How can I make my apartment smell great?
June 25, 2014 11:24 AM   Subscribe

How can I make my apartment (including my closets) smell great?

Single male, 2 BR NYC apartment, no kids/no pets. Windows on both the north and south sides of my place, though the cross-breeze is not great. I keep my apartment very clean. It does not smell bad—I'm just looking for tips to help it smell really good, and avoid mustiness in my closets/clothes drawers. Thanks!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Depends on what you like.

There are commercial air fresheners, Plug-ins and whatnot. I think they stink and they give me a headache.

There are Reed Diffusers, they wick fragrance into the room.

Scented Candles.


Cinnamon brooms.



Room Spray

Smell around, find ones you like.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:31 AM on June 25, 2014

Always have bouquets of fresh flowers. Go to the farmers market once a week and pick out what smells the best.
posted by greta simone at 11:41 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

For a less-expensive cedar option you can get shaved cedar bedding for gerbils & hamsters &c at pet stores or a Walmart's pet supplies department. I assume that to anyone who has owned such pets the scent brings to mind mucking out an animal's cage, but it smells nice to me.

For mixing in with clothing, I stuff it into old socks and tie them off and you end up with a handy little pot-pourri baggie.
posted by XMLicious at 11:42 AM on June 25, 2014

I love using a little diffuser (mine is a stone diffuser which I can't find online but this one looks like it does something similar) with some essential oils in it. I use clove oil and orange oil, sometimes separately and sometimes together, and it's delicious. Essential oil is inexpensive and a little goes a long way. It's not chemically or weird like those glade plug-ins, which often give me a headache.

I also like to buy DW candles from Marshall's. I don't usually light them much but they are so fragrant that the scent fills the room anyhow if you have a few of the same scent open at the same time. I like their Coconut Lime but all of the scents are excellent.
posted by sockermom at 11:46 AM on June 25, 2014

Cultivate a baking habit.

Embrace the cookie.

A always
B be baking

And then invite me over.
posted by phunniemee at 11:47 AM on June 25, 2014 [36 favorites]

I don't lik dryer sheets or fabric softener, but I do LOVE when my laundry smells good. My mother just gave me some of these and they're amazing; I put a few drops of lemon and pine essential oils on the balls, and let them rest before using them in the dryer. The wool sucks up the oil so it doesn't stain, but they impart a really lovely, lasting, lingering pine-and-lemon scent.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:50 AM on June 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

Actually, for the mustiness-in-a-closet bit you may just want to get a Damp Rid or other similar moisture doohickey for your closet; this will keep at bay any of the dampness that would otherwise lead to that musty smell.

And then once you've got that down, you can do anything you want with the smell. One very quick trick I've read about is to just chop a couple whole lemons or limes into big chunks and then dump them into a big pot of water, and let that simmer away on the stove. (I sometimes do this with any lemons or limes I have that are a little past-ripe and I don't want to just throw them out.) I've also added a couple sprigs of rosemary and a splash of vanilla extract - the result smells exactly like a Williams-Sonoma.

Speaking of which, a pot of water with a few drops of an essential oil simmering away negates the need for a diffuser.

You can add essential oil to other cleaning products as well, and over time your house will just sort of take on that scent if you keep using the same one; I don't use any floor wash or anything like that when I mop, I just use a quarter cup of vinegar, a gallon of boiling water, and about 15 drops of an essential oil.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Bake some apples.
posted by trip and a half at 12:03 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If your apartment smells musty, you might want to make sure you don't have a water/moisture issue anywhere. A musty smell can be a sign of mold, and you may want to see if you have any leaky pipes that are contributing to a mold problem.

Please do some research on the health effects of commercial air fresheners (sprays, plug ins, candles, etc). I don't have time to give you links, but there is research that suggests that the chemicals in many air fresheners are carcinogenic. And a "natural" label isn't, unfortunately, a guarantee that the product is safe.

I think your best bet is a hepa air purifier. You can get a decent one for $200 (though the top of the line models are much more expensive). Your air won't suddenly smell really "good," but the hepa machines can remove bad odors in a safe way.

Many people grow up in homes where "clean" or "good smelling"air actually involves using products which may be dangerous to one's health. If this is the case for you, it may be worth thinking about whether the risks of these products are worth the results.
posted by girl flaneur at 12:04 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Trader Joe's has sachets filled with lavender that you throw in the dryer with sheets and towels; they come out smelling rather nice. After using each bag for a few loads of laundry I take the worn out bag, rip it open, and scatter the lavender on my rug, then vacuum it up.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:14 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I share a smallish space with cats, so odor can be an issue. I hate fake odor-covering smells, and hadn't used anything other than scented candles in years. I didn't consider freshener sprays an option, but apparently the science has made strides since I last tried them. YMMV but I've been very happy with several sprays made by Glade and Febreze. Florals still tend to be gross, but I've had good luck with the simple, foody ones like vanilla.

You could also try a wax melter thing, which is a great way to have a constantly-generated, pervasive good smell.
posted by jessicapierce at 12:33 PM on June 25, 2014

My technique is similar to Empress Callypgos. I slice up some citrus and put it into a suacepan with some coriander and/or whole cinnamon sticks and bring to a simmer.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:33 PM on June 25, 2014

While you're scenting the air, can you help the cross-breeze along with some fans in the windows? I run box fans in my windows constantly this time of year, not just for cooling but because people smoke in my building and outside under my windows.
posted by clavicle at 12:39 PM on June 25, 2014

Be aware as you venture down this scented road that some of your houseguests may be sensitive to scents, particularly when they're chemical. Also, anything you use to make your house smell better will be much more noticeable to your guests than it will be to you as you get used to it. I used to work in a building where it was a thing for everyone to spray air fresheners in their own office and walk down the hallways trailing it. I don't even consider myself to be particularly sensitive to smells, but being in someone's office who did this would make me feel ill. I find that fake scents are either not strong enough to mask the smell, so it ends up smelling like dog butts in lavender rain or whatever, or it's so strong that it's like being around one of those people who hasn't figured out that anything more than one spray of cologne/perfume is way too much. I've noticed the bad scent + good scent thing so much with Febreeze on musty-smelling things that Febreeze now just smells like must to me. YMMV.
posted by quiet coyote at 12:52 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I love Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day products for this. I have to clean stuff anyway, so I might as well use products that smell awesome.

posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 12:59 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would start at the cleaning level. Start using products by brands such as Caldrea where you can buy the same scent for a variety of cleaning products. It won't happen overnight, but as you use the products more and more, your house will take on their scent.

