If Your Home Smells Funny, Check These 8 Problem Areas

Get to the source of the stink and you'll be on your way to enjoying a home that smells as fresh as a summer breeze.

You know that brand-new, citrus-kissed scent that greets you when you walk into the lobby of a luxury hotel? Do you ever wish your own living space could smell like that? You may fantasize about your home having a signature scent that makes it feel like a clean, safe sanctuary, but life (and reality) can sometimes get in the way.

Whether it's a smelly dishwasher, mysterious shower drain smells, pets, kids, or even unwanted moisture, many side effects of everyday life can fill your home with a less-than-pleasant scent. If you can't figure out where that ghastly odor is coming from, check these likely causes. You might find the culprit where you least expect it.

Trash Can

This one seems obvious—garbage stinks, after all. Little spills and crumbs can build up over time and form bad odors inside your can even if you empty it regularly. For a fast fix, use Febreze AIR, which actually eliminates rather than covers up unpleasant odors. It provides a burst of freshness to clear the air in your kitchen quickly.

To clean the can properly, spray it with diluted bleach and let it sit for a few hours, says Abe Navas, general manager of Emily's Maids house cleaning service in Dallas, Texas. Rinse it with plenty of water, and then use soap to wash it out.

Another solution: Designate one can for "dirty trash" you take out every day, even if it isn't full, says Jennifer Snyder, a Waco, Texas-based certified professional organizer and owner of Neat as a Pin Organizing & Cleaning.


They may be part of the family, but they can get smelly just like humans. "When their hair falls out, bacteria grow—and it could get nasty really quick," says Navas. Bathe your pet often and clean the spots where they sleep and eat once a week with soap and water (no harsh chemicals). Also, vacuum under beds and sofas to avoid hair (and odor) buildup.

Wet Clothing

Don't put the dirty clothes basket in your bathroom, Navas says. Instead, keep it in your bedroom or another closet where it won't be exposed to steam from baths and showers. "Bacteria grows in a humid environment, and that's what stinks up the place," Navas says. If you have wet, dirty clothes, do laundry ASAP.


"We've all heard that we can't smell our own home, and that's because it smells like our bodies," says Snyder. Gross, right? One particular offender is your sheets, which become steeped in your own body oils and dirt when you don't wash them regularly. Snyder's recommendation: Wash your sheets weekly if you shower in the morning and every two weeks if you shower at night.

Front-Load Washer

Household appliances that come in constant contact with water can harbor mold, which is the perfect breeding ground for smelly bacteria, says Ron Shimek, the Minneapolis-based president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company. "Every time you open and close the washer's door, moisture from each cycle is trapped in the seal," he says. The detergent drawer can also trap moisture and mold. To prevent this, always leave the door and detergent drawer open for a few hours following your last load. And if you find mold, use a one-to-one mixture of white vinegar and baking soda to wipe down the affected areas.


Just like your washer, this is a popular spot for potential mold—and smells. "Its warm, damp environment is like heaven for mold spores, especially when there are food particles left behind from your last cycle," Shimek says. Fix it by regularly running an empty dry-heat cycle to flush out the interior, including the silverware basket, filter, panels, and door gasket. If your silverware basket gets moldy, remove it and let it soak in the kitchen sink with diluted bleach and warm water for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly before replacing.

Garbage Disposal

This is another common kitchen odor culprit. Make sure the inside of the garbage disposal is wiped clean, as grime can sometimes get trapped underneath the drain, says Dana Kofsky, a Los Angeles–based wellness expert behind Wellness Styled. You can buy garbage disposal deodorizers from brands such as Plink, or DIY it by grinding a few thin strips of lemon, lime, or orange peel in the disposal. This not only helps maintain a clean drain, but it also acts as a deodorizer and diffuses your kitchen with a fresh citrus scent, Kofsky says.

New Furniture

You might think you love the smell of your new sofa, just like you love the smell of a new car, because it smells, well, new. But that scent is probably caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), says Bart Wolbers, founder of Nature Builds Health. "Many people don't realize that indoor levels of toxins can be 10 times higher than those found outdoors, and furniture is one reason for that finding," he says.

VOCs can have a strong smell, but they can also be harmful to your health. The EPA says they may cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and even more serious conditions, such as liver and kidney damage. The best way to get rid of VOCs is to get an air purifier that contains a carbon filter. Has any object in your home—from furniture to mattresses—continued to have a strong smell after a month? "You may want to get your money back," Wolbers says.

Was this page helpful?
Real Simple is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. EPA. Indoor air pollution: an introduction for health professionals. Date Accessed April 24, 2022.

  2. Ham B. Study: indoor air cleaners fall short on removing volatile organic compounds. MIT News. October 29, 2021.

Related Articles