If there’s an unpleasant odor in your house, your first priority is to discover the root cause. Once you’ve done that, it will be easier to avoid the issue in the future.

After you’ve determined what’s causing the smell, you can tackle the immediate problem of getting rid of it. Our guide can help you make that happen. We’ll also talk about what you can do to make your home smell amazing.

How To Avoid Bad Smells

In this section, we’ll talk about some of the most common house odors. We’ll fill you in on what causes them, and what you can do to eliminate the problem.

How To Remove Mold

If you’re detecting an unpleasant musty, humid, or bitter odor, you probably have a mold colony lurking somewhere. You can try to mask the scent using an air freshener, but this will only cover up the issue. Your best course of action is to combat the mold itself.

When mold spores are left to grow unchecked, they can trigger allergy or asthma attacks. Even if you don’t suffer from these afflictions, the smell alone is highly unpleasant.

Mold tends to grow in damp, dark areas. Check beneath the furniture and along the baseboards until you’ve found the colony. Bear in mind that there might be more than one, so be thorough in your search.

Once you’ve found the problem areas, put on a mask and protective glasses. For carpets, you can use vinegar or baking soda to eradicate the mold spores. If the mold is growing on the walls or other bare surfaces, scrub with bleach or a multi-purpose cleaner until no traces remain.

How To Clean Smelly Carpets

Mold might be causing your carpet to smell funky, but the foul odors could also be due to spilled food or drink. Pet accidents are another common culprit–the smell of dog or cat urine can linger in the carpet forever.

To freshen up your carpets, try sprinkling them with baking soda a few hours before vacuuming. This ingredient will soak up odors, so when you vacuum the carpet later, the whole room will smell better.

Sewer Odor Control

Sewer gases are the byproduct of chemicals that result from decaying waste. If that sounds unpleasant, that’s because it is. When the gases back up and enter your home, the place will have a rotten-eggs smell. If the issue is left untreated, it can cause serious illness.

How do you get this problem under control? If your sinks smell like gas, try running the water for a while. This should restore water to the S-trap, which will keep the gas from entering the house. Pouring water down the floor drain will have a similar effect.

You should also check the clean-out plugs on the sewer lines, and replace any that are missing or broken. A leaky wax ring on the toilet could also be the culprit. If the problem is due to a sewer pipe leak or a loose connection (or worse, a dead animal blocking the pipe), you’ll need to seek professional help.

How To Control Odors From Your Trash Can

Adding a few tablespoons of baking soda to the trash can will help cut down on foul odors. Cat litter and dryer sheets are inexpensive and effective alternatives. If the can gives off a bad scent even when it’s empty, try washing it out with a solution of 2 tablespoons bleach to 1 gallon of warm water.

How To Conceal Pet Odors

Pets may be members of the family, but their presence can make housekeeping a challenge. To keep their body odor from stinking up the house, wash and vacuum the floors as often as possible. Don’t forget to use the vacuum attachments on the furniture upholstery and curtains.

You should also wash your pet’s bed every week or so, and keep the house well-ventilated as a preventive measure. If you don’t use a groomer, be sure to give your pets baths on a regular basis.

How To Get Rid of Closet Smell

What’s the best way to eliminate that musty scent that’s emanating from your closet? Keeping your clothes clean is one obvious answer, but there may still be some lingering odors.

An air freshener provides an easy solution, but if you’d rather not use a commercial brand, you can create your own. Mix 1-1/2 cups warm water with four packets of plain gelatin and stir to combine, then add a tablespoon of kosher salt. Mix well, then add 1/2 cup vodka and about 20 drops of whatever essential oil you prefer. Add the mixture to a jar and let it sit for six hours before placing it in your closet.

How To Control Cooking Odors

A garlic smell might be nice while you’re cooking, but it becomes unpleasant if it’s allowed to stick around. To keep pungent food smells from lingering in the kitchen, try simmering a solution of one part vinegar to two parts vinegar on the stove as you cook.

A potpourri of orange or lemon peels with aromatics such as whole cloves and cinnamon sticks will also work. Also, be sure to keep the stove vent running while you cook.

As an alternative, you can invest in a charcoal filter splatter screen. These are designed to absorb odors, and they’ll protect your stovetop and backsplash to boot.

Smoke Odor Removal

Tobacco smoke creates some of the most pervasive lingering odors out there. Even the smoke from regular barbecues (or burned food) can make a home smell funky for years afterward. Fortunately, there are several easy fixes.

The aforementioned vinegar-boiling technique is one option. You can also cut apples in half and leave them lying around the house to absorb the odors. For severe cases, try scrubbing the walls and floors with an ammonia-water solution.

