These Are Real Estate Agents’ Secrets for a Nice-Smelling Home (That Aren’t Cookies or Candles)

published Mar 1, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Someone removing a full bag of trash from a kitchen garbage can. wood paneled wall in the background
Credit: Photo: Sidney Bensimon; Prop Styling: Anna Surbatovich

It would probably save plenty of house-hunting time if real estate listings could convey a home’s smell. While an apartment or house may look mighty cute on Zillow, sometimes you just can’t predict the scents that you’ll find inside. I asked a few real estate agents who have dealt with the occasional “olfactory assault” what their tips and tricks are for keeping a property smelling so fresh and so clean. 

When it comes to keeping a home smelling satisfactory, solutions can be divided into two categories: odor eliminators and odor coverups. If the dank smell you’re detecting is excess moisture, there are several products on the market whose sole purpose is to absorb a stench. Jason Niles, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Boston, suggests a product called DampRid that you can buy at Home Depot. 

“It helps with preventing musty basements and draws out and traps moisture. You can get the bags that hang up in closets or on shelving, or you can get the crystals that simply lay on surfaces,” says Niles. “It is basically like a dehumidifier without electricity.”

Nicole Pirnie, Senné’s senior director of residential brokerage, suggests regularly changing air furnace filters, bath mats, and shower curtain liners, which can get moldy over time. Both Pirnie and Niles recommended grinding lemons in the garbage disposal, followed by a full rinse with dish soap. But if you’re looking to eradicate a smell without spending any money, the most cost-efficient odor eliminator has consistently proven to be fresh air.

Credit: Kai Byrd

“When it’s not too chilly, I like to open a number of windows for about 10 minutes before any open house,” says Haley Rose, a Realtor with KEY Real Estate Services in South Kingston, Rhode island. “It’s amazing — and cheap! — what fresh air can do. It’s neutral yet feels clean.”

If you do want to add a nice scent to a space, just remember that subtlety is key. After all, one spiced pumpkin candle can’t erase the smell of a garbage can. But a light touch of fragrance, particularly a citrus one that evokes a sense of cleanliness, can be very helpful. 

Niles will concoct a “stovetop fragrance potion” composed of cinnamon sticks, citrus peels, and a little vanilla extract. You can add a bit of apple if you want a slightly sweeter fragrance, he says.

Bring it all to a boil, and then let it simmer on the stove. He’s also a fan of the cinnamon-scented brooms from Trader Joe’s that became a hot commodity in recent years. A reed diffuser can also be helpful for adding a touch of fragrance that isn’t overpowering. Pirnie’s favorite is Aqua de Soi in the Santorini Breeze scent, and she also makes use of Inis Home & Linen Mist throughout the home.

Of course, be sure to always follow the Realtor’s golden rule of smell elimination: Take out the trash, and don’t wait a week until the smell of what’s in the trash bag lingers in the can.

“Don’t skip a day,” says Pirnie, who swears by emptying trash daily.