Maybe your beloved doggie is counteracting against a new pet by marking his territory in urine or your small apartment can't contain the litter-box stink of 5 cats. Perhaps you're just in Potty Training 101. Maybe your apartment just happens to have mold on the odd wall (or even worse, behind some wall where you can't even see it). It might be that you spilled something particularly stenchy all over the carpet or your couch. Maybe your car has retained the stench of a million cigarettes smoked or the equipment of many a fishing expedition (trust me, I know how the latter smells only too well). And you might be experiencing skin problems with bad smells: tenacious, repugnant (to you) perfumes that won't budge no matter how many times you wash, kitchen scents of chopping onions and garlic, even private parts' intimate smells which you would like exterminated because you're seeing your doctor, a new love interest or just because...
The thing is, to all those everyday and arguably pedestrian -but seemingly insurmountable- problems there's a solution. Let's examine each one of them in this small and practical "how to get rid of bad smells" guide.
If you're a perfumista it's a rite of passage: the fragrance you most abhor will last the longest. What to do?
Washing up usually doesn't really work. If you don't have specific skin sensitivities, rub your skin with some pure acetone (you may be using it already as a nail polish remover; more elaborate & caring polish removers may also work but not as quickly or effectively). It exterminates everything. Of course you will be left with the smell of acetone itself for a few minutes, but it's worth the effort. Lemon juice or witch hazel sometimes work on some fragrances; it will depend on the scent you used and on your Ph acidity.
If you applied fragrance all over and then changed your mind (or it's giving you a headache), washing all over with deodorant soap will work (in fact this is often the reason why people complain why their perfume doesn't last ~if this is the case, by the way, here are some Tips on Making your Fragrance Last Longer). If you're outside, without the option of a shower, using some baby wipes on the spots where you sprayed might cut down at least some of the odor. Alternatively using a deodorant spray (the stuff you use under your arms) as a body spray, i.e. all over, will also exterminate some of the fragrance as well.
For perfume application on clothes, you will have to wash or dry clean your clothes; the smell often lingers for several days or even weeks otherwise.
Washing your hands with toothpaste instead of hand soap (or dishwashing liquid) will get rid of most kitchen smells. Betadine Surgical Scrub (yes, the stuff doctors wash their hands with before doing surgery) is also a great help; if you regularly treat smelly stuff with your bare hands invest in the pump dispenser big bottle.
Naturally human bodies produce smells as a matter of course. Intimate genital smell, armpit sweat, smelly feet, bad breath, sebum accumulation on scalp...The solution unless there's a medical condition is usually a good shower. Wash your scalp rubbing gently, also behind your ears, where glands produce a sebaceous secretion that can smell intensely. Use a neutral deodorant under the arms, but no deo of any way in your private parts because it's considered damaging to the good bacteria in the area (just dry your skin well, and if you need to get to skin folds use a hair dryer on cold setting). Opt for clean underwear and clothes (preferably line-dried). Brush your teeth, brush your tongue too (an often neglected spot) and rinse with some soda water instead of mouth rinse (those are full of alchol and further dry out your mouth which continues to smell bad after a while). Use that Listerine instead for a foot soak, diluted in warm water: it will make dry skin fall out and keep soles clean-smelling. Let your shoes bask in sunshine; it kills fungi and the clean air will have them thoroughly dried out. If you need to have your shoes deodorized & fungus-free use boracic acid in powder form (or Daktarin powder), sold at your chemist's.
And please don't put a hundred scented products on you in the hopes of being more fragrant; just opt for a good fragrance that expresses who you are, applied strategically (see our Guide on How to Apply Fragrance for Optimum Effect). And you're good to go!
How to Exterminate Undesirable Pet Smells
Poop stench, urine smell, vomit, food remnants scattered everywhere, bad breath...having a pet is a huge responsibility and the olfactory effect is partial proof of it.
Spot treating any soiled fabric with toothpaste, rubbing well and then brushing off with clear water works well; it even works on poop. So does the trick with soda bicarbonate, especially on urine stains; make a paste with water, apply, rub a bit and rinse. Bleach works perfect of course, but not everything takes to bleach (it blanches out fabrics and takes the shine out of some ceramic tiles with repeated use), besides it's got a bad smell of its own...so use at your own risk.
If your pet has bad breath, don't try to counteract with short term measures; take him/her to the vet for tooth cleaning. Cavities and infections in the mouth cavity can prove bad for the heart.
Regularly spray the filters in your air-conditioning unit with some anti-fungal spray (available on the counter and in car maintenance stores) to fight against mold, fungi and some dangerous micro-organisms (such as the Legionella pneumophila bacterium).
Replace the shower curtain regularly. Wash bathroom mats and tiles in vinegar. Use bleach on toilet bowl and under the seat. Unplug the drain (it retains hair and soap residue) and use moisture-retaining sachets (sold in most super-markets) scattered in the bathroom.
Wipe the inside of your fridge and your dishwasher with vinegar (especially on the elastics on the doors). It will keep it fungus-free.
If you're building your home from scratch, keep in mind that having a window (instead of a ventilator) in your bathroom is indispensable. Lots of fresh air also helps fight against mould; it thrives on humidity so you should keep your home as dry as possible. If there's a pump leakage ruining a wall or roof get a plumber to fix it pronto; it's the one permanent solution to the problem and you better act quickly before there's a fungi colony.
Carpets, couches, curtains and other textiles in the home retain stench and reproduce it especially when the perceived temperature rises due to summer or humidity. Washing whatever you can is the preferable first step. Here's some more specialized recs:
1. For topical stains, apply a mixture of soda bicarbonate and water, make it into a paste and rub with a sponge. Carpets greatly benefit from a vinegar rinse, which keeps the colors vibrant, the acid killing a few bacteria in the process as a bonus.
2. For more extended spills & stenches Febreeze also works in a pinch; don't scoff it, it was made for a reason! Apparently not all markets were so well responsive to it though; for instance in Greece the only smell taboo apparently is being a negligent housekeeper, so Febreeze tanked and was soon thrown out of the market, but I digress.
3. When washing curtains and linens for storing, wash at the highest temperature the fabric can take and dry completely (preferably air-dry hanging out in the sun). Tuck them in air-tight containers with a bar of soap thrown inside; the soap holds any moisture and further aromatizes the fabric for a long time (soap doesn't spoil for years). The soap trick is particularly recommended with natural fur which smells horrendous if stored in mothballs. Lavender sachets (make your own by tucking dried lavender twigs inside tulle and securing with some ribbon) and cedar blocks -besides keeping moths away- also seem to keep clothes fresh-smelling for longer in the wardrobe. It's a nice and ecological alternative to commercial products of synthetic origin.
How to Have a Clean Smelling Car
Get thee to the car washer, demand an inside-out and then, starting with a literally clean slate, do the following:
4. If at all possible don't put perfume (or encourage other people to do it) in the car. The scent accumulates and after a couple of weeks it will become unbearable, especially if you're using multiple scents which intermingle.