Concealing Air Conditioner Odor

Although air conditioners add to the comfort of a room, they can give off a musty odor if they’re not cleaned regularly. If yours begins to stink up the room, check and replace the air filters. This should be done every 60 days or every 30 days for allergy sufferers. You should also clean the evaporator coils and the condensate line.

How To Keep Your House Smelling Fresh

Air Purifying Plants

House plants provide a wonderful, natural way to improve the air quality in a room. Chrysanthemums, peace lilies, and bamboo palms are three prime examples, but there are many others to choose from.

Air Freshener

Air fresheners are another option for making the house smell good. They’re available in spray or plugin form, or you can create your own (see How To Get Rid of Closet Smell, below. The sprays provide a quicker fix, but the plugins are a good passive solution.

Essential Oil Diffusers

When you diffuse essential oils, you can choose from a variety of pleasing scents. Eucalyptus will give the room a brisk menthol scent, while lavender provides a calming effect. Citrus smells are naturally invigorating and may even whet the appetite. If you’re sensitive to fragrances, proceed with caution when using this technique.

Scented Candles

You can find scented candles in just about every fragrance imaginable. Whether you want to inhale the scent of summer roses, cider donuts, or fresh bread just pulled from the oven, there’s probably a candle available to match. Try experimenting with different fragrances for each room of the house.

Fragrance Diffusers

This option is similar to the essential oil technique for freshening a house. Some companies such as Bed, Bath and Beyond sell diffuser kits with pre-mixed solutions. The scents may be more complex than what you could get from essential oils, and buying ready-made products takes the guesswork out of the process.

Fragrant Flowers

Try filling your home with whatever plants and flowers are in season. When the lilacs bloom in late spring, bring some of the blossoms inside and savor the sweet fragrance. During the winter, evergreen boughs can make the room smell pine-fresh. Carnations are available year-round and have a spicy-sweet scent that isn’t too overpowering.

Regular Cleaning

As a preventive measure, set up a regular cleaning schedule. Your bathroom should get the once-over on a biweekly basis. Vacuum or scrub floors once a week, and wipe down walls with a damp cloth beforehand. Wash dishes promptly after cooking, scrubbing the stove and countertop as soon as you’re done.


When the weather is warm enough, keep your windows open as much as possible. If you want to keep foul scents from pervading your space, proper ventilation is key. In the colder months, use ceiling or hood fans to keep the air circulating as often as you can.

Keeping Doors Closed

After you use the bathroom, keep the door closed and the fan running for several minutes. Once you’ve turned off the fan, it’s a good idea to keep the door closed anyway, just to ensure that any lingering odors don’t make their way into the rest of the house. If you keep your bedroom doors closed as well, you can keep the closet odors from spreading as well.

Other Household Rules

Encourage household members to remove their shoes upon entering. This might not seem practical, but it will cut down on the amount of dirt and debris that you’ll have to deal with. Eventually, everyone will get used to it. Also, if there are smokers in your family, they should partake in their habit outside.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are good fragrances for houses?

There are many products designed to improve the smell of your living quarters, including the aforementioned air fresheners and diffusers. Fruity scents, such as pomegranate and strawberry, are popular these days. Some old favorites include sandalwood, eucalyptus, lilac, and amber.

When choosing a scent to make a house smell good, you need to rely on your personal taste. Some people are addicted to the smell of patchouli, while others can’t abide it. Choose the fragrances that appeal to you most.

How often should you wipe walls and vacuum or clean floors?

Vacuuming should take place at least once a week–more often if there are pets in your household. As we mentioned, it’s a good idea to wipe the walls beforehand, so that any debris will settle onto the floor before you clean them. If you make this a part of your regular routine, it will become second nature after a while.

When should you seek professional help when combating bad household smells?

Following the suggestions we’ve outlined above should help you eliminate foul odors. If they don’t solve the problem, it’s time to call in the pros.

For example, if your air conditioner continues to stink up the room after you’ve changed the air filter and cleaned the other components, there may be a serious underlying issue. Similarly, keeping water in your S-trap and replacing bad plugs should fix your sewer gas problem, but a cracked or leaking pipe will require professional assistance.

Would it help to paint the walls?

A fresh coat of paint does more than brighten up the space–it can also act as a freshener for walls. However, you should wipe down the walls beforehand to remove as much of the smell as possible. Otherwise, the scent will still be lingering beneath the fresh paint. This is true especially if the odors are caused by tobacco smoke.
Tip: If you’re renting a home or apartment, you’ll need to seek permission from your landlord before painting the walls.