Monday, July 29, 2013

Frequent Questions: How to Get Rid of Bad Smells (of Stinky Perfumes, Cat Piss, Dog Poo, Mold, etc) from Home, Car and Body

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.


How to Get Rid of Unwanted Perfume & Kitchen Smells on Skin & Fighting Other Bodily "Bad Smells" 

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. 

How to Battle with Mold and Treat Stinky Fabric in your Home

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

There's no way around it: If you want your car to smell clean you have to keep it clean. It's such a small, confined space that if it's moldy, soggy under the seats and cramming with remnants of little passengers' vomit and other assorted putrid smells, it will continue to smell bad no matter how many car deodorants you're using. (Please do me a favor and throw away those god awful hanging "trees" with the fake coconut or artificial gag-inducing vanilla scent. Are they still selling these? WHY??)
Get thee to the car washer, demand an inside-out and then, starting with a literally clean slate, do the following:

1. Keep some scented powder or scented crystals in the ash-tray. It will neutralize smoke. If you smoke in the car, try to do it with open windows.
2. Try not to forget foodstuff lying around. Yes, that includes reminding your kids as well. It might also include investing in some airtight containers for your fishing equipment or anything smelly you're carrying. 
3. Be proactive and keep some barf bags in the car for kids and travel emergencies. These need to be immediately accessible in the fold behind the seats. Like a toilet roll tucked in the glove compartment at all times, it's a better safe than sorry practice.
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.

If you have more ideas and tips on how to get rid of stinky smells, please share them in the comments!


  1. Oooo...THANKS so much for the odor elimination advice. My husband threatens to throw out my beautiful Turkish rug because sweet "Jennifer the Beagle" soiled it several times. I can't smell a thing, but he swears he can. Am going to try your tips ASAP. You may have saved my rug!

  2. after living with cats all my life, two products have a permanent place in the pantry: baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and ordinary vinegar, either white or cider will do. i buy them in comically large boxes and bottles. very useful if there are baby nappies to be dealt with, as well.

    my car, which has leather seats, had a strange smell when i acquired it. cleaning the seats didn't help much; leaving pans of baking soda in the footwells helped a little. even leaving it with the top down in the sun/air didn't fix it permanently. i've resorted to using a portable ionizer, the kind that plugs into the lighter socket, and that does seem to help if i run it regularly.

    oriental rugs can be helped by saturating the smelly spots thoroughly with baking soda/water solution, vinegar/water solution, or alternating both. allow it to dry like that, and if, practical, place the rug in the sun after rinsing it. (try to time this for a span of rain-free. lower humidity weather...) obviously, it's not good to expose textiles, especially older ones, to sunlight for very long or often, so this should be done as little as possible to limit any damage to colors or fiber integrity. spraying lightly afterward with essential oil of lemon can help, as well. it's usually necessary to treat the floor where the rug was lying, also; otherwise, every time the heat/humidity rise that smell will come out again (and the pet may be encouraged to use that area again!), foiling one's efforts at clean-up...

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  4. For kitchen smells like fried fish I started using "Lampe Berger" two years ago and it works very well. It is also recommended against cigarette smoke and smelly pets. Among a lot of different fragrances you can also get the neutral stuff but my husband and my son dislike it. They prefer the scented liquids.

  5. never thought of storing with soap, great idea!

  6. Anonymous21:20

    some great ideas in here! thanks!


  7. Ariadne22:57

    Yup, absolutely have AND USE at least one Lampe Berger in your home regularly. You will be amazed at its effectiveness in removing ALL odors in 20 minutes as well as getting rid of germs. Invented by a french doctor for hospital use in the 20 century the lamps themselves have become a collectors' fetish, spanning designs from Limoge to the Avante Garde. You can find perfume designer oils to burn in them (they smell totally different when burned as opposed to in the bottle). My Lampe Berger is the first thing that comes out when someone in my house gets a cold and right after making a pot of shrimp scampi or fried catfish.

