I want to eat you, not smell you
January 30, 2012 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Do you cook a lot? Yet your house smells clean? Tell me how you do it!

I’m Indian; I cook a fair amount of Indian food. Unfortunately many Indian dishes start by sautéing onions until they’re nice and golden. They taste delicious, but they stink up the whole ground floor of my house! Lately I feel that my house has taken on a stale smell from too much cooking. I run the stove’s exhaust when cooking but it doesn’t solve the problem completely.

A) What can I do to eliminate (not just mask) the current smell?

B) How do I prevent this in future? I’ve heard that burning a candle in the kitchen while cooking helps; does it really? (I tried and didn’t notice much difference).

We have central heat and air and use both (heat from approx. Oct-April and AC June-Aug).

Would changing our furnace filter help? What about duct cleaning? Curtains and rugs? We have mostly blinds and hardwood or tile floors.

I've read through this thread and it has helpful suggestions for adding new scents (simmering cinnamon on the stove etc) but I feel I need more than that to get rid of the existing smell. Thanks!
posted by yawper to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry, one clarification: we have mostly shutters like this on our ground floor, not blinds (so they shouldn't be holding a smell).
posted by yawper at 9:41 AM on January 30, 2012

IQ Air HEPA air filter. I run it for 12-15 hours a day and it seems to keep everything smelling like...nothing. I drag it into the kitchen when I'm cooking particularly pungent dishes.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:47 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Purchase a good quality air purifier. It will clean the house of all smells, cooking included.
posted by lstanley at 9:48 AM on January 30, 2012

A lot depends on how good your stove's exhaust fan is. If it isn't vented outside you may be out of luck. If it is vented, do you clean the filters regularly? If the filters are clean you may need to upgrade to one with a more powerful fan. Unless you have an unusual setup putting a new range hood in is something a do-it-yourselfer who is comfortable working with electricity can do in a few hours, otherwise an electrician should be able to do it for a reasonable price.
posted by TedW at 9:49 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I run the stove’s exhaust when cooking but it doesn’t solve the problem completely.

Does the range hood vent outside, or is it a recirculating model. The latter is pretty much worthless except for extracting grease droplets and keeping your walls a little cleaner.
posted by jon1270 at 9:51 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I live in a studio apartment and frequently cook Indian food. My technique has been to throw some vinegar and water in a saucepan and boil it. Of course my apartment then smells like vinegar, but that dissipates and there doesn't appear to be anything left.
posted by AaRdVarK at 9:56 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

You are changing your furnace filter monthly anyway, right? You might step up to one of the slightly fancier ones that traps more particulates. And if you have air return registers near the kitchen, it might be worth using filters (or the cut-to-fit filter material you can get in rolls). That will keep some of the smell out of the HVAC system.

You may need to wipe down the walls, and also surfaces very close to the stove, with white vinegar every so often. I don't know if just putting vinegar out (or maybe using it in a spray bottle like air freshener) would keep it out of the air, but it's definitely worth trying.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:00 AM on January 30, 2012

Seconding washing the walls. I find that when I cook Indian food (or other deliciously fragrant food, like Ethiopian), sometimes the smell is stuck to surfaces, more than anything else. Wipe down counters, clean the top of the stove (especially if you are getting tiny droplets of oil that are spattering and collecting smells), wash the walls from time to time. Also? I started closing off the door to my bedroom (i.e. my CLOTHES!) when I cook these types of foods, so that my clothes don't absorb the odors. That's helpful too.
posted by Betty's Table at 10:04 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

A very good friend of mine once recommended boiling apples and letting it simmer.

Here's a good writeup on the technique.

How to boil apples for the smell
posted by jchaw at 10:27 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Vinegar really helps. Ditto opening the windows while you cook (not a great option when it's winter, but fresh air helps a lot -- way more than having them closed and running the AC).
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:44 AM on January 30, 2012

My own Lesson Learned about opening windows - do not defeat yourself by making a cross-breeze that carries the smell across the house. Last night I made all my clothes smell like they'd been rubbed with freshly-cooked Tri-Tip because I forgot I had the window open in the bedroom directly down the hall from the kitchen.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:29 AM on January 30, 2012

You can just put out a bowl of white vinegar in an unobtrusive place - you don't have to cook it on the stove. I did this when I was a smoker and it helped keep indoor smoking areas smelling a little more OK.

For replacing scent, I do like boiling cinnamon on the stove in some water. You can vary this up for different nice aromas - add a little vanilla, cloves, or orange peel, etc.
posted by Miko at 11:35 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can buy simmering spices, or use cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, etc., in any combination you enjoy. I often dry orange peels and simmer them later. Sprinkle powdered spices on the carpet before you vacuum. Occasionally simmer some vanilla. Also, the vinegar trick works.

I like using pine-oil based cleaning products, as well as bleach or ammonia, as appropriate (never, ever together - they create poisonous chlorine), because those smells say 'clean.' Washing the windows a lot helps. Clean the filter in the range hood. The vinegar tricks work, too.
posted by theora55 at 9:10 AM on January 31, 2012

My tip for cleaning the walls and ceilings: Wet Swiffers.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:16 AM on January 31, 2012

Take a pot, add white vinegar and apple cider vinegar, then any combination of these: apples, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, orange peels, lemon peels, vanilla extract, lemon extract, etc. Cook the mixture and let it boil for a bit. You should mostly smell vinegar at this point. Once the spices start to overwhelm the vinegar, turn it down to a simmer and add water or apple juice. Let it simmer for a few hours to fill up your place.

I cooked kimchi last night and it was still overpowering the apartment this afternoon. I just made up a batch of that stuff and, about 15 minutes later, my apartment smells yummy. I have no scientific evidence for this, but I feel that the vinegars get rid of the previous smells.

If you'd rather not make stove potpourri, there are different products you can buy that suck in the odor. My friend uses something like this to counteract the smells of her dogs. I see from the amazon reviews that it's supposed to work well in the kitchen too.
posted by avagoyle at 12:23 PM on January 31, 2012

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