How do you combat pervasive cooking smells?

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By: amymctigue – CC BY 2.0
By: amymctigueCC BY 2.0
My apartment features the kitchen, dining area, and living room all in one big room. It has two bedrooms on either side of it, and a rather persistent food odor issue.

Cooking odors seem to permeate the place, whether or not I close the bedroom doors while cooking. It gets into our bedding, and clothes. One particularly strong odor is coffee (which my significant other makes about five times a day) but bacon, meat, and stir-fry sauces all contribute as well.

We’re pretty diligent about doing the dishes, washing bedding, and cleaning the floor. Aside from opening the windows (impossible this time of year) and turning on fans, do you have any tips or tricks to offer us to keep our home smelling fresh and inviting?

Thanks! -Shannon

Air fresheners, candles, cooking in a vacuum? Homies, how do you combat pervasive cooking odors?

Comments on How do you combat pervasive cooking smells?

    • I used to live in an apartment with roomies that were smokers (only in their rooms, but still pretty smelly). I had a small HEPA filter air purifier thinger that worked great. My room was a non-stinky oasis! I imagine that a big one would help a large room with food smells.

    • There’s no vent fan in our kitchen so we run an air purifier. Unfortunately they are a major power drain to run constantly, which it sounds like you’d need to do with all the coffee making. Might still be worth it, though, as stale coffee is a terrible aroma

    • I run a large air purifier because I have cats. We have steam heating, so no central air system to get air circulating. That thing is AMAZING at getting rid of cat stink. I clean the outer filter once a month and the HEPA filter needs replaced once a year-ish. It takes up no more energy than a regular fan. My energy bills every month are pretty reasonable, I think, so I’m not worried that the filter running 24-7 is a big energy drain.

  1. This is easy! Trick I learned from my mom. After you are done cooking, put a couple of lemon slices, a cinnamon stick and a few whole cloves into a small pot (like a saucepan). Add water until it covers to lemon slices. Set on the stove to simmer. Let simmer for anywhere from 10-30min or until the fragrance permeates your living space.

    This works for everything! Taking out the garbage, cooking fish, any meat, burned something, garlic, etc etc. Now the combination I use above is the standard, but to some people it can smell a little “Christmas-y” if you catch my drift. But you can do this with orange or lime or probably even grapefruit slices, and then a combination of whatever whole spices you have…anise, peppercorn, ginger (my mom loves lemon and ginger or orange and ginger together), allspice, cardamom, coriander, juniper, vanilla bean, etc. And the simmered citrus/spice combination always disperse fairly quickly afterwards.

    You can also burn a couple of complementing candles, but I find candles take too long to disperse their scents.

  2. I’m assuming that you don’t have an exhaust hood/fan. I don’t either… it blows. *rimshot*

    When you can open the kitchen window, get a box or flat fan that fits right up against the window. Turn it so it’s on exhaust, making sure that it is sucking air out.

    What is the venting system like? In our place, there’s an air vent that goes from the kitchen right up to the bathroom, so sometimes the towels smell like whatever we cook. I haven’t figured out a solution for this yet, but there’s always the stoner fix of putting a dryer sheet in the air vent, but this probably isn’t a safe long term solution. I wonder if they make little filters you could easily install yourself.

    • I used to have a downstairs neighbor that smoked pot on the weekends. His vent vented into my bathroom. My towels sure smelled interesting come the weekend! My cats didn’t seem to mind it though 😉

  3. This won’t fix the whole problem, but to help prevent the smells from getting into the bedrooms, you can use one of those long cussions people put in front of doors to prevent cold air from getting in. Like this :
    Couldn’t find how they are called in English. It’s a low cost way of stopping the stink from getting in. It works for when I cook bacon at home.

    • One (American) English name for them would be a draft dodger 🙂 or draft stopper, draft blocker, etc etc.

      The one you linked to with the dog is super cute! Mine are just boring cylinders.

  4. I will swear by my Lampe Berger for getting rid of odours. In a small space you would only have to run it for about 10 minutes or so. It can be a little expensive to get started, but not to maintain if you burn it properly. The science behind them is a little bullshitty, but I swear they work way better than scented candles.

  5. After dinner is done cooking, pour some vinegar in 2-3 little bowls/containers/cups. Set them out across the kitchen counter and table, and leave them there overnight.

    This usually does the trick for me (I also have a connected kitchen/living/dining room space). By morning, the smell of last night’s pot roast is replaced by a slight vinegary scent. Then, I put a lid on the vinegar jars, and light a few scented candles.

    You could also try setting small containers of vinegar in your bedrooms, when cooking and/or the rooms aren’t being occupied.

  6. . . . . I . . . wha . . . . huh?

    Does not compute.

    Cooking smells are lovely and make a place seem homey (except for those sulfur-rich brassicas like brussels sprouts).

    • While the food is cooking, yes, definitely. However, when they linger afterward they start becoming increasingly less pleasant. The smell of coffee brewing? Delightful! The stale smell of coffee an hour later? Really unpleasant. Also, not all smells combine well together. You might not want to be smelling your husbands coffee while eating a citrus fish meal, as that could really mess with the flavors.

      • Probably it has more to do with my *intense* visceral hatred for anything resembling air fresheners (artificial fragrances used to give me migraines). Combined with the fact that I rarely serve anything delicately flavored (Give me all the spices! I require more chicken stock! Duck fat! Kimchi for every season! Everything Tikka Masala! Muahahahahaha!) – well, I associate just about any food smell with “happy” and anything floral, or “covering up”, as icky.

