Reduce the STANK in your house: solving common stinky problems

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Christmas yard art: Car Freshner'sNot all my apartments were shitty, but they all had their own stank issues, as small spaces are wont to do. But every cloud has a silver lining: since two of our three apartments were less than 650 square feet — and the third was half-underground and always moist — I had to learn how to keep common stinky problems from overwhelming us. I know — solving smell issues seems so easy but I know I, a very-uneducated-in-the-domestic-sciences person, took a long time to learn this stuff. So I’m happy to share my smell-management success secrets with you.

PROBLEM: Our trash is STANK, and I’m taking out half-full trash bags four times a week.


  1. Never, ever, never use scented trash bags. Adding scent to stank just compounds it.
  2. Clean out your can. If it hasn’t been washed in a while, there might be a big glob of ketchup stuck up in there. Even when you can’t see anything, using soap and water or an unscented disinfectant can eliminate smells.
  3. Get a counter-top compost bin. In our house, produce was a big cause of trash can stank. Onion bits and old broccoli stalks can bring a pervasive smell pretty quickly. This pretty much stopped when we got a counter-top compost bin and its accompanying charcoal filters. Even if you can’t compost, it wouldn’t be a bad buy if you have smelly produce problems — the bin pretty much kills the smell of scraps, so you don’t have to change your trash bag every time you slice onions.

PROBLEM: My neighbors’ stank invades our space.


  1. Get a draft guard for your door.
  2. Get an air purifier. Combine it with cracked windows, and you could see a marked reduction in uninvited smells.
  3. See if your landlord can replace a filter. Many times, even shared ventilation systems have filters throughout the ducts. If yours is clogged with dust and hair, it’s probably not absorbing smells.

PROBLEM: The cat’s litter box is STANK, and we don’t have enough space to stow it remotely.


  1. Try moving the litter box. Air moves around spaces weirdly — AND you might not mind smelling a whiff of cat pee when you’re loading the dryer, though it sucks to be the first thing you smell as you step through the front door. There might be a better place for your cat to poop in your house.
  2. Try a different litter. Even “natural” or “unscented” litters often have scents. After years of testing, my favorite is unscented Cat’s Pride. It’s cheap, scoopable, and though some people don’t like clay litter — it’s been the best at trapping odors. Every time we’ve had a truly stinky box that wasn’t in need of a change was when I’d had to buy a slightly-scented “unscented” brand.
  3. Add baking soda. Non toxic, neutralizes ammonia, cheap.
  4. Buy your cat better food. Cat poop shouldn’t be that smelly, barring another health problem (I’ve known plenty of stinky cats who have stomach issues). If your cat’s poops are unbearably stank, look into a higher quality food — one without corn. After a few days you should notice a huge difference. I like Castor & Pollux, but I’m also a crazy cat lady, blinded to the price of cat food.
  5. Every fourth litter cleaning, get rid of ALL the old litter, rinse or wash the box and let it dry — in the sun, if possible. Many people suggest adding diluted bleach to the wash, but I haven’t found it to be necessary. it’s not a fantastic idea to add bleach to ammonia-based cat pee. Plus, rinsing only does the trick just as well.

I hope these starter solutions are helpful. These simple changes made my home mostly smell-free.

And if you have a stank issue, post it in the comments — we can group workshop it.

Comments on Reduce the STANK in your house: solving common stinky problems

  1. Another really great alternative is an enzyme cleaner. I use this one:

    It was recommended by a friend who worked for years at a vet clinic, and they used it all the time. It’s a natural cleaner with active enzymes that will destroy any natural scent. Diluted 10 parts to one, it will still kill ANY smell, and is non-toxic and totally safe.

