Something stinks. But the cover-up is usually worse than the original culprit (blasting the bathroom with a rose-scented spray is like dousing your body with eau de toilette after two hours of tennis). The key to clean air is tackling the source of the smell, not its lingering effect. "There's a difference between an air freshener and an odor counteractant," says Jenny Botero, director of housekeeping operations for the Marriott International hotel chain. "Odor counteractants do more than mask a smell; they actually get rid of it." While there are a number of reliable all-purpose counteractants, such as Lysol Disinfectant Spray and baking soda, certain pungent smells call for specific measures. Read on to find the best ways to eradicate unwanted aromas anywhere in your home. Because for every nasty scent you sniff, there's a way to snuff it.
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Lick Pet Stench
Litter box: Clay-based litter that clumps when wet, such as Scoop Away Plus Crystals ($13.50 for a 25-pound box, at supermarkets) absorbs odors. Fur: Brushing and bathing can prevent the buildup of bacteria. Ask your vet about shampoos. Accidents: Spray Nature's Miracle Stain & Odor Remover ($8 at pet stores) on an area wider than the spot (and under it, if possible).
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Beat Food Aromas
Citrus fragrances, such as Lysol Neutra-Air Citrus spray ($4.50 at supermarkets) or all-natural Citrus Magic Air Freshener ($10.50, citrusmagic.com), remove food odors. Often the best (and easiest) remedy is to open a window or turn on a vent. "We use exhaust fans that suck everything out," says Wayne Almquist, a professor at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York.
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Banish Bathroom Stink
Mold and mildew: Zap bacteria that generate odors with Naturally Yours Mold & Mildew Remover ($5 a quart, 888-801-7347), and dry tiles and caulking when wet. Lysol Disinfectant Spray ($7 at supermarkets) inhibits growth. Bodily functions: Lit candles or matches kill odors, as does Lysol Disinfectant Spray. Urine can emit an ammonia-like odor, so clean the toilet regularly.
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Take Out Garbage Smells
Originally designed for pet odors, SeaYu Petrotech Odor Eliminator (from $10, sea-yu.com) also works well in garbage cans and diaper pails. The nontoxic spray binds to odor particles and naturally biodegrades the odor-causing bacteria. To prevent garbage smells from forming, clean and disinfect both indoor and outdoor garbage cans with an all-purpose cleaner at least once a month.
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Terminate Basement Smell
Musty odors: “Activated charcoal reduces odors,” says Meredith Montague of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Pour two cups into an airtight bin, prop your items on a box in the bin so they don't touch the powder, seal until fresh, then air them out. Water damage: Once the source is sealed, ventilate and turn on a dehumidifier, like the Kenmore 50-pint model ($200, sears.com).
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Rid the Fridge of Odors
There's still nothing better for absorbing fridge odors than baking soda. Try Arm & Hammer's Fridge-n-Freezer Deodorizer ($1.50 at supermarkets), which has front and back windows lined with a cheesecloth-like fabric to maximize ventilation. Vanilla extract is also an effective remedy: Soak a cotton ball in it and leave the cotton ball exposed on a dish until dry.
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Wash Out Dishwasher Stink
If your dishes sit before you start the dishwasher, run a "rinse and hold" cycle until you're ready to wash. To clean the whole machine, run an empty cycle with two cups of white vinegar (a natural odor absorber and neutralizer) instead of detergent. Remember that your dishwasher is not a garbage disposal: You can prevent odors by rinsing food off before you load.
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Zap Clothing Smells
Stored clothing: At-home dry-cleaning kits like Dryel ($11 at supermarkets) remove stale odors. Sweat/body odor: Wash your clothes to kill body odor in fabrics. Shoes: Avoid wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row, and stuff them with newspaper, which absorbs moisture and, therefore, smells. Avoid sprays, which can leave a white residue.
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Snuff Out Cigarette Smoke Stench
No one should smoke in your home if you dislike the smell or the habit. When hosting an incorrigible guest, rely on cross-ventilation: Place a fan in a window, facing out. Ventilation is the best solution for ridding clothes and furniture of the noxious smell, and for immediate relief spritz Arm & Hammer Deodorizing Air Freshener ($2 at supermarkets). Citrus sprays work well, too.