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  • Writer's pictureVickery Ottaway

What’s That Smell? Identifying and Fixing Pesky Household Odors

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

Written by Vickery Ottaway, Industry Expert Real Estate Photographer, with Tobie Andrews Real Estate Photography

What's That Smell? Identifying and Fixing Pesky Household Odors

There have been plenty of times where we enter a house and encounter unpleasant smells. It is even more alarming to enter our own homes, and a troublesome smell greets us. Sometimes they are difficult to pinpoint and other times we know exactly where a particular smell is coming from. With a tiny bit of effort, we can find those hard to identify smells.

Let’s start with the kitchen, shall we? Is there a bad food smell when you enter the kitchen? After making sure the trash was taken out, the first thing that should be checked is the dishwasher. Is it still packed full with last night’s dirty dishes and hasn’t been run yet? If a not so fresh “taco night” is still lurking, then definitely run that dishwasher! The second critical thing to check is the garbage disposal. A nasty garbage disposal smell can be easily fixed by dropping a laundry pod or other fabric detergent, in the garbage disposal and running it for a bit. Regular dish soap isn’t designed to stay on surfaces but laundry soap requires a longer wash time. The laundry detergent will definitely freshen up that unpleasant garbage disposal smell.

If all the regular cleaning has been done in the kitchen and you still have a bad cooking smell, then it just might be the hood vent screen. Usually the screen can be removed by hand without tools. Aluminum screens can be run through a dishwasher cycle and the hood itself should be thoroughly cleaned. This will absolutely conquer those bad cooking smells.

Have you ever walked into a house that has a sewer smell? There is nothing that will turn away guests more than that! No worries, this too can be fixed. The sewer smell is more than likely caused by a sink, bathtub, shower, toilet, or any drain that has not been used in a long while. If we look down any drain, we see a curved pipe. This is called the P-trap. The P-trap is designed to hold just the right amount of water in order to block sewer gasses from leaking through. When a drain has not been used for a while, the water in the P-trap evaporates and sewer gasses flow up through the drain. This is what causes that horrible smell!

All that needs to be done is to turn on those faucets and let them run for a minute or so. Flush those toilets too. Is the sewer smell just in the basement? Then it is most likely from a floor drain located in a storage or utility room. In that case, a bucket will need to be filled up with water, and poured down that particular drain. This condition is more likely to occur in houses that have been vacant for a while. If you are a realtor, then you may have a listing where the water has been completely turned off in a house. If that is the case, two five gallon buckets with lids can be filled up from home and transported to the vacant, water-less house, then poured down all the drains and toilets. Maybe a kind neighbor will let you fill up the buckets next door!

For other unwanted and unknown smells, there are a plethora of products to choose from. Plug Ins are easy and work pretty well, however, when putting a house on the market, sticking to one scent is the best plan. A mix of scents can be overwhelming and maybe even gag worthy. Try to avoid seasonal food smells and use a fresh, clean scent (not everyone likes pumpkin and apple spice fragrances).

Please be cautious with the scented melting wax pots…they can be messy! There are also diffusers and scented oils which can set a lovely smelling atmosphere. If removing all odor is your goal, then bamboo charcoal purifying bags work wonders.

Hopefully this information will help keep your houses smelling pleasant, so visitors can concentrate on the home and not the smell!

Below are some links of products mentioned in this article to help make your shopping easier.

Written by: Vickery Ottaway,

Tobie Andrews Real Estate Photographer

House Elements Blog Co-Administrator.


These pretty Bamboo Charcoal Purifying Bags absorb and trap odor and moisture, while purifying the surrounding air in the process.

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For those easily identifiable smells: Zero Odor Pro is a commercial strength spray that works great on pet accidents, cigarette and cigar smoke, garbage, vomit, and bathroom odors. It is also Non-toxic and Non-allergenic.

Paid link

Glade PlugIns are always a good choice to freshen up any area in your home.

Paid link

If you want to create a pleasant smelling atmosphere, (without the fear of a hot wax accident, or a candle fire hazard), then try this attractive Diffuser and Essential Oil Kit.

Paid link

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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