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Passing the Sniff Test

Coffin does not recommend using ozone inside homes because it irritates the eyes and lungs and can damage refrigerator seals and other rubber. It is safer to use scented aerosol foggers that cleaning specialists use to deactivate odors, he said.

The bottom line is that just about every foul odor can be purged from a home, Coffin said. "It's just a matter of how far you're willing to go to do it."

Not far, you say?

Then keep an eye out for air fresheners and other odor-masking scents when touring a home. They can be telltale signs of trouble.

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Sometimes it may not be necessary to go to such extremes if an old-fashioned, thorough cleaning will do the trick.

"The way you detail your car is the way you should detail your house when you're about to sell it," said Patricia Barta, who owns a home staging company in Great Falls. "The bathroom has to be toothbrush-clean. The kitchen has to be immaculate."

Barta does not embrace the old-school tricks of the trade -- baking cookies and lighting scented candles. Homeowners would be better served by washing their drapes, which absorb pungent cooking smells, such as garlic and curry.

"With smell, less is best," Barta said. "Think of it this way: When you see a house, it's a house. When [you] buy it, it's a home. When it's time to sell, it should turn into a house again. It needs to be depersonalized. You're not selling the stuff in it or the smells of it, you're selling the architecture."

Air out the house and wash the sheets and pet bedding, said Cinderella Bermudez, owner of Maid to Clean, a Washington area cleaning service.

Before vacuuming, Bermudez suggests mixing a half-cup of baking soda, a half-cup of cornstarch, and a few drops of lavender or lemon oil with a cup of water. Sprinkle the mixture over the carpets and upholstered furniture, allowing it to sit as long as possible for best results. After vacuuming, she recommends spraying a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water, both natural neutralizers, over the same areas.

Rarely does Bermudez need to dispense this advice to homeowners, because very few complain about the way their houses smell, she said.

"If they do, it's because they're preparing to sell their house," Bermudez said.

"They're usually telling us about the smell because a realtor has told them."

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