11 Secrets from People Who Always Have Amazing-Smelling Homes

published May 3, 2021
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Modern and bright Loft kitchen
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A few years ago, my best friend bought a new house and had me over to check it out. Right away, I noticed how amazing it smelled — like she’d been simmering citrus rinds and cinnamon on the stovetop all day (she hadn’t). After I got home, I couldn’t help but fixate on one thing about my own space: It didn’t smell good. My house didn’t stink, but it also didn’t smell memorably good like my friend’s — a problem I wanted to solve with haste. Sure, I’m not having any people over these days, but that’s no reason not to search for my home’s signature scent. I’ll probably be here for the indefinite future, so I may as well enjoy sniffing it.

Curious how folks like my friend keep their homes smelling amazing? Here are some of those people’s best tips.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Absorb bad smells with baking soda.

Sometimes, keeping your space in amazing-smelling condition means preventing the odors that don’t smell good from taking over the atmosphere — especially if you regularly cook with distinct-smelling spices like food blogger Vered DeLeeuw. Her secret? A few bowls of baking soda scattered around the house and replaced weekly. “This is especially helpful in the pantry and in a small kitchen,” she says. “Baking soda does a wonderful job of absorbing, not masking, odors — plus, it’s easy to find and cheap!”

2. Make a DIY room spray.

Steve Schwartz, founder and master tea blender at the Los Angeles-based tea purveyor Art of Tea, swears by a DIY concentrate of botanicals such as eucalyptus, lavender, and lemon myrtle. First, he steeps the herbs in hot water (just like making tea) then transfers the mix to a spray bottle for freshening up the kitchen.

Another interesting fact from Schwartz: Tea is also a natural odor absorber, so you can use old dried tea leaves to nix smells in your fridge instead of baking soda. Who knew?

3. Simmer spent lemons.

Don’t throw away those lemon rinds! Chef Carla Contreras uses the lemons she squeezes for lemon waters to make her kitchen smell amazing. “I place the lemons in a giant stock pot and fill it up with water, then let them simmer on low on my stove for hours,” she says. “It’s such a beautiful smell for something that might go to waste.”

4. Roast coffee beans.

Another trick Contreras loves is one she learned in her days as a barista. Just take a couple of coffee beans and place them in the oven at 400 degrees for seven to 10 minutes, then leave the oven door open afterwards for an energizing, coffee house smell. 

Credit: Carly Diaz

5. Whip up a stovetop potpourri.

Simmering warm, spicy herbs in a pot on the stovetop is one of the best ways to make your home smell good while adding a touch of seasonal nostalgia. Haeley Giambalvo, founder of Design Improvised, likes to simmer a pot on low with apple slices, orange peels, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, but you can also play with anise, nutmeg, rosemary, vanilla beans, and even cranberries!

6. Warm up vanilla extract.

When he’s at home, travel blogger Philip Weiss puts a few drops of vanilla extract in a dish, then bakes it for half an hour in the oven. The vanilla releases a subtle-but-cozy scent that’ll *almost* trick you into thinking someone baked a delicious cake.

Put a citrusy twist on your vanilla cake vibes by adding lemon zest and a capful of vanilla extract to a ramekin along with some water. “Set the ramekin on a small baking sheet and slide it into a 300-degree oven, and you get to enjoy an hour or so of deliciousness in the air,” says cookbook author Lisa Chernick.

7. Purify air with activated charcoal.

According to Albert Lee, founder of Home Living Lab, one of the most effective and affordable odor busters in the kitchen is activated charcoal, which is electrically nonpolar and can absorb most common kitchen vapors and gases. For a quick fix in a smelly kitchen, Lee hangs a pound of activated charcoal in a porous bag by his kitchen window. You can also put activated charcoal in a few bowls around your kitchen near potential odor sources, like your garbage disposal or your trash.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

8. Use a cup of vinegar.

You probably already use vinegar to clean. According to David Cusick, chief strategy officer at House Method, you can also use it to deodorize. His go-to trick: “After cooking, especially with a greasy dish, simmer white vinegar on the stove to help remove the smell,” he says. “You can also leave a glass of vinegar on the counter overnight to wake up with a fresher-smelling kitchen.”

Why is vinegar so effective? Cusick says it’s chemistry 101. Vinegar is acetic acid, which binds with bad odor molecules. But don’t worry! The smell of vinegar won’t stick around; it’ll just absorb the yuck.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

9. Bake cookies (yes, really).

Author and naturalist Lora Hein learned one of her favorite tricks from a realtor, who would pop a sheet of chocolate chip cookies in the oven minutes before an open house for an enticing, homey smell. If you don’t need all those cookies on hand every day, Hein suggests freezing a roll of cookie dough and just putting two or three slices in the toaster oven for a delicious snack and an amazing-smelling kitchen.

10. Diffuse essential oils.

Essential oils, or concentrated plants and herbs, are a common way to lend a fresh smell to your space if you’re not a fan of perfumed candles or air fresheners. Ian Kelly, VP of operations at NuLeaf Naturals, says he uses essential oil diffusers throughout his home, keeping it natural and simple with oils like grapefruit, rosemary, lemon, mint, and cinnamon orange.

11. Hang dried herbs.

Founder of Colony Roofers (and avid home chef) Zach Reece likes to hang dried herbs like olive branches, sage, and bay leaf. Just tie a bunch of them and hang them at face-level somewhere in the kitchen. Not only will your space smell and look amazing, but you’ll also be able to grab the herbs as needed for cooking!  

This post originally ran on Kitchn. See it there: 11 Secrets from People Who Always Have Amazing-Smelling Homes