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What Are Some Effective Ways Freshen the Smell of a Room?

Did you know that humans have an incredible sense of smell? It’s a lot more powerful than you probably realize. In fact, a scientific study published in 2014 found that human beings can distinguish an astonishing 1 trillion scents, which, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH) proves that our sense of smell is way more discerning than science previously believed. Now that you know that, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that when you’re greeted with an unpleasant odor – cat urine, wet dog, burnt food, garbage – we turn our noses up.

Given how much scents affect us and the fact that on average, Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, it makes sense that we would rather be surrounded by pleasant scents. If any room in your house – or your entire home – is filled with less-than-appealing smells, it stands to reason that you are probably wondering if there are ways that you can get rid of those odors and make your space smell fresher. Below, we’ll dive in deeper and explore the power of smells and ways that you can go about making indoor spaces smell more pleasing.

Do Bad Smells = Bad Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor air quality is exceptionally important, as it has a direct impact on your overall physical and mental health and well-being. A lot of people correlate the smell of a space with the quality of the indoor air; however, that probably isn’t the most reliable way to determine indoor air quality. Due to the constant bombardment of advertisements for air freshening products, such as sprays and scented candles, it easy to understand why a lot of people correlate indoor air quality with smells. While it’s true that products like Febreze (perhaps one of the most highly marketed and hence, the most popular air fresheners) can help to improve the scent of a space, there are a few reasons why, if you are trying to improve the smell of a room, why they really aren’t ideal and in fact, why you should probably avoid using them altogether.

Firstly, while air fresheners may make a space smell better, it’s important to understand that they only mask the problem. The fragrance added to these products will cover up foul odors, but the results are temporary; it’s kind of like putting a band aid on a broken bone. In other words, once the fragrance from the air freshener dissipates, the stink that you’re trying to get rid of will surface again. Secondly, many air fresheners contain airborne chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Research has found that exposure to VOCs can lead to a variety of health complications. In one study, scientists examined VOCs that a collection of 25 commonly used scented products contained, including air fresheners, cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene products, like deodorants, lotions, and body sprays. This study determined that the products that were examined emitted a total of 133 VOCs, and 24 of those VOCs are classified as toxic, as per United States federal laws. Since VOCs are airborne, they can be inhaled, and inhaling toxic substances, as you can probably guess, isn’t exactly good for your health.

While eliminating foul odors in your home is clearly important, instead of grabbing an air freshener or lighting a scented candle that likely contains harmful chemicals and simply masking the scent, a better – and more effective – approach is getting to the root of the problem. In other words, if you really want to get rid of those foul smells and make your home smell fresher, you’re going to want to investigate and find the source of the problem; what’s causing the unpleasant odors in the first place. Once you pinpoint the cause of the problem, you can then take the actions that are necessary to remove the source, and by doing so, you will be able to successfully eradicate the displeasing smell completely.

What’s Making My House Smell Bad?

While it’s easy to detect unpleasant odors in a room or an entire house (when you’re hit in the nose with a foul scent, unless you’re congested, you aren’t going to miss it), determining the source of the problem can be difficult. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the most common sources of foul indoor smells.

