Maybe if I rub some vanilla under my nose...
October 26, 2012 10:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving into a new place! Hooray! But it harbors the scent of the last tenant. Boo. How do I fix this?

So. I've signed a lease for a charming, century-old cottage and I move in next week. When I signed the lease, we were in the middle of Indian summer and all the doors and windows were wide open to let in the sunshine. Now that I've picked up the key and it's snowing and the windows are closed, there's a distinct odor of GUY. Nothing too terrible -- no smoke, no pet odor, no trace of vermin. Just a lingering bouquet of dried sweat, pizza box, beer, and errant sock. You know, eau de outdoorsy college guy.

I move in on Monday. I have the weekend to prep. It's too cold to throw open the windows for three days. I wish I had time to paint! Should I be doing anything besides cleaning all surfaces? (It's hardwood and painted walls.)
posted by mochapickle to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Cleaning all surfaces and getting in at least some fresh air in ought to do quite a bit. Maybe you can crack the windows while you leave for an hour or two? That shouldn't be long enough (and it's not cold enough yet) to do any damage beyond upping your heating bill to warm the place again.
posted by asperity at 10:15 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

get a bundle of dried sage, light it on fire, then blow it out...keep blowing the embers for more smoke...carry from room to room and blow the smoke into every corner (supposedly this is also 'good luck')...extinguish with a little water and you can use it again after it dries. The 'sage' will last a lot longer than the 'smoke' and it always makes a place smell 'cozy and warm' to me...
posted by sexyrobot at 10:17 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you against burning incense or scented candles for a few hours?
posted by erst at 10:21 PM on October 26, 2012

I personally find that the smell of incense doesn't hang around unless you use it very frequently in the same place over the course of months. That's been in places with hardwood floors, though - maybe in a carpeted place the carpet holds on to the scent better?

(In which case, if the OP's place is carpeted, a thorough washing with a carpet cleaner might be in order—the sort of machine you can rent.)

Could the cedar bedding that's available for pets be of any use? They're basically just big bags of fragrant cedar wood shavings that sell for a few bucks.

I stuff old socks with them and put them in drawers and closets to keep things smelling nice and a trick that has worked for me is, when I have an old plastic picnic cooler that has absorbed the smells of the food stored in it I throw a couple of handfuls of the cedar shavings in and seal it up and after a few weeks like that the odor has gone away, or at least been overwhelmed by the cedar fragrance.

Of course I'm just using it a handful at a time but maybe you could get a deal on an entire pallet of it from some pet supply warehouse store.
posted by XMLicious at 10:38 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mothballs have a distinct scent, but it tends to get rid of other scents. Maybe live with that for a while?

On preview, cedar is a similar idea.
posted by trip and a half at 10:58 PM on October 26, 2012

I usually wipe painted walls with a warm rag dampened with water and vinegar. I like it as a disinfectant and it may help with grease build-up. I have also used this same method on sealed hardwood floors. I think cleaning the hard surfaces might help by removing the odors that tend to stick around.
posted by loquat at 11:43 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have not used this product personally, but I have heard good things: Bac-Out
posted by E3 at 12:12 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If cleaning doesn't help, I have had really good luck with two products--the Bad Odor Sponge and Zorbx.
posted by dottiechang at 4:47 AM on October 27, 2012

Baking soda is a great odor absorber! You can set some out on a a plate or two in every room. It does soak up odors and it's cheap and natural.

You can also get a spray bottle and mix about 1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon of baking soda and use it as an air freshener.

Cut up some lemons and boil them in a little bit of water. You can also do this with cinnamon sticks if you like the smell of cinnamon better.

But yeah, I think the best bet is to leave a window part-way open in each of the rooms for half a day or a day, when you aren't there. Turn your heat down to about 55 or 60 so it doesn't take too big of a hit on your heating bill.

Good luck!
posted by shortyJBot at 5:24 AM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Give everything a good cleaning, then leave open containers of ground coffee around--it helps get rid of smells.

Bac-Out is also a good product for cleaning the smells out of fabric. It probably works fine on other surfaces, as well.
posted by corey flood at 5:27 AM on October 27, 2012

Bake! Get in there and cook everything that you know how to cook. Cooking does ease the monotony of cleaning, do both at the same time.

Buying several house plants will help to clean the air.
posted by myselfasme at 6:35 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Boil a pot of water with a cup of vinegar in it, that should deodorize the immediate kitchen area.
posted by The Whelk at 7:06 AM on October 27, 2012

I have a unit I rent out and I know what you are talking about. I agree with cracking the windows a bit to air the place out and use vinegar and water on all possible surfaces to clean and neutralize odors and the water vinegar combo is great for hardwood floors. At first you have the vinegar smell, but as it disapates it takes the other bad smells with it. Also, do not for get the walls and ceiling lamps and any curtains in the room.
posted by i_wear_boots at 7:24 AM on October 27, 2012

Also make sure to deodorize all your sinks - put baking soda in the drain (let it get down as far as possible,) then add vinegar, then (after the fizzing stops) rinse out the residue with boiling water. It helps a lot.

I agree about the boiling water + vinegar in the kitchen. Vinegar/water mix on the walls (and inside the fridge, etc.) helps, too. TSP, also, but only if the odor seems to be sticking around, because it's not good for waterways and you'll have to repaint a lot sooner. Use gloves with any of the vinegar/TSP type stuff.

Simple Pine-Sol has always gotten my hardwood floors and linoleum as clean as I suspect they can get, and Barkeeper's Friend is the same way for the rest of the hard surfaces. There's never any smell after the Barkeeper's Friend, and the floors just smell like... Pine-Sol. Wooden floors must be properly sealed to use Pine-Sol, BTW.

