How to Remove Odors and Clean the Air in Your House Naturally and Permanently
Do you have a home with that “old house” smell? Cupboards that smell like old grease? The smell of smoke that you can’t air out? That’s exactly what I had and let me tell you how I was able to remove the odors and clean the air in our house both naturally and permanently.
We recently purchased a fixer-upper and unfortunately for me, we had to move in before we could do all of the fixing. This is a great house with good bones, but because of years of neglect, the smells of cigarette smoke, pets, grease, and dampness had seeped into the paint, wood trim, wood cabinets, windows and screens, flooring–everything. I’m quite sensitive to smells and I had to find a solution to be able to continue living there.
Through research and trial and error, I have found several ways to get the bad smells out of your home. And none of these methods introduced harmful chemicals into our home! With the exception of synthetic flooring and paint, all of these methods of removing odors are natural.
- 1. Remove Odors with Enzyme Cleaners
- 2. Remove Odors and Clean the Air: Replace Flooring
- 3. Paint
- 4. Clean with Vinegar to Get Rid of Odors
- 5. The Importance of Cleaning with TSP to Remove Smells from Wood Trim and Doors
- 6. Remove Odors and Clean the Air with Activated Charcoal
- 7. Baking Soda is a Great Air Deodorizor
- 8. Coffee Absorbs Bad Smells
- Sometimes you just have to paint the cabinets!
- 9. Use a Dehumidifier to Keep Damp and Musty Smells Away
- 10. Remove Odors and Clean the Air with an Ozone Machine
- 11. How to Clean the Fabrics to Remove Bad Odors
- 12. Keeping the Air in Your House Fresh-Deodorizing and Air Purifying
Please note that this article contains affiliate links, and that means that I may earn a commission if you buy something. Opinions about the products are fully my own.
1. Remove Odors with Enzyme Cleaners
So I have made a new discovery! Enzyme cleaners are amazing cleaning most organic stains from carpets, rugs, linens, and clothing. They also eliminate, on contact, odors from stale cigarette and cigar smoke, urine and fecal matter, vomit, food spillage, garbage, cooked foods, perspiration, and pet odor! You can even use them as a room freshener or laundry spot remover. I haven’t tried it on mildew yet, but it’s supposed to be especially effective on that. A good enzyme cleaner is non-toxic, biodegradable, phosphate-free and hypoallergenic, so it’s safe to use in your home with children, pets–and YOU! Wow, I wish I had known about this when we first bought our house!
This is the best natural enzyme cleaner and the one I recommend. It’s concentrated so one bottle will make a gallon of cleaner!
2. Remove Odors and Clean the Air: Replace Flooring
Because the carpet was old and went through most of the house, we tore it out. I sprayed spots in the subfloor with vinegar and let it dry, then I sprayed the spots with Kilz Paint. I wish I had known about the enzyme cleaner above! It would have made a difference. Some of the spots from spills and pets had minor to medium water damage in the subfloor, so my hope was that the Kilz would both protect the floor and mask any odors. We opted not to replace the laminate floors in the office and guest bedrooms, and despite the cleaning and repainting, those rooms still smell like smoke, so replacing those floors has gone back on our “To Do” list.
Zinsser Primer works like the Kilz paint and is available on Amazon.
Before the new flooring went in, we repainted the entire house, floor to ceiling. We bought a good paint that covered everything in one coat. Before we painted we washed everything first so that any smoke residue might not seep through the paint.
4. Clean with Vinegar to Get Rid of Odors
The fresh paint and new flooring helped some, but there was still a lot to be cleaned that wasn’t painted. Tar from cigarette smoke clung to the windows, screens, wood window trim, baseboards, ceiling fans, bathroom cabinets, and kitchen cabinets and all of them had to be cleaned and scrubbed with vinegar and a thick, rough rag. This helped the smell in the house tremendously–except for the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. We did clean the walls with vinegar before painting, as well.