  • Pet accidents. While you love your four-legged family members, there’s no denying that those little fur-balls can be pretty stinky. Not only can they, themselves, be smelly, but they can also create unpleasant smells; particularly if they’re prone to having accidents inside. For instance, if your cat has a tendency to spray outside of the litter box or if you have a puppy that isn’t house broken yet or an older pooch whose is starting to have bladder problems and he regularly has accidents inside, it’s pretty likely that the source of the unpleasant smells you’re experiencing are directly related to those accidents. On its own, animal urine is pungent. If it isn’t cleaned up right away, or it isn’t cleaned up thoroughly, the smell can become way worse, as the moisture can seep into textiles, such as carpet fibers and the underlying padding, which can eventually lead to mold growth. If that happens, not only will your home will be filled with the smell of musty urine.
  • Piles of dirty laundry. If you smell foul odors coming from a pile of laundry in your bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, or anywhere else you may keep it, the pile of dirty clothing and linens is probably to blame. Dirty laundry is a breeding ground for bacteria, and bacteria can cause seriously nasty smells. As a matter of fact, the results of a research study found that dirty laundry contains six different types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). So, if there’s a pile of dirty laundry in a room in your home and that room is smelling stinky, chances are that the dirty clothing and linens are the source.
  • Rotting food. When you open up your fridge or freezer, are you hit with a smell that almost knocks you on your feet? If so, chances are that old, rotten food could be to blame. Check to see if there are any old leftovers, and if so, get rid of them right away. As food rots it grows bacteria and mold, which, when combined with smell of the food itself, can cause overpowering foul odors. Make sure you get rid of the trash bag that you throw the old food in right away, because if you don’t then the entire room will immediately start smelling. Do note that just getting rid of the rotting food in your fridge may not be enough to do the trick, as the bacteria that’s causing those foul odors can leak out and cause make the fridge itself smell. To really get rid of the stink, you’re going to want to thoroughly clean out the entire fridge.
  • Dust. Believe it or not, if you’re smelling foul odors in your house, dust could be to blame. Dust is comprised of a collection of dirt and debris, such as dead skin cells, pollen, pet dander and hair, and even insects and their droppings (gross, we know!). As you can imagine, when combined those things will brew, and over time, they can cause some pretty stinky smells. Not only does dust impact the smell of a space, but it also impacts the air quality. Those tiny particles that dust contains are airborne, and breathing them in, as you can imagine, can be hazardous to your health.
  • Mold. Last, but certainly not least, stinky indoor smells could be the result of mold growth. Mold is a naturally occurring fungus, and it’s all around us. While in nature it’s actually quite helpful, when it starts growing indoors, it can become a serious problem. Mold spreads by releasing airborne spores, and when those spores come into contact with a surface in a location where the conditions are right (moisture, warmth, and darkness is present), it will start to grow. Indoor mold growth can be problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it can cause foul, must-like odors, which can become quite overpowering. Secondly, mold growth can cause serious damage, as it feeds on the surfaces it grows on, it can cause structural damage. Thirdly – and most concerning – exposure to mold can have adverse health effects. Breathing in airborne mold spores can cause a number of health issues, such as nasal congestion, allergies, and worsening of preexisting or the development of new respiratory conditions; among other things. As per the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mold contains microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs), and mVOCs commonly have strong and displeasing odors, such as must. Mold growth can occur anywhere moisture is present, including inside walls, underneath floors, and within ceilings. If you notice a must-like odor in your home, mold is growing somewhere in your house. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to mold can be a health risk.

How Do I Improve the Smell of My Home?

Now that you’re familiar with some of the most common sources of foul indoor odors, let’s discuss how to get rid of those unpleasant stenches. Instead of grabbing a can of air freshener or lighting a candle, which, as discussed, simply mask unpleasant odors and can do more harm than good, as they can release VOCs that reduce indoor air quality, here’s a look at some simple, yet effective ways that you can use to actually eliminate those foul odors and make your home actually smell a whole lot fresher.

  • Identify the source of the smell. First and foremost, you need to identify the source of the smell, and in order to do that, you need to do some detective work. To attempt to locate the source of the smell, first, consider the scent. For example, if it’s a musty odor, mold is probably to blame, and if it’s rotting food, well, then chances are that rotting food in your fridge (or even in your garbage, dishwasher, sink, or a bowl left in the corner of a room) could be the source of the problem. Do a thorough inspection. Walk through your house and sniff the air; the stronger the smell, the closer you are to the source of the issue. Take the time to thoroughly inspect the room where the smell is coming from to locate the source. For example, if the smell is musty, check for source of moisture, like a leaking pipe or condensation buildup; dark, damp locations are prone to mold growth, and thus, musty odors.


Examples of some of the most common locations that tend to be sources of foul odors include:

  • Laundry baskets
  • Carpets
  • Upholstery, such as furniture, bedding, curtains, and any other kinds of linens
  • Air conditioning and heating vents
  • Inside cabinets that contain plumbing fixtures
  • Inside and underneath appliances that use water, such as washing machines, refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, and hot water heaters
  • Around toilet bowls, sinks, the corners of showers and tubs, shower curtains, tiled floors in bathrooms and kitchens
  • Thoroughly dust the space. Next, you’re going to want to thoroughly dust the space. Remember how we discussed that dust can be the source of foul odors, so you’re going to want to give the room where foul smells are coming from a good dusting. Wipe down all surfaces, from top to bottom, including the tops of cabinets and shelves, ceiling fans, light fixtures, and any other surface that dust can accumulate on. Dust buildup can do more than just cause unpleasant odors; it can cause health complications. The particles of dirt and debris that dust contains are airborne and in high levels, can negatively impact indoor air quality. Breathing dust particles can cause adverse health effects, particularly, for those who are allergic to mold; however, even those who don’t have mold allergies can experience adverse health effects when they breathe in dust particles.