        • You’re not alone – as long as I’m not smelling the trash can I’m happy when my house smells like food. Especially bacon or curry 😀

    • Personally, I’ve never had a garbage disposal. My solution if the drain is getting stinky is usually a “drain volcano” – put a bunch of baking soda in the drain, pour some vinegar in. I usually continue to add vinegar a little at a time til there aren’t any globs of baking soda visible. Then I let it sit until I can’t hear much fizzing anymore, and follow it up with a kettleful of boiling water. You could probably also add some lemon juice at some point in the process. It can use a lot of vinegar but a big jug of plain white vinegar is pretty cheap. It also helps if the sink is starting to get a little slow to drain.

    • Huh. I never have a problem with a stinky disposal, but it must be because of the lemon! I drink a mug of warm water with lemon every day, then use the disposal to grind up my lemon wedge when I’m done.

  7. Over the last two years I’ve discovered that white vinegar and baking soda (not together, of course) are truly miraculous ingredients.
    – I add a cup of vinegar with each laundry to prevent mouldy odors, and also if I’m washing textiles that have gotten food smells in them. Yes, it will smell like vinegar when you take the clothes out of the washer, but the smell evaporates and leave you with freshness.
    – I alternate these cleaning methods for rugs and furniture: 1 week, sprinkle baking soda, allow to sit for an hour, then vacuum up thoroughly; 2 week, spray mixture of vinegar and water (I use half each) on the fabrics, leave for an hour, then vacuum. Since I don’t really love the smell of vinegar, I usually do it when I’m about to leave to go grocery shopping or something. This has worked for us to even get animal smells out of our rug and couches (not tried it on cat pee, though).
    – Sometimes in the kitchen (or bathroom, too) I will clean with seventh generation disinfectant on hard surfaces (countertops, toilets, floors) to get rid of bacteria without the toxic side effects of other cleaners. This also helps deodorize. Again, I don’t love the smell of thyme (the primary ingredient), but it evaporates and gets rid of odors.

  8. This doesn’t necessarily combat the smells when I’m cooking, but when my house has too many mixed aromas and odors I use this lovely green cleaning method. I use a one quart pot filled to a third with water. Toss in a large cinnamon stick, some citrus peels, and a few cloves. The whole house smells wonderful!

  9. We live in the tropics and tend to run the air conditioners most of the time, which means that the doors and windows stay closed most of the day.

    By late afternoon, the house can get pretty gnarly — two dogs, one cat (with litter box!), plus food smells, multiplied by stale humid air? Recipe for funktastic — especially during rainy season, when mildew gets added to the mix.

    Most days we bounce between simmering fragrant herbs and spices on the stove, lighting incense (my favorite is one from India that I stock up on when we’re in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore that’s called ‘spice’ and smells like a smokey chai tea), and heating up essential oils in burners.

    My husband has a pretty strong aversion to artificial smells, so we try to keep it natural and we have humidity absorbers and boxes of open baking soda in every nook-and-cranny.

    For heavy-duty air freshening, I do turn to my suburban housewife guilty pleasure/secret trick: Scentsy.

    I’m almost ashamed to admit that I use Scentsy, because they feel so Martha Stewart-meets-Stepford x 1,000 but they really, really, REAAAAALLY work.

    Melting just one little block in an oil burner fragrances my entire house and lasts for a really long time. (As in, 24 hours later I can still smell the bar and can’t smell any nastiness.)

    I don’t mind artificial scents but I hate when they smell overly artificial (does that even make sense?), so I stay away the florals and perfume-y scents and buy the food/baking scents and other ‘natural’ smells.

    The vanilla-suede bars are probably the best, in my opinion — even my husband tolerates them. They have a very natural and gender-neutral scent and will quickly cover any funk that you don’t want to smell. (Or don’t want other people to smell!)

    I think Scentsy is usually sold Tupperware or Mary Kay-style, via home parties, but I always get mine on Amazon — you can find most of their scents on there, and most are Prime Eligible, too.

  10. Our rented place does not have a hood/vent system in the kitchen. It’s definitely something you don’t miss until you don’t have one. If you have a hood, turn it on every time you cook. If you don’t, like us, start inspecting the hard surfaces in your kitchen. Since we have no hood you’d be amazed at grease that gets on the cabinets, ceiling, baseboards, etc. It’s not like we are running a KFC out of our place, but the surfaces get a film. I wipe down every hard surface in our kitchen like every 2 months with a basic kitchen cleaner to remove the unwanted build up. This gunk could be trapping smells in addition to dirt.

  11. When I worked in vet hospitals we had the awful air freshened sprays, which we tried to avoid because we would walk through the spray unavoidably and end up coughing and spluttering. Opening windows was impossible because sick patients and security of said patients. So when there was a really awful smell I would fill any bucket or sink up with hot water and add eucalyptus oil. This works at home too. Now in a human hospital we use oil burners to get rid of the bedpan smell, again no way to open windows.
    I hate that it is not against building codes for places to have exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms and for them to be WORKING PROPERLY!! So much mould and yeeghk could be prevented.
    Also keeping lids on pots during and after cooking as much as possible, and rinsing all dishes or at least fillin them up with water helps too. Sometimes just a dirty soup pot will smell like a dead body by morning. Sometimes worse than a dead body.

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