. June 30, 2008 at 11:18 pm, Guest said:

    A great tip to cut the odor down within your kitchen trash can is to sprinkle a little baking soda in the bare bottom of the can, as well as a little sprinkle inside the trash bag (if you happen to line the inside of your can with a tall kitchen bag). You only have to sprinkle baking soda on the bare bottom of the can about once. However, whenever I insert a new tall kitchen bag inside the trash can, I always make sure to sprinkle the inside with a little bit of baking soda before I deposit one bit of trash inside. It works every time.


  12. July 15, 2008 at 11:08 pm, Guest said:

    Sounds Shitty!


  13. August 01, 2008 at 3:16 pm, Guest said:

    That is a wonderful, low cost tip…Thank You :)


  14. August 08, 2008 at 11:08 am, Guest said:

    Tell them you are going to seek legal action because you have proof that the floor was as is before you moved in. If they are not running to your apartment with a way to get the urine out or new carpet; take them to court. As long as you have proof you’re good to go.


  15. August 24, 2008 at 3:24 am, Guest said:

    I am pleased that the article suggests scented oils instead of spray air fresheners. Spray air fresheners are made of chemicals you probably do not want to be inhaling on a regular basis. Scented oils and incense is a very good solution.

    For getting rid of odors, I always use baking soda. Always seems to work wonderfully, and of course is very cheap and safe to use all the time. I’m a big advocate of using baking soda for everything heh


  16. October 24, 2008 at 2:00 pm, Guest said:

    whats up with the poop freak


  17. November 23, 2008 at 3:16 pm, Guest said:

    thank you, funny scatophilic freak


  18. January 16, 2009 at 11:50 pm, Guest said:

    I find using Mr. Clean with Febreeze makes the whole place smell really nice. Also whenever I clean my shower I wash the shower curtain the the washing machine with a little bleach and more of the Mr. Clean with Febreeze. The whole place smells fresher and I don’t have to replace my shower curtain every time it gets a little soap scum on it.


  19. January 18, 2009 at 11:11 pm, Guest said:

    I am a nurse in charge of the senior facility and deal with odor management all the time in my line of work. Room Shocker is an extraordinary new product on the market. It is by far, bar none the best odor remover I have ever used. It uses new technology that has only been available to big industries till now. You can find it on a website called biocidesystems. It works so well they offer a moneyback guarantee. Make sure you get it from them, or one of their distributors. My friend bought from another site that sold a knock off. The real product has the name biocide systems on it and is the only one that has a silver label. It not only removes the odor, but it completely sanitize the room from any bacteria mold mildew fungus etc. that’s how it gets rid of the odor. It’s easy to use, not labor-intensive and not expensive.
    Now that I’ve been using this. Anything else is a waste time and money. This product is much needed in in so many situations so I am spreading the word to him as many people know about it is possible
    On a scale of 1 to 10 I give it 12!!


  20. March 04, 2009 at 10:20 pm, Guest said:

    OMG.. I want to thank the poop person SOOO much!!! I was having the worst day ever and I have never laughed SOOOO hard! Thank you seriously that was the best relief of stress ever!!!!!


  21. March 04, 2009 at 10:28 pm, Guest said:

    A tradition from my country.. when ever we fry food we then boil water with cinnammon, and cloves, you can also add apples and it smells like your baking nad makes your whole home smell excellent and you can continuosly add water for a few days. But I do this every night and whenever I clean my home. ANOTHER ONE: My aunt loves the smell of clean laundry so she boils a bit of laundry detergent with a bit of water and her whole apartment smells like fresh clean laundry.


  22. June 26, 2009 at 1:59 pm, Anonymous said:

    The poop man was soooo funny, this was a great way to relieve some stress. Thank you for the good laughs!


  23. July 13, 2009 at 11:43 pm, anonymous said:

    Ive had dogs my entire life, and in college i had one very smelly roomate. So here is what helps me.

    -For pet and unrine smells:
    if the spill is fresh (still wet) place a lot of paper towels or an old towel over the area. Step on the towel, and walk around on it until its all soaked out of the carpet. Then mix 2 cups of water with 1cup white vinegar. Scrub that in the spot really well(really, get it soping wet) let that sit for 5 minutes… then repeat the towel step. If there is still a stain.. mix 1T laundry soap with water…mix WELL and scrub the spot..repeat towel step. let dry completely. Sprinkle at least 1 cup of baking soda on the spot and let sit overnight. vaccum it up in the morning.
    Also use Cartpet Arm and Hammer Pet Fresh. Sprinkle on each time before you vacuum..leaves a fresh scent behind.

    -Everything Cleaner: equal parts of white vinegar and water. mix in a spray bottle
    -Air and Furniture Freshener: 2 cups warm water, 2 Tablespoons baking soda, 1Tablespoon liquid fabric softner.. Shake before each use in a spray bottle. I leave out open boxes of baking soda in each room to suck up odors. If you can, open windows at night for an hour. Most houseplants are great air fresheners!
    -Homemade Potpourri: the peel from 1 large orange, handful of fallen pine needles, 1 tablespoon cloves, one drop cinnamon essential oil, 2-3 cinnamon stix. Shake in ziplock bag and let sit out in a bowl in any room. I love cinnamon inscence as well, but lots of people are allergic!


