Metafilter: The cause of, and solution to, all of life's onion-related problems.
May 10, 2012 9:20 AM   Subscribe

You made my house smell like (delicious, delicious) onions! Now please help me make it stop.

Inspired by this Metafilter post, I finally got around to making crock-pot caramelized onions. They are indeed wonderful and delicious, but now my wife is considering filing for divorce.

While the end-state caramelized awesomeness isn't so bad, the first few hours filled my house with chemical-warfare levels of sulfurous, acrid, distilled Essence of Raw Onion. 15 hours later, it's still here. She comes home in 8 hours and I'd like to still be married tomorrow.

So: What's your best solution to banishing the smell of raw onions? I am reluctant to start experimenting as I am scared of accidentally making it worse (eg, filling the house with the terrifying aroma of Chocolate Chip Onion Cookies).
posted by range to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My standard way of neutralizing kitchen odors is simmering a pan of white vinegar and water. It will smell very very vinegary for a while, but when it dissipates, it seems to take clingy odors like onions (or Indian food) with it.

Also, I don't know about you, but I always manage to dump onion-y stuff down my sink somehow, and it seems to really stick to the metal and the pipes. Baking soda and vinegar should take care of that; pour some bicarb in, slop some vinegar on top of it, and leave it for a while. Then no more bad smells!
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:27 AM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Open all the windows, prop a fan blowing into your house in one window, and another blowing out. It will help move the air around.
posted by royalsong at 9:31 AM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'll let you in on a very old Portuguese tradition: open all the windows and let the house "air out" (as close a translation as I can give you) for... well, as long as it takes. This is done even when it is very cold outside, with almost religious fervor and on a very regular basis.

As with all things people do with religious fervor, this method is sometimes quite silly (because it is applied even when unnecessary) but at others it is the only thing that'll truly work.
posted by neblina_matinal at 9:31 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

So, one time I cooked smoked cod in my studio apartment and then forgot to take out the trash the next morning. I didn't go home the following night, so when I DID return... oh man. Every item I owned stunk! I kept the window open, and it didn't touch the smell. This stuff saved me from eternal damnation by cod.

If I were you, I would probably try leaving some baking soda in a bowl on the counter first, possibly while simmering a pan of white vinegar and water with the window open? But if that doesn't work, Nilodour is the big guns.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:37 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

White vinegar on the stove + air-out. Also, if your crock pot was near the side of the fridge or a cabinet, you may want to wipe it down with cleaner or vinegar.

As part of your air-out, if you have central air turn on the fan mode and put bowls of white vinegar near the air intake registers. The onion smell gets up in there too.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:39 AM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

If vinegar smell is not what you want (it does work, though), then simmer a pan of water/apple juice/cider with some cloves and cinnamon sticks. Failing that, bake cookies.
posted by rtha at 9:43 AM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

If the white vinegar doesn't work, try using a bleach spray. (On areas where you can use bleach that is, like some kitchen counter tops or some floors.) Of course, it'll smell like bleach, but that disappears faster.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:45 AM on May 10, 2012

Best answer: If vinegar smell is not what you want (it does work, though), then simmer a pan of water/apple juice/cider with some cloves and cinnamon sticks.

A couple of sliced lemons/limes/oranges also do the same thing. They're a bit more subtle, but still work.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Forgot to mention that windows were opened and out-facing fan installed during Hour Two of cooking, when threats of divorce were being replaced by more-serious threats of throwing the crockpot out the window. I'm going to start with a simmering pot of vinegar and follow up with simmering lemons and limes, and wipe down a few likely sources with vinegar. Further brilliant insights greatly appreciated.
posted by range at 10:08 AM on May 10, 2012

We try to be in the business of solving relationship problems not starting them.

I'm now wondering if I'll get the same spousal reaction when I do a batch of onions this weekend. I'll at least learn from your post and have the vinegar ready on the stove.
posted by onhazier at 10:18 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm now wondering if I'll get the same spousal reaction when I do a batch of onions this weekend. I'll at least learn from your post and have the vinegar ready on the stove.

Use an extension cord, set the crock pot in your back yard!
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:31 AM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

You can simmer the citrus peels in the white vinegar, it helps cut down the vinegar smell.

