I don't want my apartment to smell like a rustic old cabin all the time.
March 10, 2013 1:10 PM   Subscribe

How do I change the way my apartment smells? I'm in a long-term sublet. The place has a kind of dankness to it that I find less than ideal. It's not a bad smell, it's just kind of stifling.

But because it's a sublet, there's not a lot I can do in terms of getting rid of the possible sources of any smells. Quite honestly I just think it's got a stubborn kind of lingering smell from years of not opening windows and doors, and keeping kinda crappy couches.

So what can you all suggest for things to either absorb, transform, or mask the current smell of the apartment? What has worked for you?

I'm starting to buy plants, so if there are any specific suggestions for air purifying plants, that's helpful too.

(I am aware of a similar AskMeFi post from 2004 but the responses were limited, so I went ahead and posted a new question.)
posted by kensington314 to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Keep windows open as much as you can. Buy a few bars of cheap scented deodorant soap and put them under furniture where they can't be seen. The soap thing works wonders for old smelly cars, too. It's a milder, less overwhelming smell than normal "air deodorizers"
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:16 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might try a few runs with an ultra-high-output ozone generator. Clear out any creatures first, and plan to stay away for a day. It's not exactly good for you, but it takes care of dank like none other.
posted by mmdei at 1:16 PM on March 10, 2013

Would a dehumidifier help dry things out a bit? For plants, the ones on this list are supposed to be good for indoor air. Check the lighting requirements and possible toxicity to pets if you have any, but at a glance, they look to be mostly foolproof houseplants.
posted by jquinby at 1:17 PM on March 10, 2013

If you have older wall to wall carpet, that could be more than 1/2 of your problem. Cheap enough to rent a rug steamer. Better to have professional do it. Even better to remove it. Maybe worth asking your lessor if that's OK.
posted by mmf at 1:17 PM on March 10, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks mmf, that's a relevant detail that I left out. This is a non-carpeted apartment. Hardwood floors.
posted by kensington314 at 1:20 PM on March 10, 2013

Have you tried those little boxes of Arm & Hammer baking soda that are specific for deodorizing? They have tabs that tear off the sides exposing a little screen through which air can circulate. They are pretty good at sucking up odors, are small enough to be hidden in various places, and are only about $1 each.

You might also try hiding a few dryer sheets around. They tend to replace bad odors with a kind of generic clean laundry smell.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:24 PM on March 10, 2013

I'm subletting a rustic old cabin myself at the moment, so I totally feel for you. I've been leaving windows open and fans on as much as humanly possible, and burning lots of frankincense and sage. It's still pretty musty when I get home at night, but that stuff does seem to help while I'm home at least.
posted by justjess at 1:24 PM on March 10, 2013

Do you know about zeolite? It does a pretty good job of absorbing and removing odors. In a situation like yours, I would try sprinkling something like this on the floors and couch, leave it sit for a day, then vacuum it up. Then put some of these bags of zeolite crystals around, and keep the air dry and circulating well.

I'd also wash all washable surfaces, including the walls and ceilings, with vinegar and water, using microfiber cloths. You shouldn't need to scrub or soak most things, just wipe off whatever may be clinging to the surfaces.
posted by Corvid at 1:48 PM on March 10, 2013

First, vacuum everything. With a good vacuum.

Spray this Zero Odor spray on the area rugs, upholstered furniture and window coverings. Wash your windows with a diluted vinegar spray. Wash all hardwood floors with a vinegar or hardwood cleaner. If possible, wipe down walls with a cloth dampened with diluted vinegar. Wipe down the inside and outside kitchen cabinet doors.

Get a little dehumidifier or air purifier, depending on the main problem. Vacuum the hepa filter frequently.

That should help refresh the space quite a bit. Crack some windows when possible.
posted by barnone at 2:06 PM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend Ozium air sanitizer. It doesn't mask or cover up whatever smells are there, but somehow gets rid of them. It's original scent is not my favourite, but after it dissipates, it really kills off any previous smells/scents/smoke.
posted by tangaroo at 2:20 PM on March 10, 2013

You might try some Febreze on those musty couches. Test a spot on the back to be sure the covering will not be harmed.
posted by Cranberry at 2:24 PM on March 10, 2013

Boil a mixture of water and white vinegar for half an hour or so.

Alternatively, you can simmer a couple of cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange slices in some apple cider/juice. Then, hey, mulled cider! Bonus!
posted by fancyoats at 2:55 PM on March 10, 2013

I use this Fresh Wave gel. It's pricey, but it works really well to absorb odors without giving off much of a scent.
posted by Fig at 3:36 PM on March 10, 2013

When I house-sat a fastidiously pleasant house that did yellow mellow and was trying to figure out how to return their windowless bathroom to its original scent, I discovered that they had a candle in the bathroom. Lit the candle for a bit, and voila! The room was back to its original pleasant unobtrusive smell. So another thing you can try is a candle.
posted by aniola at 3:45 PM on March 10, 2013

Air it out regularly. Let as much sun in as possible. Vacuum the couches vigorously. Get any curtains/drapes cleaned. Dehumidifier if it is at all damp. Other deodorizers, smell absorbers as needed.
posted by Good Brain at 4:26 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Zeolite is pretty awesome, also DampRid might help.

Don't spray Febreeze, because it's just an expensive (allergy-inducing, for me) fragrance spray. Any "air fresheners" are just masking the problem.
posted by radioamy at 4:27 PM on March 10, 2013

I struggle against smelliness all the time. Something that will help with the couches and any rugs is cleaning them with the appropriate attachment on a (rented) carpet cleaner - we use water with pine-sol, which sounds nuts, but it really does the trick and doesn't leave a residue or anything. Burn scented candles at night - this is just a temporary fix. Go to an organic-type store and buy some Citra Solve. After you clean floors with this, the house smells so great, like fresh oranges.
posted by kitcat at 5:53 PM on March 10, 2013

I really love Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa incense. If you aren't overly sensetive/ allergic to that kind of thing, I reccomend it. It's soothing but not overpowering, and I often recieve compliments on the smell of my house long after I've burned a stick.
posted by lettuce dance at 9:20 PM on March 10, 2013

I don't know if you can paint or not given it's a sublet, but it's possible that the wall paint itself has absorbed various odors over time, especially if there's a bit of a humidity issue. While even just a single layer of latex might help some the best paint for this situation is a primer/sealer product. One recommended brand is B-I-N from Zinsser/Rustoleum.
posted by dhartung at 12:01 AM on March 11, 2013

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