10 Most Common Causes of Bad Smells at Home

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If you notice bad smells in your house, you'll have to sniff out the source in order to get rid of the stink.

SmellyAnatoliy Karlyuk/Shutterstock

No one wants a stinky house. But no matter how clean a house looks, bad smells may lurk in places you aren’t aware of. If you can’t quite locate that mysterious odor, check one of these common bad smell sources. Then use our tips for slaying the stench.


Stinky dishwasher

The moisture in your dishwasher can become a breeding ground for smelly mold, mildew and rotting food bits. Besides periodically wiping down the interior, try this handy trick: Fill a small bowl with white vinegar and place it in the lower rack of an empty dishwasher. Without adding detergent, run a normal cycle and select extra rinse and hot rinse, if available. That should take care of your smelly dishwasher.

Garbage disposal

You might not think of cleaning your garbage disposal when doing everyday cleaning. But leftover food particles and grease can stick on and under the blades. To remove them, use a garbage disposal cleaner like these highly reviewed tablets from Affresh. Or try this quick DIY trick: Put a cup of ice down the disposal, followed by 1/2-cup table salt, then turn on the water and run the disposal. No more smell!


If the funky smell is coming from the refrigerator, there are a few things you can do. First, the obvious: Clean up spills immediately, regularly throw out spoiled food and wipe down the interior as needed. If a stubborn smell persists, KitchenAid recommends using activated charcoal or, oddly enough, newspaper. For the charcoal solution: Place some activated charcoal in two paper bowls (or use these charcoal bags), then place one in the fridge and one in the freezer. For the newspaper option: Roll the pages into two loose paper balls, add one drop of vanilla extract to each, then place one in the fridge and one in the freezer.

Living Room

Stinky carpet

Do your carpeted rooms have a mysterious odor? Everyday schmutz brought indoors on shoes, pet hair and food and beverage spills can leave your carpet looking dirty and smelling awful. Professional carpet cleaners recommend having your carpet cleaned at least once a year. (Of course, you can also clean it yourself!)

In between deep cleanings, you can freshen carpet with baking soda (a proven odor absorber). Sprinkle baking soda liberally over the carpet, wait a couple of hours and then vacuum it up using slow back-and-forth passes.

New furniture

That bad smell coming from your new furniture is not only annoying, but could possibly be toxic. Some vinyl and flame retardants used in new upholstery fabric contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can pollute your indoor air. Get rid of the smell by keeping the room well ventilated and turning on a fan until the smell fades. If you’re extra concerned about VOCs, invest in a high-quality air purifier.


Stale sheets

Bed sheets absorb our body oil and sweat. Cleaning experts agree that sheets and other bedding that touches your skin should be washed once a week. Be sure to use hot water (above 140° F) to kill any bacteria, especially if the person sleeping in the bed has been sick. For extra freshness, make your own linen spray to use between washes. Fill a small spray bottle with six tablespoons of water, two tablespoons of witch hazel and 10 drops of lavender essential oil; shake to combine.

Smelly closet

Closets can smell bad, especially if you store your dirty clothes hamper inside. Keep closet doors open so that you don’t trap moisture, and remove and wash dirty laundry regularly. If you live in a particularly humid climate, try hanging a mini dehumidifier inside your closet to absorb excess moisture.


Musty mildew

Mildew loves moisture, which is why you’ll often find it in the bathroom. If you smell that signature musty smell (like wet socks), here’s what to do. Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar (don’t dilute!), spray the affected surfaces and wait one hour. Open a window or run the bathroom fan for ventilation. Then wipe the areas with a sponge and hot water.

Laundry Room

Stinky front-load washer

Unfortunately, front-load washers are known for their tendency to smell bad if not maintained correctly. Moisture gets caught in the door seal and detergent drawer, causing smelly mildew and mold. After running a wash cycle, leave the door and the detergent drawer slightly open to let everything dry completely. If you detect a bad smell, mix a solution of 3/4-cup bleach and one gallon warm water. Using a cloth dampened with the solution, wipe the washer drum and door seal or try these popular Affresh front-load washer tablets.

Mud Room

Shoes and outerwear

The mudroom is where wet coats, stinky shoes and kids’ sports equipment are usually stashed. Consequently, it can start to smell bad right inside the door. Besides keeping the mudroom tidy and coats regularly washed, you can also get rid of that stinky shoe smell with a couple of DIY tips. Sprinkle baking soda inside the offending shoes, let them sit overnight, then dump out the baking soda the next morning. Or, try sticking dryer sheets in the stinky shoes.

Shay Tilander
Shay Tilander is a senior editor at Family Handyman. When he's not enjoying family time with his wife and three boys, he loves tinkering with projects and geeking out on electronics.