  8. Ariadne23:04

    Oh, forgot...for pet odors you need to get a bottle of Odor Mute. It is an enzymatic clear liquid that neutralizes all pet odors on contact. I have used it on a natural dye Aubusson rug without issue. Expensive at the veterinarian's but well worth it.

  9. Miss Heliotrope02:22

    What fun - thanks for this, already do the bicarb thing for cat mess, shall try toothpaste. Mind you, the biggest thing we've done to help poor Widmerpool's vomiting on the carpet problems is feed him (on the vet's advice) boiled rice mixed with boiled minced (skinless) chicken for one meal a day - he doesn't throw up half as much now. We also found that kitty litter made from recycled newspaper smells much less than the non-eco stuff, which was horrible & chemically: & the paper stuff can go in the compost.

    & re hands smelling of garlic/onions/fish, one thing we do is rub our hands on the stainless steel draining boards by the kitchen sink - you can buy stainless steel "soap" (just a lump), but this is enough to help & it is just there...

    I find the big thing is air, if possible. Air drying, opening windows & doors, all help beyond anything. When we lived in upstate NY, especially in winter, we couldn't do any of that at least half the year, and always felt not quite properly clean. Returning to Australia, we were rather sadly excited about using clothes lines again.

  10. I don't have anything to add but from experience, baby wipes do help with the removal of stinky perfume, but they have to be baby wipes. They also help with removing hair colour from your skin if you're coloring yourself.

  11. Laurels09:29

    Our vet gave us a great recipe for getting the skunk smell off a dog. We had tried regular dog shampoo (three times!), stuff from the pet store (useless), and tomato juice(the dog reeked of both skunk and tomato juice).

    1 quart hydrogen peroxide (3%)
    1/4 cup baking soda
    1teaspoon dish soap--not the dishwasher type, and make sure it does NOT contain bleach

    Mix well, wearing gloves, and wash your dog with this solution. Large dogs will require at least double this recipe. Rinse dog thoroughly, as the solution is a bit irritating. Citrus-scented dish soap is particularly nice, although your dog may feel differently about it.

  12. robin w.16:38

    Thank you for the great ideas - I've sometimes needed to get rid of some aggressive perfume that's rubbed off of somebody else (after a simple hug hello) - and now I will try some of these suggestions.

    One note, as an architect: it's not ideal to keep a house 'as dry as possible' - if it's under 30% humidity you and all your furniture will dry out. Skin gets flaky and cracks, mucous membranes dry out and become more susceptible to infection and allergy/asthma problems; you'll get static shocks that can harm electronics if you are touching them; and wood furniture cracks, pianos go out of tune, etc. 35-50% is ideal. And yes, ventilate with fresh air as much as possible. After showering, close the shower curtain, open doors/windows and leave the exhaust fan on for as long as 30 minutes afterward to help dry out the room. And if you are building from scratch, choose natural materials that don't 'offgas' nauseating and toxic elements, and build in a breezy place to hang all your laundry. OK, end of boring side lecture! :)

  13. Anonymous09:30

    Interesting read! A stupid question though regarding the use of a bar of soap to maintain freshness in stored fabrics: do you put it in the middle with, or without the paper wrapping? And doesn't it stain the fabric after a while? Cheers, Wendy

  14. Anonymous09:42

    Wendy, Hello! From my own experience, I leave the soap in its wrapper and stuff it into the middle of things. So far haven't experienced any staining, but then the bars have all been very pale colours. The more expensive the soap the better the smell, and the more long lasting.

  15. Dearest Shrine
    For once, the church really does know best... nothing eliminates household as effectively as a good flushing through with incense... myrrh works particularly well.
    Though of course some people might find the remaining scent as offensive as that it has usurped!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  16. Anonymous16:27

    I bought new underwear, and it seems to have permanent perfume added. How can I get rid of the smell? Who wants to smell like baby diapers?

    1. Regarding the "how to get rid of the smell" perhaps zip-lock them into a plastic bag with baking soda. Shake well. Leave for several days. Then wash in the washing machine with vinegar and your laundry detergent. It should remove the scent. I hope so at least. Good luck!


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