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Removing bad smells from your rental property

Removing bad smells from your rental property

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Open windows only go so far unfortunately. There's nothing worse than moving into (or coming home after time away) to a home that smells bad. Plug in devices waste energy, sprays can irritate the sinuses and anyone with allergies or respiratory conditions, incense fades and masking a smell doesn't solve the underlying problem.

General rules:

  • Determine the source of the odour, is it one room in particular? is it in the carpet, walls or curtains? Each surface may require a different response and of course you should check cleaning instructions with new carpets or upholstery.
  • Attend to source of odour as soon as possible.
  • Natural ingredients like vinegar, lemons and bicarbonate soda are your friends.
  • Try the European daily habit of airing out your home every morning. Leave the windows open for about half an hour to an hour each morning and you will be amazed at how that stale, indoor odour dissipates
  • If a smell is caused by structural damage such a mould or storm damage it is worth requesting repairs to your landlord or property manager.

Q: My housemate had a party when I was away and now the place smells like an ashtray!

  • Fill small bowls with white vinegar or ammonia and place them in rooms where the stench is most pungent. Additionally, you can also boil lemon or orange peels to further combat the odour. These substances will help neutralise the existing odour in the air.
  • Clean your carpeting. Carpets tend to trap and lock more cigarette odour than anything else in an apartment.
  • Wash your walls using a gentle, all-purpose detergent.
  • Wash or dry clean draperies, cushions or other cloth items that were in the apartment while smoke was wafting through the air. Cloth accessories and other soft, porous surfaces are more likely to give off a smoky smell.
  • In severe cases, consider repainting the walls (otherwise known as trap the odour behind a layer of paint).

Q. The fridge just smells really bad. What should I do?
The age-old solution to tame fridge odours is to open a box of bicarbonate soda and stick it on a shelf or along the back. Change it annually and keep it away from vegetables (sodium bicarbonate can cause leafy veggies to wilt quickly). Sodium bicarbonate has a unique chemical property that attracts and absorbs odours. In general fridges should be cleaned regularly: take everything out, compost food waste (find ways to reduce your food waste here, scrub shelves, trays and walls, clean seals.

Q: I've moved into a new place and it just stinks like cat wee.
I asked a friend about this and I remember her telling me…

"We live in an old house that smelled like cat urine. The previous owners had wall-to-wall carpet. The carpet was taken up but the odour remained....the urine leaked into the floor boards. We rented a sander and sanded, restained, and varnished the floors ourselves. This helped with the smell immensely."

Urine can penetrate deep well below the surface. Replacing the floor, cleaning the concrete, replacing baseboards, doors, might be the last resort. For a less drastic option, sprinkle the effected area with bicarb soda and a few drops of eucalyptus oil. Allow to dry and vacuum or brush soda off. Then sponge with vinegar and warm water and allow to dry. Another suggestion I've heard is to combine 2 parts with to one part mouth wash in an empty spray bottle. Spray the mixture (lightly) onto whatever upholstery is soiled. Lay newspaper over the sprayed area and let dry, the newspaper should absorb the smell completely.

Q: I forgot to empty the washing machine when I was washing my clothes last week and now it stinks!
Freshen up the machine by running it empty on a hot-wash programme with some washing-soda or 1 cup clear vinegar thrown in for good measure. This will remove odours and stop soap scum, limescale, mildew etc. It's a good idea to also clean the seals and lint filter regularly.

Q: We had a party last night and the house smells like a brewery, help!
Removing the smell from the carpet:

  • Mix 1 tbs of white vinegar, 1 tbs of dish detergent and 2 cups of warm water in a medium-sized bowl. Dip a sponge into the mixture and absorb a moderate amount. Blot the spilled-on area with the sponge. Repeat this step a few times until the smell has gone away.
  • Fill a small bowl with cold water. Dip a clean rag into the water and ring it out until it's not dripping wet. Blot the vinegar solution out of the spilled area using the moist rag.
  • Blot all excess moisture with a clean dry cloth and let the spilled-on area air-dry

From upholstery: Sponge with warm water. Older stains can be cleaned with a 1:5 solution of clear vinegar and water, taking care not to get the fabric too wet, then rinse with clean water. Dab with a dry cloth or kitchen paper to dry.

Q. The place I've moved into just has 'That old people smell', what should I do?
According to scientific research the 'old people' smell really exists. According to US researchers elderly people really do have a distinct scent, so recognisable in fact that people can identify them by body odour alone. 

Is the smell actually body odour? Try soaking clothes/curtains/towels etc in a cup of Borax and warm water over night then wash in the machine or by hand. If it's more a general musty smell (otherwise known as op shop odour), kitty litter can help. Place offending item(s) into a plastic garbage bag. Pour in a box of kitty litter to cover items and leave sealed for a week. When the week is up, empty the kitty litter. 

If I have a few things from the op shop that have that lingering moth-ball smell I hang them in over the bath, half-fill the bath (or sink if you don't have a bath) with very hot water and put a small bowl of malt-vinegar in the bathroom, shut the door and leave them for a few hours. I find it gets rid of the vintage-moth-ball smell very well.
Q. I'm a vegetarian and every time my housemate cooks breakfast, the place smells like bacon!
Ideally if you have a exhaust fan above the stove that actually works, this should be switched on when cooking bacon. you can keep a bowl of vinegar next to the stove while you're cooking it will help absorb most of the odour. Getting your housemate to scrub the stove, splash back, sink etc should also help.
Hopefully these ideas help make your rental property more pleasant. If you have any questions or tips, we'd love to hear them!


cleaning, natural cleaning, odours, stains