5. The Importance of Cleaning with TSP to Remove Smells from Wood Trim and Doors
We still had a mild lingering smoke smell in the house. Part of that is because we continued to use a woodstove. The other reason is that we didn’t replace the laminate flooring in two bedrooms and we didn’t strip and paint the wood molding and doors. Really all of the surfaces in the house need to be cleaned with TSP and painted with a shellac primer to get all of the old house smell out. For more tips read my article on getting smoke smell out of a house.
6. Remove Odors and Clean the Air with Activated Charcoal
I will admit it. I thought of this idea on my own. I remembered years ago reading that activated charcoal would help with the dampness in the basement and places like that and will help to remove the mildew. So I searched online and bought activated charcoal made for aquariums and made my own charcoal pouches by filling my husband’s old socks. But it’s a mess! If you decide to go this route, make sure you do this project outside and be prepared to turn black. I found the method that works best is using a canning funnel to aim the activated charcoal pellets into the socks.
A. DIY Charcoal Pouches with Bulk Activated Charcoal
If you have a large house to de-fumigate like I did and a bunch of old socks–and you don’t mind getting dirty–I get it. Here is what you need for that: bulk activated charcoal and a funnel. You can buy the Bulk Activated Charcoal from Amazon. You just have to provide your own socks. Haha!
But you don’t have to go that route! Who knew that there were these lovely pre-made activated charcoal pouches all ready for you! These are great for closets or the pantry where you keep the pet food, for cars, drawers, cabinets or your teen’s stinky tennis shoes! And bamboo is one of our easily renewable resources, so these are eco-friendly, too. This charcoal will continue to absorb odors and moisture for up to two years!
B. Activated Charcoal Pouches to Absorb Smells in Small Spaces
7. Baking Soda is a Great Air Deodorizor
Most of us know about the deodorizing effects of baking soda. In fact, baking soda is well known to be able to eliminate odors and purify the air. It works great in the refrigerator. I also used baking soda in my cupboards and it helps so much. Let me just tell you, I had a lot of cabinets to de-fumigate when we first moved in. Baking soda was the fastest thing for me to start with to deodorize, so I poured it into little dishes and place one on each shelf of my cupboards. So, while it helped to deodorize, I don’t recommend this open bowl method for reasons probably obvious to you. It is no fun to clean up the white powder off of everything when you flip it over. And you will flip it over. Haha!
8. Coffee Absorbs Bad Smells
Do you ever buy a new brand of coffee and decide afterward that you hate it? I’ve done this too often. I’m always looking for coffee to taste like the Guatemalan coffee I drank as a new coffee drinker. Mmm. But I digress. I usually let that unwanted coffee hang out in my cupboard just in case I run out of the good stuff, but after a couple months, I realize it’s never going to be used. Instead of throwing it out, I pop it in the freezer section of my frig with the top open! For some reason, my freezer collects the smells of leftovers from below in the frig, but this coffee trick works great to remove stinky smells in my fridge and freezer. For some reason, the coffee deodorizes the frig but doesn’t leave behind the smell of coffee, if you’re concerned about that. If you don’t have any old coffee sitting around, you could always buy a bag of the cheap stuff at the dollar store. It works great! Try it!
Sometimes you just have to paint the cabinets!
If you’ve cleaned the walls, cleaned every inch of cabinets, ceiling fans, baseboards and windows, and screens with vinegar, and your space still smells, you may have to paint. That’s our next project. After a few months of using all the above methods plus some, my house smells much better. It’s livable now! But the kitchen and bathroom cabinets are still holding the odor of “old house”, so we will be painting those very soon.
We did sand and paint the cabinets in the kitchen and it helped so much. After a year or two, some of the old house smell came back inside the cabinets. I used my activated charcoal to help remove the smell and it worked. I have since learned a more permanent way to remove smells from cabinets and walls which I explain in my article, How to Remove Smoke Smell from your Fireplace, Woodstove, and Cigarettes.
9. Use a Dehumidifier to Keep Damp and Musty Smells Away
Another thing that helped the smell of our house was to dehumidify our crawl space. The musty smell from the crawl space was seeping into the rest of the house. By drying it out and keeping it dry, that damp old basement smell left.