  24. September 03, 2009 at 7:24 pm, Karie said:

    Want a beautiful aroma in your apartment? Gold Canyon Candles. Any scent you want. I do not sell them, so I’m not trying to do that – I’m just a consumer who adores these candles. They’re awesome!


  25. September 24, 2009 at 12:01 pm, Rachel said:

    To make my apartment smell good I place a laundry sheet infront of my air filter to get the smell throughout all of the vents. It keeps the whole place smelling good for several days.


  26. December 04, 2009 at 9:40 pm, Angela said:

    Oh, I like the idea of putting dryer sheets with your furnace filter. That makes a lot of sense and I think would work well in conjunction with some of the other ideas.


  27. May 06, 2010 at 2:45 am, Kathy suggests: said:

    Poop man’s outrageously funny! Reminds me of my former lover. I’m a power person. I take what works. Vinegar and water in a spray bottle work are my solution for everything – washing windows, tile, grout, leather (YES!), add 1 cup to rinse water in laundry instead of softener (removes suds and wakes up darks and whitens whites), clears up athletes foot fungus.
    Want to make your place smell good? Go to the 99cents store and get boxes of Venezia Soapworks Lemon Verbena Moisturizing Soap, and YARDLEY LONDON Oatmeal & Almond with Natural Oats naturally moisturizing bar(s); leave them in the boxes and place the boxes at the headboards, in the closets, and in dresser drawers. You’ll have sweet dreams and your clothes will smell great. :]


  28. May 24, 2011 at 10:35 am, kent said:

    Man, this is so helpful.. What a good reminder of all the ways to keep a place smelling good! .. I havnt tried it in my house, but I’ve done it in my car and it works pretty well. Ill buy some coffee beans that I really like the smell of and just open up the bag and leave it. At perfume stores the uses coffee beans to smell in between each perfume-smell because it does something with the nose to remove all the stuff uve been smelling. I will also say that, it’s not as strong as you would think it to be unless its next to a source of heat..


  29. July 15, 2011 at 12:47 pm, Kay said:

    If you urine in your carpet, it’s in your pad! It will not come out! You have to replace the pad and clean the carpet, but it goes through to the concret floor! You cannot get out urine if it sits longer than a few minutes.


  30. December 08, 2011 at 10:29 pm, JJ Henry said:

    As a landlord with several rental properties, I have come across really bad smells. I do not know what my former tenants were doing in the apartment, but way too often the place just reeks. I was so happy to find Room Shocker. It’s an odor eliminator that works like fumigation bomb, but for odors. This stuff works great. It’s gotten out odors like, smoke, fish, and pets. The list goes on, but seriously try this stuff. You can find it at


  31. December 21, 2011 at 8:51 pm, RSO said:

    No. 1 is get rid of carpeting and any furniture. You can try to cover up smells, but getting rid of the offenders is the first step. Second, I know this is a lot of work, but washing the walls top to bottom works wonders. You don’t have to use strong chemicals, just soap and water, or a spray cleaner or white vinegar. You can even use a sponge mop and run it up and down the walls. This is the best way of getting rid of cooking smells. Then after you repaint the walls, you’re good to go – no smells! And don’t forget to wash the floors too.


  32. January 11, 2012 at 6:13 pm, Charlie Gerk said:

    Our make ready for smelly apartments is using Paint Scentsations.

    It cost us $5 to make our apartments smell like gold and lease out in no time!


  33. January 24, 2012 at 9:59 am, Anonymous said:

    Poop guy…you rock!!!
    Thanks for the tips everyone…will definitely give these a bash! :-)


  34. April 18, 2012 at 4:56 am, Taryn said:

    When I moved into my apartment it was filthy and smelled like a dirty hamster cage. I washed the walls and it did not help, i think they may have been freshly painted before we moved in. The floors were sealed raw wood that had been sealed without being sanded and all of the dust and dirt settled in the floor along the grain in the wood. All of the smell in the house cleared up when I switched to using a steam mop to clean. I only use a vacuum and and the steam mop and now my apartment smells completely neutral. I light a scented candle to make it smell nice for company.


  35. December 21, 2012 at 5:19 pm, berent said:

    go aroma therapy- it’s natural and healthy. stay away from synthetic sprays,and even natural candle burning,as that gives off nasty sooty, unhealthy residue. burning anything,is problematic.
    fabreeze ??!! don’t get me started,that’s synthetic crap,that is neither healthy nor good smelling. it smells like artificially produced candy on steroids. it’s pungeant, and acrid, and disgusting. why people like it is beyond me.


  36. November 17, 2013 at 12:56 pm, Rachel said:

    spray a lightbulb with your favorite scent! the heat spreads the fragrance throughout the room


  37. May 24, 2014 at 9:59 pm, Maria said:

    Some good tips here, but beware of using dryer sheets- they are a known carcinogen and are also used as rat poison. Stick to natural remedies and avoid toxic chemicals!


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