Here's Exactly How to Conquer All Household Odors

Because cats and trash cans should be seen and not smelled.

smelly garbage can
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Is your home smelling a little "off," but you can't quite figure out the source of the bad odor? We'll walk you through some of the most common causes, so you can make sure every single corner of your house smells fresh. Instead of just masking the smells, consider this your guide for actually eliminating them. Here's how to get rid of any bad odors lurking in your home—from kitchen garbage to kitty litter—for good.

01 of 10

Clean the Air Effectively

2019 Real Simple Home: Kitchen
Christopher Testani

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." For a reliable, all-purpose counteractant, use Febreze AIR, which actually traps odor molecules, instead of just masking them. Let it freshen the air in the bathroom, kitchen, or any other room that needs some serious odor elimination.

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.

02 of 10

Get Rid of Pet Stench

Conquer Household Odors, cat and Litter Box
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  • Litter box: Clay-based litter that clumps when wet, such as Scoop Away Plus Crystals ($30 for a 42-pound box; absorbs odors.
  • Fur: Brushing and bathing can prevent the buildup of bacteria. Ask your vet about shampoos.
  • Accidents: Spritz a pet stain spray on an area wider than the spot (and under it, if possible).
03 of 10

Beat Food Aromas

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The secret to covering up the smell of last night's fish dinner? Citrus scents can be used to 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, NY.

04 of 10

Banish Bathroom Stink

Real Simple home Bathroom with small green plants
Christopher Testani

Mold and mildew: Zap bacteria that generate odors with a mold and mildew remover, and dry tiles and caulking when wet.

Bodily functions: Lit matches kill odors, as does Febreze AIR. Urine can emit an ammonia-like odor, so clean the toilet regularly.

05 of 10

Take Out Garbage Smells

Kitchen garbage can
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To prevent garbage smells from forming in the first place, clean and disinfect both indoor and outdoor garbage cans with an all-purpose cleaner at least once a month. Line the bottom of the trash can with newspaper to soak up any potential leaks and make them easier to toss out.

06 of 10

Terminate Basement Smell

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If your basement has suffered from water damage, there may be a lingering odor in the air. Once the source is sealed, ventilate and turn on a dehumidifier, like the Kenmore 50-pint model ($200;

07 of 10

Rid the Fridge of Odors

Refrigerator full of produce and groceries
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Start by targeting any potential causes of odor. Take out all of the food, then clean the shelves and walls thoroughly, cleaning up any spills or sticky spots. Line the produce drawers with paper towels to help absorb moisture or leaks. Then check your fridge at least once a week for expired produce or any other odor causers.

08 of 10

Wash Out Dishwasher Stink

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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.

09 of 10

Snuff Out Cigarette Smoke Stench

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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.

10 of 10

Zap Clothing Smells

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  • Stored clothing: At-home dry-cleaning kits like Dryel ($9; 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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