Nobody likes to talk about household odors, but it’s really important to deal with them. Animal, food and musty smells can settle into your rooms and, like an unwanted houseguest, refuse to leave. To make matters worse, many people choose to tackle unwanted scents with air fresheners that only mask odors and do nothing to eradicate them. Rather than plugging deodorizers into your electrical sockets or lighting an arsenal of scented candles, use a few household staples such as baking soda, distilled white vinegar, coffee grounds, vanilla extract and lemons to get rid of odors once and for all. Here are natural remedies for six of the smelliest problems in your home.
Food spills and waste can make both your outdoor and kitchen trash cans stink. To freshen them, first wash them — inside and out — with warm soapy water, rinse clean, and dry thoroughly. To prevent future odors, try one of these solutions: Dust the bottom of the garbage can with scented cat litter or throw a few citrus peels — lemon or orange — in the bottom of the can before you insert your garbage bag. You can also dust the bottom of your garbage can with baking soda or unused coffee grounds — either will neutralize future odors. Just be careful with metal trash cans; you don’t want the baking soda to corrode the can’s bottom, so instead of sprinkling the baking soda over the bottom of the can, make a sachet by placing about a half-cup of baking soda in a paper coffee filter, close it up with a rubber band or twist tie, then place in the bottom of the can. Just remember to replace it every month.
That musty furniture smell that is particular to old furniture and cabinetry can make anything you put inside smell, too. So before you fill your drawers or closets, crinkle up some newspaper, sprinkle it with distilled white vinegar and stuff it inside each musty drawer or place it on the closet shelf for a couple of days to absorb the bad odor (this is also a good way to freshen smelly shoes). Once the smell is gone, keep drawers smelling fresh by placing scented dryer sheets in the drawers or on the shelves (use dryer sheets in your car glove compartment, car trunk and luggage to keep them smelling fresh too). I also place the silica gel packs that you get when you buy new shoes, electronics or some food products in my drawers; they keep out moisture, which is the real culprit. They should be replaced every 60 to 90 days.
There is nothing worse than the smell that occurs when an animal dies within your walls — and the odor can last for months while the carcass decomposes. I have found the best remedy is to pour some distilled white vinegar into a plastic container and cover it with a tightfitting lid that you have punched with holes. Place the container in a corner of the offensive smelling room. The vinegar will absorb the odor (your room will smell a bit like salad for a few days, but it’s worth it) and over time the smell will dissipate.
To clean your disposal, drop a cut-up lemon, a couple of tablespoons of salt and a few ice cubes into your disposal. Turn on the disposal and run it until the lemon and ice are pulverized. The lemon deodorizes and the ice and salt clean away scummy residue.
Over time, bacteria attack the little bits of food that collect in your dishwasher’s filter, causing it to smell. To get rid of the odor, first remove all food particles or scum from the bottom of the machine, making sure to remove and rinse the filter. Then pour two cups of distilled white vinegar into the machine (not into the detergent holder, but rather directly into the drum). Run the machine through a hot water cycle. Pause the cycle for about 20 minutes midway so that the water-and-vinegar mixture has a chance to break down detergent residue. Restart and finish the cycle.
Start by cleaning out the shelves and drawers. Scrub all shelves with a mixture of warm water and baking soda, then wipe with a mixture of white vinegar and warm water. To prevent odors, keep a box of baking soda open on a shelf in the back of your refrigerator and freezer, and replace it monthly. Alternatively, soak a couple of cotton balls in vanilla extract and place on a small dish in the back of your refrigerator. Remove once the cotton balls have dried out and replace.
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”