Why Does My House Smell?

Some houses just smell weirder than others. It might be cooking smells, the smell of pets, or even the smell of a teenager’s tennis shoe. It could even be the smell of the clothes in our closets.

No one wants to have a smelly house and to keep our homes smelling fresh, we may try an assortment of solutions. Some of us open up the windows and give our house frequent airings. Others may invest in a can of Lysol, scented candles, or handfuls of baking soda. The best way to get rid of those smelly odors however, is to remove the source of the odor.

Does your home have a lingering smell that you can’t get rid of? Read on to learn where the odors in your home might be coming from, and how you might control them.


Dirty clothes can stink up in house in pretty short order. Rather than tossing dirty clothes on the floor where they can stink up the carpet and furnishings, keep them contained inside a closed hamper until it’s time to do the laundry. For garments that can’t be home laundered, don’t wear them more than a few times before sending them out to be dry cleaned. You might not smell the BO on them, but others can.

Winter coats and suit jackets that can’t be dry cleaned frequently, should be allowed to air out for a few hours before hanging back in the closet.


A single shoe by itself doesn’t put out much odor, but a bunch of them can smell up a house in no time. Before tossing those shoes in the closet, sprinkle a little baking soda inside. Cheaper yet, store those shoes with a crumpled up newspaper inside to absorb the odor.

Sewer gas

For sinks and shower drains that don’t see much use in your home, the water can eventually evaporate from the “pee” trap and release sewer gases. Run the faucets and flush toilets on a regular basis to keep the pee trap doing it’s job.

Kitchen sink bacteria

Odor causing bacteria can be found beneath the drain of a kitchen sink and will send a nasty stink into the house. To control the growth of bacteria beneath the drain, pouring a kettle of scalding down water down the drain should be part of your weekly cleaning routine. While we’re in the kitchen, check the plastic drain board beneath the dish rack as well. People don’t often think to clean beneath these plastic mats, which often plays host to pink mold colonies.


Even self cleaning refrigerators smell after a while and should be wiped out from time to time with a surface disinfectant. Keeping an open box of baking soda on the shelf will also keep down odors. Do you have an older model refrigerator? If so, don’t forget the empty the drip pan beneath the refrigerator on a regular basis. Drip pans are breeding grounds for nasty smelling bacteria.

Stove tops

While you may keep the surface of your stove clean enough, how often do you clean beneath the drip pans? It’s in this area where spilled over food collects and can begin to smell. Stoves with removable drip pans usually have surface lids that can be lifted up for easy cleaning.

Hood vents

The hood vents are usually situated above the stove, and draw in kitchen odors as you cook. These vents contain a removable mesh screen that should be cleaned on a regular weekly basis. I soak mine in hot, soapy water using Dawn detergent, and scrub it thoroughly using a vegetable brush.

If your home doesn’t have a hood vent or kitchen exhaust, kitchen odors can be be exhausted out of an opened kitchen window using a small portable fan. The fan should face outwards so it can pull the odors through the kitchen and send them out the window.

Shower curtains

For old fashioned bathrooms that use shower curtains, the vinyl liners can trap mildew and odor causing bacteria. To keep down the odor, leave the curtain drawn after showers so it can thoroughly dry. At least once a month, launder the curtain liner in the washing machine. Do you use a rubber bath mat? To keep the mat from growing mold, remove it from the floor of the bathtub after every shower, and hang it suction cup side out to air dry.


Damp towels can quickly pick up a mildewy odor if bunched up on a towel bar. At our home, we drape the opened towel over the shower rod and let it dry completely before rehanging it on the rack.


Pets can also smell up a house . To reduce pet odors in your home, bathe your pets frequently and their keep bedding material and litter boxes clean. Most importantly, tend to accidents as soon as they happen.

Rotting food

Do you have a sloppy teen who tosses half eaten food under his bed? Or a toddler who regularly spills sippy cups of milk on the family room carpet? Spoiled food can cause terrible household odors, and often attracts flies and other pests. For families with kids, it’s a good idea to set rules where food can be brought around the house.

Kids aren’t the only guilty culprits that leave food lying around. Even us adults accidentally toss a banana peel in a office waste basket, or forget that we’ve left a full cup of coffee on the top of the mantle. Any time food is left out, it will eventually start to smell.

Dead animals

For homeowners with open crawl spaces beneath their houses, dying animals will often crawl beneath a house before expiring. Once an animal dies, finding the carcass is impossible and you will find yourself living with a horrific odor for months. To prevent this from happening, seal all the crawl space accesses beneath your home with mesh screening.

This also applies to open soffits, which allows entry access to squirrels and birds.

Mildewy basement or foundation

For homes that smell like a basement, this is usually a sign of moisture or a water leak. Use a flashlight to check beneath the house or in the dark corners of your basement to isolate where the smell is coming from. Once you’ve located the source, call a plumber to fix whatever is causing the leak. Water in the basement can lead to mold and foul smelling bacteria colonies and should be dealt with as soon as possible.

While it’s impossible to identify all the odors that might be in a home, the ones I’ve listed are some of the more typical reasons why a house might smell stale. While there’s nothing wrong with freshening up a house with a bit of Lysol spray from time to time, the best way to deal with household odors is to stop it at the source rather than covering it up with an artificial fragrance.

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