The wind blows the white curtains across the window smell fresh clean

Simple Ways to Make Sure Your Home Always Smells Clean and Fresh

When it comes to housekeeping, there’s nothing quite so lovely as the smell of clean. Clean is the absence of odors from animals, people, garbage, rot, mold, mildew, smoke, dirt, grease, and grime—not the presence of a potent spray fragrance on top of odors.

The wind blows the white curtains across the window smell fresh clean

Check out these simple ways to keep your home smelling clean and fresh. And for those who love a scent, I have some ideas for that too.

 Deal with Moisture

Moisture is the number one cause of household odors. If you suspect this may be the source of that sour smell when you walk into a room, wonder no more.

  • Invest in an inexpensive hygrometer that measures specific humidity. Test every room, including the basement and attic. If you discover humidity levels above 60%, consider using a dehumidifier.
  • If you live in a humid climate, avoid wall-to-wall carpet and rugs that can trap moisture, especially in bathrooms.
  • Place moisture-absorbing crystals like Damp-Rid in closets and bathrooms.
  • Don’t allow wet things like towels to sit in hampers for any length of time.
  • Run sponges through the dishwasher at least every couple of days.
  • Hang bath mats over the towel bar or shower rod following every use so they can dry out.

MORE: Best Inexpensive Home Dehumidifiers and How to Choose

Address the Obvious

The more time you spend around them, the less likely you may be to realize the offensive odors radiating from litter boxes, dog beds, animal accidents, trash and garbage cans, diaper pails, clothes hampers, pillows, and mattresses.

You may have nose blindness, known as sensory adaptation, according to Leslie Stein, Ph.D., director of science communications at the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

Just because you can’t smell your stuff doesn’t mean your home smells clean and fresh. The longer you allow those odors to linger, the more difficult it will be to get rid of them.

Soft Surfaces

Carpet, rugs, pillows, upholstery, bed linens, drapes, and curtains are magnets for dust, dirt, and funky smells. Once a spill dries or dirt and dust settle in, odor-causing bacteria find a home and that can lead to something even worse—mold and mildew.

If you haven’t done this in a while, start by washing all of these items that can go through the laundry (pillows, blankets, bedding, curtains, and so forth). You may need to call in professionals for big jobs like carpet and draperies. Invest in a gallon of Nok-Out then use it the way it is meant to be used!

Become Proactive

Once there’s a spill or accident—especially biological accidents such as urine and vomit—don’t wait! Clean it immediately with a good enzymatic cleaner, then follow with Nok-Out.


Once a month, deep-clean the refrigerator. If you do that consistently, it’s super quick and easy!

First, remove everything to a  counter so you can see what you have. Next, throw out everything that’s past its prime.

Give the inside of the fridge a thorough scrubbing with an all-purpose cleaner—1 teaspoon blue Dawn to 2 cups water in a spray bottle is perfect.

Follow that with a second scrubbing using vinegar. If it’s still stinky, spray it down—even the vents—with Nok-Out, and do not rinse, allowing Nok-Out to air dry completely.

Bring in the Fresh Air

The easiest (and cheapest) way to freshen any space, says Melissa Maker, author of Clean My Space, is to open the window. Let mother nature help out with those leftover cooking smells or lingering odors. If possible, open windows in opposite areas of the room or house to create cross ventilation.

Even in winter when it’s cold outside, just cracking a window for a short time can make a huge difference.


Odor neutralizers can go a long way to create the lovely smell of nothing and keep your home smelling fresh and clean.

Activated charcoal filters that hang from a hook or tossed in a drawer or cupboard are a great way to neutralize the air in bathrooms, closets, and other areas prone to stinky situations.

Scented Candles

Don’t expect that fresh-baked-cookies scented candle to eliminate the odor coming from the cat’s litter box. That will only turn the smell of cat pee into cat pee with an overtone of fresh-baked cookies!

But once you have achieved the smell of nothing (aka clean!), scented candles or essential oil diffusers can create a wonderful ambiance. Just don’t go overboard.

One candle (maybe two) can fragrance an entire home. Or one diffuser is likely all you need. Remember that sensory adaptation thing that could prompt you to over scent.