You say you have hardwood floors, but there are sometimes things like curtains or whatever, so. To deodorize any kind of carpeting or unwashable fabrics, try sprinkling baking soda everywhere (sprinkle!), letting it sit for a while (at least a few hours,) and then vacuuming it all up. This is my favorite anti-odor technique, and I hate to not mention it. Don't use too much baking soda - vacuum cleaners don't like it.
posted by SMPA at 8:41 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Charcoal and baking soda are great natural deodorizer and can help eliminate odors.

Place them separately in large disposable baking pans and leave out in various rooms. Change as needed.
posted by rossenterprises76 at 8:58 AM on October 27, 2012

Coffee is one of the best deodorizers there is, except for the chance of staining. Brew coffee in your kitchen. Use dried coffee grounds in containers to pick up odor, and wipe brewed coffee on anything that won't pick up the color. Mopping with coffee will be fine on your hardwood if it's finished. I would also crack a window somewhere in spite of the cold.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:27 AM on October 27, 2012

Wow, thank you for all the great ideas so far! I'm going to try:

- Opening windows, even just a bit
- Wiping down every surface with water/vinegar or an enzyme cleaner
- Deodorizing the sinks
- Boiling lemons or brewing coffee.... maybe putting some coffee out in little dishes.
- Burning something -- whether it's sage, candles or incense. Hopefully sage will have a bit more staying power than incense.

There's no curtains, thankfully, but the hardwood floors are natural and appear to be unsealed so I am afraid to use pine-sol, even though that would have worked beautifully on sealed floors.
posted by mochapickle at 10:38 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Clean clean clean! All surfaces, drains, etc. Zeolite is great for absorbing room smells too.
posted by radioamy at 10:56 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I managed to eradicate an Indian student's smell from my apartment by scrubbing down all the kitchen surfaces with dish soap solution and then a rinse with vinegar/water. Even the fridge.

It also just takes a few weeks to permeate the place with your own smells. You won't notice the old tenant's smells soon enough.
posted by lizbunny at 2:16 PM on October 27, 2012

Since it isn't on your initial to-try list, I just wanted to second the advice to set out a big bowl/pot of water with plain white vinegar. I had perfectly nice but oddly ... persistent subletters, and I was shocked at how well this worked to bring things back to neutral before I had a chance to do a deep clean.
posted by reparata at 3:08 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I removed the smell from a fridge that lost power over Thanksgiving weekend (ew) by scrubbing down the walls with vanilla extract.
posted by Addlepated at 9:08 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Murphy's oil soap on the wood floors is very fragrant and gets them a nice lustre...and I believe it's safe for unsealed floors (used it regularly in a house that featured them with no ill effect, anyway).
posted by batmonkey at 9:49 PM on October 27, 2012

I don't know if you will be able to find it locally, but Ozium works really well for killing scents.
posted by tangaroo at 10:02 PM on October 27, 2012

Came here to mention Ozium, too; if it can get rid of the smell of bong water it will probably work on tougher dude-scents that vinegar or baking soda can't touch. (To find it locally, try a car wash. I have only seen Ozium for sale at car washes and I've never seen a car wash that didn't sell Ozium.)
posted by Room 641-A at 3:58 AM on October 28, 2012

Ozium works but I hate the smell. CVS carries it and it is in the tiny automotive section of all the grocery stores in my area.
posted by futz at 6:59 AM on October 28, 2012

leaving out open bowls with regular white vinegar has been mentioned but just want to chime in that it is my absolute 'go-to' in situations such as yours. you'll be amazed at the power of something easy, inexpensive, and non-toxic!
posted by kuppajava at 7:51 AM on October 28, 2012

Interim update:

1. What a difference a day makes! I have crazy work deadlines this week, so all I had time to do until this morning was prop open the windows and throw some white vinegar into the toilet and sinks. BAM.

2. Turns out the floors are sealed! Vinegar water on floors looks great. I am eager for the vinegar smell to go away. I didn't find Bac Out, but I did find that same brand of all-purpose cleaner and it smells utterly heavenly, like living in a lime grove. I would bathe in it if it were socially acceptable.

3. I hacked up some lemons and boiled them in a pot. The effect was more subtle than I hoped, but I might have used too much water.

Tonight, I go back and burn sage and finish up. All told, we're 90% of the way to DEFCON FRESH. You guys give the best advice!
posted by mochapickle at 10:33 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keep a spray bottle of 30% vinegar and water. Use it to clean every hard surface and your house will be clean and fresh. The vinegar smell will go away as soon as it dries. It's great for your sealed floors if you use a floor mop with a washable microfiber pad.
posted by raisingsand at 8:22 PM on October 29, 2012

They sell Bac Out at Whole Foods.
posted by dottiechang at 10:41 PM on October 29, 2012

All of you are the smartest, the prettiest, and the very best dancers. And wise. SO VERY WISE.

The initial cleaning brought the scent down to almost nothing, but a ghost of the scent returned within a day or two. So odd to be in the house, minding my own business, then suddenly: gym sock. I didn't wash down every wall, which I probably should have done in the beginning. I think that would have made a difference. I tried incense yesterday, but it just wasn't persistent enough.

I've spent the day infusing the house with a new scent by boiling fresh coffee, cinnamon, and vanilla in a big soup pot. For six hours! The dolorous haze has become delicious. The bathroom mirror clouds with condensation. I am swooning from the moisture.

Thanks again!
posted by mochapickle at 4:05 PM on November 1, 2012

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