Also I would recommend wiping down as many surfaces as possible in the kitchen.
posted by radioamy at 10:31 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's exactly why I proposed outside, showbiz_liz. Of course with rain and all that, it'll more likely be next to an open window, with a fan blowing smells outside where they can harmlessly dissipate into the air.

Hope my neighbors aren't having a pool party.
posted by tilde at 10:39 AM on May 10, 2012

Best answer: It may be a lovely surprise (and anti-divorce technique?) to just do a thorough cleaning job on the main level of the house. Sometimes a 'I can't get rid of the onion smell, but look - I vacuumed the carpets!) can make it a little bit better. It also helps minimize the smell if things visually appear to be clean and tidy. It's a bit like the way pink yogurt tastes like either strawberry or raspberries, depending on the picture of the label. If the house looks really clean, it may smell less of onions.
posted by valoius at 10:41 AM on May 10, 2012 [19 favorites]

What's funny is just read a passage from an old Appalachian Cookbook that suggested you should always cook onions and garlic even if you're not going to use them, because it smells good.

Anyway, just Nthing the vinegar thing plus a bowl of baking soda.
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:42 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two ideas for you: (1) Buy a can of Ozium (I dont think that's how its spelled.) Its for getting smells out of your car, but I find it works great for house-smells. You can find it at target in the automotive section. (2) Make a poor man's Yankee candle. Put a bunch of aromatic herbs (like cinnamon) in a pot with some water and simmer it for a few hours.
posted by emilynoa at 10:56 AM on May 10, 2012

Next time, set the crock pot near your stove and turn the exhaust fan on low. Make sure you have a true exhaust fan that blows it outside as opposed to a recirculating fan some people have.

Soak a thick napped towel in white vinegar, wring it out to the point where it is still damp but not dripping. Swing the towel over your head in while walking around the house*. If you have a very fine mister bottle, you can try misting vinegar directly into a room.

If you used your crock pot on a counter under cabinets, make sure you wipe the underside of the cabinet too. (I have under cabinet lights and I remove the bulb before doing crock pot onions because the smell seems to re-appear when the light is on.
posted by jaimystery at 11:10 AM on May 10, 2012

That Ozium stuff does work! It even completely neutralizes cigarette smoke. But I think the vinegar and baking soda suggestions should really help. It the smell has really permeated everything, I have heard wiping down walls with vinegar can get rid of persistent odors.
Ionic air purifiers are also really effective, but not the kind of investment you'd want to make for a one time thing.
posted by catatethebird at 11:36 AM on May 10, 2012

Damp-mop the floor with something that smells nice, using more of the scented product than usual.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:44 AM on May 10, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, you people are geniuses. valoius, I think my wife may open a Metafilter account just to favorite your comment. Two pots of vinegar plus one pan of lemons and limes later, plus a lot of wiping and cleaning, and I think we're in business. Part of the problem was that I live in a 140-year-old house in New England with all the "amenities" -- no vent fans, it was cold and rainy so the house was buttoned up tight when I started, etc. (The other problem, of course, is that I started cooking 5 pounds of freshly-sliced onions at 9pm.)
posted by range at 12:14 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

another trick for next time--boil water with just the zest of citris. It seems to be much more effectiev than slices or peels--which have the pith attached. The only downside is that your stove will probably get a little orange or lemon oil on it--but it cleans up easy!
posted by inertia at 1:51 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remedial measures after a similar incident with burned bacon included washing the curtains, and mopping the ceiling and walls. You may need to clean everything that was touched by stinky air -- there are onion deposits everywhere. Don't forget the top of the fridge.
posted by Corvid at 2:38 PM on May 10, 2012

The first time I encountered the crock-pot onions, the poster said she did it in the garage.
posted by Bruce H. at 6:58 PM on May 10, 2012

I'm late to this party, but just wanted to contribute that another way to get vinegar to evaporate into the air is to put a small bowl or deep saucer on the counter, pour in a quarter-inch of vinegar, crumple up a paper towel and set it in the saucer. As the vinegar seeps up into the crumpled towel, it evaporates from there. I usually set out 2 or 3 of these on the top of the bar and the dining room table. Along with fans, open windows, cleaning surfaces, and boiling whatever on the stove, it all seems to help.
posted by CathyG at 1:38 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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