DIY Home Scent

Here’s a DIY air freshener you may want to try:

  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 20 drops of your favorite essential oil

Add all ingredients to a small spray bottle. Shake well before every use. Lightly mist over carpet, upholstery, pillows, blankets, and clothes. Go easy to allow the mist to dry quickly.

The next time you replace your furnace filter (you do that religiously, every three months, right?), spread 20 drops of that essential oil on it. When the fan is running, it will disperse the scent throughout the home.

Stovetop Simmer

This will have your home smelling great in no time at all. Fill a saucepan or your slow cooker about halfway with water. Add your favorite combination of great-smelling ingredients including hearty herbs, fruits, and spices. Think orange and/or lemon peel or slices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. This is not a specific recipe; scale it up or down as you desire. A place to start: About 1 teaspoon each of the spices for each cup of water; fruit, herbs, and essential oils as desired.

For the saucepan

Allow the water to come to a boil and then reduce to the lowest heat setting and simmer, with the lid slightly off or no lid at all,—adding water as needed to keep it from simmering away completely. Do not leave your simmer pot going when you leave the house!

For the slow cooker

The slow cooker doesn’t need much monitoring, you can continue to add water as the water evaporates and simply turn it off when you see the water is running low.

Scent combinations

  • Orange, sliced, star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves, 1  tbsp vanilla extract
  • Rosemary sprigs, lemon slices, 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • Cranberries (frozen or fresh), orange slices, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon sticks
  • Cranberries and cinnamon sticks

I prefer the slow cooker method because it gives me creative freedom, is fairly non-committal, and inexpensive because I don’t need to invest in essential oils.

Rather than dumping the mixture at the end of the day, I pour what remains in a mason jar and keep it in the fridge. It becomes the starter for the next day.

Updated Republished 7-12-22


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14 replies
  1. Sally Clark says:

    Hi Mary,
    My daughter got me the dryer balls for Christmas which I love!
    You suggested putting a couple drops of essential oil on the balls prior to putting in dryer with wet clothes or towels.
    I love clove oil and usually just fluff our towels and clothing for a few mins in the dryer before hanging to dry outside. They smell fantastic and stay fresh.
    Love your great advice Mary. Thank you.

  2. Jean Marshall says:

    If I cook fish or broccoli or cauliflower, I just put a shallow bowl of white vinegar on the counter and very shortly the odors are gone.

  3. Linda D Radosevich says:

    Thanks for the great hints! One thing I didn’t see was how to eliminate cooking odors from towels. Every time I cook with onions or garlic, I can smell them in my bath towel the next day! Any hints for this? Thanks!

  4. Dena says:

    I make my own “Fabreze” fabric/air freshener. Use a small to medium size squirt bottle, fill mostly with distilled or purified water, and add tablespoon or so of your favorite liquid fabric softener, mix well. Voile! You have a fabric safe spray for cloth furniture, clothes, pillows, babies bed, etc. at a fraction of the cost of Fabreze. Makes the whole house smell great! Great for musky spaces and car interiors too.

  5. Emily Booth says:

    All great suggestions! I use scented candles at meal times. It not only provides a lovely scent, the lighting of fire at meal times is, for some reason, comforting, especially in colder weather (but I do it year round). I buy Yankee Candles at TJ Maxx at a much lower price than on sale at department stores w/ a coupon. I also open windows even in winter (briefly). Using the Dawn/vinegar mix in the bathroom is wonderful for a fresh scent. When I had cats (2 then 1 and now 0), I cleaned their litter box 3X a day. Frequent cleaning helps reduce odors.

    • Gina Stevens says:

      I burned scented candles nightly until I noticed grayish shadowy streaks on the ceiling. A painter told me that was residuals from candle burning.

      • laurie says:

        I started using electric hot plates for my candles. I used the small ones for coffee and the candles never have to be replaced. It just melts the wax but doesn’t leave the residue on the ceiling or burn the candle down. Works great.

  6. Gina Stevens says:

    Mary, you’re the BEST. I recently purchased Nok Out and had a nice conversation with Ted at the Nok Out headquarters. He gave me a few tips and gave you tons of accolades! We’re both big fans. xxoo

    • Adele Warner says:

      Thanks to you I’ve been a long time user of Nok out and a great fan of yours. These are all good suggestions I will use.


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