DL & Co makes wonderful diffusers. They are much less maintenance than something that needs to be plugged in or sprayed.
posted by haplesschild at 1:00 PM on June 25, 2014

Buy a bread machine and use it often. Your apartment will smell like heaven.

Avoid chemical air fresheners. They are terrible for people with asthma.

Some higher quality incense is nice, in moderation. Light a stick, let it burn for a few minutes, and then put it out.

Store vanilla scented candles (gently scented, higher quality) in your closets.
posted by myselfasme at 1:19 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go for super clean to get no smell at all (air purifier, keep humidity low, keep clean/dusted), then you can add whatever scent strikes your mood for the evening. You'll enjoy the scent more, too, if it's something that changes rather than an odor that's there all the time. This way, too, you can avoid the problem of having a super-heavy odor that's in everything but that you don't notice anymore. Your guests will think you are a clean organized person with good taste - bonus!

Air purifiers are really wonderful for allergies, by the way.

You can certainly bake (cookies, bread, cinnamon rolls), or burn scented candles, or (my favorite) boil some cinnamon and/or cloves on the stove (or just make cider or mulled drink of some kind). In the fall, you can put some evergreen around the house for _awesomeness_. In the spring and summer, you can put some fresh flowers on your dining table and/or in your bathroom and bedroom (look for a flower called "stock", as well as some kinds of roses - test in the store! Lilies are very strong, but can be overpowering, and are very toxic to cats).

Buy a bread machine if you like. All the delicious odor, fresh bread, and much less time.

You can put cedar stuff in your closets to provide some protection from moths _and_ smell good.
posted by amtho at 1:21 PM on June 25, 2014

Be careful with vanilla scent, or any artificial scents - sometimes it's good, sometimes not.
posted by amtho at 1:21 PM on June 25, 2014

Count me as among those who is against the chemical air fresheners. (Also against scented candles, etc.)

Nthing cedar. It is natural. It is antifungal. It is anti-moth.

Nthing deal with any moisture problems. (I used to sterilize medical equipment at home twice a day by boiling it, which produced a lot of steam in the air which I though nothing of. When I was able to stop doing that entirely, whoa, man, the air quality went way up!)

I don't think I have seen this suggestion yet: Baking soda freezer boxes can help soak up odors wherever you might have them and it isn't something chemically sensitive people should have an issue with. (I don't have an issue with it and I am pretty chemically sensitive.)
posted by Michele in California at 1:27 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Baking soda boxes - I have one by my door entrance, one in my living room, and a few in the back of my cupboards to absorb odors. They really do work!

You can also use it to clean carpets: sprinkle liberally and wait half and hour or so, then vacuum.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 2:43 PM on June 25, 2014

Vinegar. When you'll be away for a few days get a couple gallons of vinegar. In every pan and dish put an inch. All over everywhere. Pulls out the musty. Open all windows when you getbaclk ;-)
posted by sammyo at 4:27 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love the cooking suggestions, which remind me of how much I love the smell of coffee. Yum.

Most natural things are good (cedar, lavender, etc), but one thing I personally don't like is the smell of certain flowers. One of my exes always used to have flowers at his place, and they filled the air with a cloying scent. I hate incense and candles too.
posted by three_red_balloons at 5:58 PM on June 25, 2014

Indoor plants!
posted by flora at 6:28 PM on June 25, 2014

Use a Crock Pot to make some chili.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:40 PM on June 25, 2014

Get a dehumidifier to reduce mustiness.

I am hella allergic to all of those sprays, plug-ins, diffuser reeds, etc, and I've embarrassed more than one host by asking them to remove the offending scent diffuser from the room. Sorry to embarrass you, but it's worth it to me in order to avoid the sinus infection.

I generally just keep the windows open and the place well dusted/vacuumed. If I want to add a nice scent before folks come over, I will gently simmer citrus on the stove as mentioned above, or I will place a small tealight candle in a glass jar and surround it with whole coffee beans - gives a light scent of coffee. Of course, if you are a coffee drinker you could also just make coffee!
posted by vignettist at 8:21 PM on June 25, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions! A lot of these are very intriguing. Definitely not at all interested in chemical-y stuff, plug-ins, etc. Much more interested in things like cedar (which I've already deployed a bit, in small bags), cooking citrus, etc. Looking forward to trying some of these! Will try to report back on my favorites.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:58 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Essential oils. There are a tonne of ways to diffuse the scent from a cheap diffuser heated by a candle to fancy atomisers, but it is basically what you are doing boiling up citrus or with cedar, releasing the natural oils into the air. Smells amazing and you can mix and match scents to your mood.

Smell way better than any chemical perfumed plug ins, make sure to get essential oils not perfumed oils.
posted by wwax at 1:04 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ooh, forgot to mention one caveat if you're going to do the boil-things-on-the-stove-in-a-pot trick:

Do not forget to check the level of the water periodically and refill it if it's starting to boil away. Trust me on that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:14 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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