These are some of the most likely culprits.

By Kelsey Ogletree
July 29, 2019

Get to the source of the stink and you’ll be on your way to enjoying a home that smells as sweet as a summer breeze.

You know that ultra-fresh, citrus-kissed scent that greets you when you walk into the lobby of a luxury hotel? Do you ever wish your home could smell like that and start looking into how to make your house smell good? You may fantasize about your home having a signature scent that makes it feel like a clean, safe sanctuary, but life (and reality) can sometimes get in the way.

Whether it’s a smelly dishwasher, mysterious shower drain smells, pets, kids, or even unwanted moisture, there are many side-effects of every day life that can fill your home with a less-than-pleasant scent. If you can’t figure out where that ghastly odor is coming from, check these likely causes—you might find the culprit where you least expect it.

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Your pets

They’re very much a part of the family, but just like humans, they can get smelly. “When their hair falls out, bacteria grow—and it could get nasty really quick,” says Abe Navas, general manager of Emily’s Maids housecleaning service in Dallas, Texas. To remedy this, bathe your pet often, and also clean the spots where they sleep and eat once a week with soap and water (no harsh chemicals). Also vacuum under beds and sofas to avoid hair (and odor) buildup.

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Your wet clothing

Don’t put the dirty clothes basket in your bathroom, Navas says. Instead, keep it in your bedroom or another closet where it won’t be exposed to steam from baths and showers. “In a humid environment, bacteria grows, and that’s what stinks up the place,” Navas says. If you have wet dirty clothes, do laundry ASAP.

Your bedding

“We’ve all heard that we can’t smell our own home, and that is because it smells like our bodies,” says Jennifer Snyder, a Waco, Texas-based certified professional organizer and owner of Neat as a Pin Organizing & Cleaning. Gross, right? One particular offender in this case is your sheets, which become steeped in your own body oils and dirt when you don’t wash them regularly. Snyder’s recommendation: Wash your sheets weekly if you shower in the morning, and every two weeks if you shower at night.

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Your trash can

This one seems obvious—garbage stinks, after all. Little spills and crumbs can build up over time and form bad odors inside your can that linger even when you take out the trash bag (you should empty the trash regularly, of course). To clean the can properly, spray it with diluted bleach and let it sit for a few hours, Navas says. Rinse it with plenty of water, and then use soap to wash it out. Another solution: Designate one trash can for “dirty trash” and take it out every day, even if it isn’t full, says Snyder.

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Your front-load washer

Household appliances that come in constant contact with water can harbor mold, which is the perfect breeding ground for smelly bacteria, says Ron Shimek, the Minneapolis-based president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company. “Every time you open and close the washer’s door, moisture from each cycle is trapped in the seal,” he says. The detergent drawer can also trap moisture and mold. To prevent this, always leave the door and detergent drawer open for a few hours following your last load. And if you find mold, use a one-to-one mixture of white vinegar and baking soda to wipe down the affected areas.

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Your dishwasher

Just like your washer, this is a popular spot for potential mold—and smells. “Its warm, damp environment is like heaven for mold spores, especially when there’s food particles left behind from your last cycle,” Shimek says. Fix it by regularly running an empty dry-heat cycle to flush out the interior, including the silverware basket, filter, panels, and door gasket. If your silverware basket gets moldy, remove it and let it soak in the kitchen sink with diluted bleach and warm water for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly before replacing.

Your garbage disposal

This is another common kitchen odor culprit. The easiest way to avoid this is to make sure the inside of the garbage disposal is wiped clean, as grime can sometimes get trapped underneath the drain, says Dana Kofsky, a Los Angeles–based wellness expert behind Wellness Styled. You can buy garbage disposal deodorizers from brands such as Plink, or DIY it by grinding a few thin strips of lemon, lime, or orange peel in the disposal. This not only helps maintain a clean drain, but also acts as a deodorizer and diffuses your kitchen with a fresh citrus scent, Kofsky says.

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Your new furniture

You might think you love the smell of your new sofa, just like you love the smell of a new car, because it smells, well, new. But that scent is probably caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), says Bart Wolbers, founder of Nature Builds Health. “Many people don’t realize that indoor levels of toxins can be 10 times higher [than] those found outdoors, and furniture is one reason for that finding,” he says.

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VOCs can have a strong smell, but they can also be harmful to your health: The EPA says they may cause headaches; eye, nose, and throat irritation; and even more serious conditions, such as liver and kidney damage. The best way to get rid of VOCs is to get an air purifier that contains a carbon filter. If any object in your home—from furniture to mattresses—continues to have a strong smell after a month, “You may want to get your money back,” Wolbers says.

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