    I’ve used it on dog pee, kitty litter boxes, laundry, poured a little down the sink, sprayed in toilets, in garbage, on clothes, soft furniture, it ALWAYS kills the smell. It’s like febreeze, if febreeze actually worked. I even sent a bottle to a friend in Afghanistan when he had a huge bin of food that cracked open and spoiled, then sat sealed in 55 degree (celcius) heat. A little 350ml bottle of this, diluted, completely got rid of the mess and the smell. It’s like Frank’s Red hot – I put that shit on everything!

  2. I read today that cutting an onion in half and leaving it in a basement over night will remove musty basement smell. You apparently have to wait for the salad bar smell to go away but then the air is supposed to be nice. Someone should try this and report back.

    • Ive used this method to kill refridgerator stank, and it works a treat. The onion and stank smells disappear at the same time for some reason, its great.

  3. I’ve found that a 50/50 mixture of strong black tea (cheap lipton is fine), and vinegar with a splash of lemon juice is great and safe for cleaning out the litter box, I also use it for cleaning my rats’ cage, windows, mirrors and my glass coffee table. It leaves everything smelling lemony fresh!

  4. I got some decorative, shallow containters at the thrift store- fill one with baking soda and one with white vinegar and place them on opposite sides of the room (high up if like me you have a cat who likes to knock stuff on the floor)

    the first day the room will smell like vinegar, but eventually they will neutralize each other and they seriously soak up some nasty smells

    my living room smelled like wet animal whenever it rained (no… i have no clue why) and no amount of wall plug-ins or anything similar would help, but baking soda and vinegar did the trick!

    (as an added bonus, my cat no longer climbs to the top of the bookshelf to knock all my gizmos on the floor, because thats when the container with vinegar is, and cats hate the smell)

  5. For the cats, I too am immune to the price of cat food, and feed raw – also a great alternative to prevent kitty STANK.

    I use Rad Cat (

    • Huhhhhhhh…Browsing that link, I came across raw frozen rabbit. Somehow I had not thought of that as a food, and am now considering if I might be able to buy rabbit from a friend for my cat. My cat. Clearly the queen of the household.

    • And now I want to feed my cat raw. Honestly for me it’s not the money it’s the clean-up time. I can’t even do my own dishes, and I imagine you can’t just leave raw lamb sitting out like leftover kibbles. My poor cat has an unfit mother.

    • Yes! I feed my (4) cats raw as well! (Sometimes Rad Cat, but often I make my own, which is more cost efficient for me: When I’ve switched back to a high quality canned (Weruva, Wellness, etc.) I notice there is a HUGE difference.

      The warning I will give is that while your cats are adjusting to the raw, there will be a short period of time when they have the meat farts and are super smelly.

      I mostly use storage containers for litter boxes (I have a 21 gallon concrete mixing tub, two 14 gallon storage bins, and an actual made-to-be-a-litter-box XL corner litter box). I use the Blue Buffalo multi-cat walnut litter, and even though my condo is only 1000 sq. ft., I rarely have a problem with kitty STANK. (Usually it’s only AS they’re going) Guests have been surprised at the lack of smell, so I know it’s not just my nose getting used to it.

      Also, for cleaning, I really recommend Anti-Icky Poo:

  6. So I live above a million pack a day smokers and the previous occupants also smoked. I can smell it all day everyday and have tried everything I can think of including wiping down all the walls and wooden cabinets and shelves with vinegar and water, candles, air freshners. Any other suggestions that won’t kill me with chemicals?

    • I’m late to these comments, but since nobody mentioned this tip up-thread: if you have carpets, you can buy a large can of cheap ground coffee (like Safeway store brand), sprinkle it on the carpets, leave on for several hours or overnight, and vacuum. Coffee absorbs odors–I think this would work for smoke, helps with pet odors and mildew, etc. The coffee smell will linger for a long time (and you might not get all the coffee out of cracks, etc.) but I like the smell.

      If you don’t have carpet, strategically placed little dishes of coffee might help absorb some odor, and again, mask stank with a pleasant coffee smell.