When you’re dusting, it’s important that you always dust from top to bottom. If you start at the bottom and work your way up, particles that are loosened from the upper surfaces will settle on the lower surfaces that you already cleaned, and thus, won’t really eliminate the dust. To ensure your efforts are a success, dust with a damp cloth. The dampness in the cloth will collect the dust particles instead of just loosening them and allowing them to circulate through the air.

  • Clean the floors. Once you’ve finished dusting – working from the top to the bottom – you’re going to want to clean the floors. Because they’re the lowest surface in a room, floors are kind of like a catch-all, of sorts. They collect everything that goes on in a space, including dust, crumbs, pet hair, dander, human hair, pet accidents, spills, and dirt and debris from shoes. Since so much can accumulate on your floods, it stands to reason that they can be the source of some pretty stinky odors, so if you’re trying to freshen up a space, thoroughly cleaning the floors is a must. Some tips for successfully cleaning the floors include:
    • Hardwood. If your floors are hardwood, cleaning them will be pretty simple. A damp mop is the best tool, as it will capture the dirt and debris, whereas a dry mop or a broom will simply stir up the particles and they’ll just float in the air, thereby reducing your indoor air quality and not doing anything to improve the smell of a room, but rather, making the smell remain the same or even worsening it.
    • Carpets and rugs. If your floors are carpeted or covered with rugs, the job of cleaning will be a bit more complex and time-consuming, as it will involve more steps to thoroughly clean them; however, the effort will be well worth your while. With that said, here are some tips that you can use to clean your carpets and rugs:
      • Find any spots on your carpets or rugs that smell particularly bad; for instance, perhaps a furry family member has had an accident or maybe someone spilled something on the floor.
      • Cover the smelly spot with a generous amount of baking soda, and let it sit for at least a few hours; overnight would be even better. The longer the baking soda sits the more of the odor-causing molecules it will absorb.
      • Thoroughly vacuum the baking soda off of the surface of your rug or carpet. You should start to notice that the smell of the room is improving.
      • If the baking soda doesn’t do the trick, give a mixture of white vinegar and water a try. White vinegar won’t do any damage to the fibers in your carpets or rugs, and the acid it contains will help to break up the bacteria that’s causing the nasty odors.
      • Once the problem area is treated, you’re going to want to clean the entire carpet or rug. If you’d like, you can sprinkle baking soda over the entire surface and let it sit for a while before you vacuum. This extra measure will help to eliminate even more of the odor-causing bacteria.
      • Don’t forget to clean those out-of-sight areas, like underneath furniture and in corners. These orders can harbor dirt and debris, which can lead to the development of odor-causing bacteria; hence, you really want to make sure that you concentrate on these spots.
  • Air out the space. Once you have thoroughly cleaned the space from top to bottom, next, it’s time to air it out. Open up all of the windows for a while. Doing so will not only all fresh air to flow in, but will also allow odor-causing pollutants that are floating through your indoor air. This will not only help to freshen up the smell of the space, but will also help to improve the indoor air quality. Believe it or not, studies have found that outdoor air is a lot healthier than indoor air.

Is There a Way to Make a Room Fresh Naturally?

Once you’ve completely cleaned and aired out the problem room, you should notice a marked increase of the smell of the space. With that said, however, you might want to take things one step further and add some natural scents to the room. As mentioned, you definitely don’t want to use manufactured air fresheners or scented candles, as they can introduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the space, and exposure to VOCs can be hazardous to your health.

Is there any way that you can naturally freshen up a space? Yes! According to experts, one of the most effective ways to naturally freshen up a space with fragrant plants; lavender, jasmine, or eucalyptus, for example. You could also make up sachets of herbs or potpourri. Simple fill up little bags that are made of breathable materials or bowls with a combination of dried herbs and flower petals, such as lavender, rose petals, ginger, jasmine, mint, catmint, rosemary, lemon balm, and even thyme. You can also introduce houseplants that will absorb odor-causing elements, such as mold and mildew spores, ammonia from cat urine, and even cigarette smoke. Examples of plants that are highly effective at absorbing odors include snake plant, peace lilies, Boston ferns, gerbera daisies, red-edged dracaena, chrysanthemums, and aloe. Not only will these plants help to make a space smell fresher, but the will also help to improve the overall quality of your indoor air.

Final Thoughts

Eliminating foul odors and making a space smell fresher is possible. By using the above-mentioned information, you won’t just mask those unpleasant odors, but you’ll successfully eliminate them; not only making your home smell better, but improving the quality of your indoor air.