You want to be sure to get a humidifier that is strong enough to dehumidify your whole space and will hold enough of the water it collects so that you don’t have to empty it more than twice per day. We have a large one like the one below which dehumidifies up to 2200 cubic feet. Here is a top-rated dehumidifier on Amazon that will work for up to 4500 square feet and a top-rated dehumidifier that will be fine for a medium-size space of up to 3000 square feet.
10. Remove Odors and Clean the Air with an Ozone Machine
We borrowed an ozone machine–before we did all of the cleaning and then we ran it in room after room for a whole day or more in each. We were just trying to make the house livable and give me hope to carry on.–Really. It was bad! The ozone machine worked great. You can run it and then the air smells clean–well, like ozone–for about a week. Then it dissipates and you can smell the original smells. I think the ozone machine is best for maintaining clean air.
According to Ozone Solutions, the Ozone Machine works because the volatile 03 Ozone molecules cling to bacteria, molecules, and spores which cause bad odors changing them into non-odorous molecules. I’ve used one like the first ozone machine. It really is a workhorse. This is the best-selling ozone generator for the home on Amazon. It just looks like a cool speaker.
11. How to Clean the Fabrics to Remove Bad Odors
Also, don’t forget that before you started deodorizing your home, any porous materials like clothes, curtains, linens, sofas, and carpets have been absorbing all of those odors. Once you have got the odors under control in your home, be sure and wash and deodorize fabrics in your home. Adding Vinegar, Baking Soda or the Enzyme Cleaner to your wash should ensure getting the odors out.
12. Keeping the Air in Your House Fresh-Deodorizing and Air Purifying
Once the old smells are gone from your house, you want to keep those smells out. Regular cleaning with vinegar, using charcoal and baking soda deodorizers, dehumidifying damp areas regularly or during rainy seasons, and occasionally (or regularly on a low setting) running an ozone machine in your house will keep those smells at bay.
In addition to that, to help keep pollen, pet dander, and dust out of the air, you may want to consider the following:
A. Hepa Air Purifier
I’ve wanted an air purifier for years and with my dust and ragweed allergies, I don’t know why I’ve put it off. This air purifier is amazing and at the right price. This one is great because it not only has a filter, but it has charcoal inserts. You already read above about the wonders of charcoal for purifying the air!
B. Salt lamp
Salt lamps are a new rage, but the concept of ionizing the air is not. These beautiful salt rocks, when heated by a low-wattage light bulb, not only glow with a pretty golden light, but they release ions into the air. They don’t have a smell, that I’ve noticed, and make a statement in whatever room you put them in. Caution, I gave my husband the kind pictured on the left and they do collect moisture from the air, which drips down. Be sure to set those on a pretty plate or get the kind that already comes in the metal basket.
C. Beeswax candles
Like the salt rock lights, beeswax candles work as ionizers. The negative ions emitted attach to particles in the air. They look to neutralize and so fall to a grounded object–like the floor which can then be swept or vacuumed up. If you like the smell of honey, these are for you!
D. Houseplants and Soil Fungi Remove Harmful Chemicals from the Air
Houseplants are not the last on my list, even though they appear last here. We learned in school the benefits of plants because they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air. Not only that, but the fungi in the soil and the plants themselves remove harmful chemicals that can be released in our homes from furniture, carpet, paint–even nail polish. I always have plants in my house and I include the ones that clean the air the most.
Top Plants for Removing Chemicals from the Air
According to studies by NASA and the State University of New York at Oswego, some of the top plants for removing chemicals from the air are:
- English Ivy
- Gerber Daisy
- Snake Plant
- Peace Lilly
- Boston Fern
- Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)
You can get a 3-pack of air-purifying houseplants from Amazon. I recommend having some plants in as many rooms as you can. These all do well with filtered light.
After I was able to get the smells out of the house and clean the air, it was finally smelling better. I still had one more problem, though: my drains still smelled bad! That was a new mystery for me to solve. Read how I solved that problem in my article, How to Remove Drain Odors from the Kitchen and Bathroom Sink.
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