  7. I recently found Kanberra Gel. It is 100% MAGIC IN A POT!

    I got it at my local natural pet shop. It is a little pricy which put me off trying it, but now that I know how well it works I would pay double. My litter box lives in our tiny laundry room which was turned toxic by our kitties radioactive poops. After a day of the gel being open in the room, I could breath deeply in there and not smell a thing. Honestly, best shit evar!

  8. After being in my apartment for 2 years, I’ve got an arsenal of tricks.

    For our bathroom: I clean with baking soda and vinegar. Our bathroom wall connects to our neighbor’s bathroom and they smoke in it (I assume so they can use the bathroom fan to pull the smoke out) and you can smell it in my bathroom and it was gag worthy. I now keep a two jars of absorbent beads (can get them at dollar stores), one in a decorative jar on my toilet (also helps with poop smells) and one under our sink (where the smell comes through and is the worst). I can also use charcoal or coffee beans under the sink, but I like that I can get scented gel beads and have a clean smell in the bathroom in between cleaning sessions. A dab of essential oil on the inside of the toilet paper roll keeps a fresh smell in there too. I do use scented trash bags in the bathroom, but only in the bathroom where the trash doesn’t smell. I try to match all the smells up if I’m using more than one at a time, a mixture of conflicting smells can be unappealing even if they smell good alone.

    Bedroom: GET THAT DIRTY LAUNDRY OUT. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why our bedroom smelt like B.O. and finally realized it was the dirty laundry basket. Now we keep up with laundry better and give the hamper a good cleaning now and then too. I spray my mattress with vodka to freshen it up when I’m washing my sheets. I cover my dog’s kennel (yes it’s in my bedroom) with a sheet and keep a small tea bag on top of it and I don’t smell dog all night. Tea bags in your shoes also help get rid of shoe funk. You can also freeze anything from shoes to clothes that are causing a stink.

    Kitchen: I use a stainless steel trash can with a lid and it keeps the smells in. Throw a few old news papers on the bottom and they will soak up any leaks or smells from the bag and when you change the bag, change the paper and your can will stay cleaner longer. I give it a good clean every now and then as well. If it’s really bad, throw some cheap tea bags in the bag when you first put it in. Clean your garbage disposal with frozen cubes of vinegar or use egg shells or citrus peels to clean the blades. Keep the counters wiped down, if grease or food splatters accumulate, they will smell even if they are small. Rinse your dishes before leaving them in the sink. and clean your dishwasher every now and then with vinegar. Keep up with your fridge inventory, don’t let things spoil, their smell can linger even after you throw it out. I keep a box of baking soda in there just in case I forget something.

    Living room: I vacuum at least once a week, making sure my filter is clean, and I sprinkle carpet powder. But my FAVORITE product is Scentsy Fresh Spray. Unlike room sprays, you can spray it directly on furniture, carpet or curtains and it will deodorize like a dream. They have awesome scents but also a scent free one for sensitive noses. The only downside is you have to find someone who sells the stuff who can order it for you. But I keep bottles of this stuff around all the time now. I love it.

    As for my dog: Don’t bathe them too often! My dog gets a bath MAYBE once a month, but never more. I keep her brushed out and I have an unscented deodorizer I got from the pet store I can spritz her with before combing and it works if she’s got a funk. Doggy wipes are also pretty good for postponing baths. I feed her rachel ray brand food because meat is the main ingredient and she’s doing so much better than she was on other foods in terms of itching, gas and shedding. I also use a deshedding shampoo on her when I do bathe her, but be careful anything you use doesn’t irritate their skin or they will excrete more oils and tend to be more stinky.

    For an immediate problem, when we first moved in, we clipped car air freshener clips to our air vents to make it smell good before we figured out all my nifty tricks. I still do this if I’ve got an issue that is going to take a couple of days to air out (like when you use vinegar, I hate the smell of vinegar). Covers it up nicely! Dryer sheets behind fans will also spread a nice scent, but again, these are immediate cover ups not de-funking tips.

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