Looking for ways to keep my room from smelling like shit
May 27, 2016 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Someone I know keeps complaining about how my room has a 'gross smell' even though I wash regularly, don't let food rot away in my room, empty the garbage from my room quite regularly, vacuum at least once every 1.5 weeks and, to my knowledge, don't do anything that would be the cause of things smelling like shit. Regardless, I'd like to take steps to keep my room smelling fresh.

I'd rather not cover up the (supposed—I can't smell it) 'gross smell' with air fresheners as I'd rather not have cheap air freshener smell in my room all the time. If I were to take that route I'd probably just get big bottles of very inexpensive oldschool colognes such as Old Spice, Brut and Tabac and just spritz 'em fuckers in the air every few hours. But I don't want that. What I want is a neutral, clean, un-perfumed smell in my room.

Obviously I know that keeping a window open is one of the more effective ways of getting rid of bad smells but, despite liking to get fresh air, I don't like to do this too often as the windows on this old house have no screens on them (and it's not my home so I can't add any to them) and, more often than I'd like, bees, hornets, spiders and other insects come into my room.

Lately I've heard lots of good things about volcanic rocks but I'm unsure as to the effectiveness of them. Are they worth a shot? I've read the science behind how they work at removing odors and I'm sure they'd improve things to some degree, but I'm skeptical that they'd work super duper well. Hope I'm wrong though. Am I?

There's also the putting baking soda on carpets and vacuuming it up trick, but my room has very little carpet in it.

Lastly, I know that spritzing a solution of vinegar and water on carpets, walls and hardwood floors can work wonders. But you have to put up with that disgusting vinegar smell for some hours.

Can you think of other ways I can help keep things smelling good? 'Set it and forget it' methods would be especially great.
posted by GlassHeart to Home & Garden (49 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Get an expanding screen; they fit inside A window frame, don't change the house, and fresh air is helpful. And do a deep clean of the room, checking for funk in the carpet or flooring, the mattress, etc. Wash everything. Spri g is a traditional time to do this anyway. (If in Southern Hemisphere, you're getting ready for winter.)
posted by clew at 1:16 PM on May 27, 2016 [20 favorites]

Dirty fabrics are the likely culprit. Wash your sheets every two weeks, and also wash pillows and comforters regularly and hang them out in the sun occasionally, which will kill dustmites and mold. And wash your laundry regularly (especially workout gear).

Also, get some plants. They really do filter the air.
posted by veery at 1:17 PM on May 27, 2016 [20 favorites]

Like clew said, get one of these.
posted by Floydd at 1:18 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's pretty important to figure out what is causing the smell to learn to address it. And to clarify if the "gross smell" is just one they don't like ir if the room smells literally like garbage, BO or something worse. A few possible suspects

- shoes! If you have stinky feet (no shame in it) and a lot of shoes around this can smell. Put them in a closet or hallway.
- COVERED garbage and laundry and wash the garbage can and laundry bag
- bedding that needs washing including blankets and comforters
- keep your door closed if your room is near a kitchen or bathroom and notice if the smell gets worse when people have been using those
- maybe an air filter if there's something in the general air of the house that needs addressing
- rodent issues? How close have you looked in every corner of the room?

While you can't put in custom window screens you can totally get one of those little screen things at a Walmart or someplace and keep the window cracked. Basically if someone who you want to stay in your room thinks it smells gross, I'd move heaven and earth to get this sorted. If someone who is not wanting to stay in your room thinks it smells gross, eh, that's sort of on them.
posted by jessamyn at 1:18 PM on May 27, 2016 [25 favorites]

How often do you change your bedding and towels? Those can be big contributors to funk-y-ness if left too long between washes. Likewise shoes. Don't keep your shoes in your room if you currently do.

Other than that, yeah, fresh air is gonna be the answer. You can get non-permanent DIY mesh screens that stick to your windowframes with velcro to keep the creepy-crawlies out. Though honestly, even if you just crack the window wide and keep the bedroom door open for air-flow for ten minutes in the morning to get the sleepy air out, that could make a big difference.
posted by mymbleth at 1:18 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you wash your sheets and other bedding regularly (sheets every two weeks, minimum, but once a week is better; blankets once a month-ish) and do you keep your dirty laundry in a covered (but ideally, ventilated) hamper? Those seem to be two smell originators in my 15-year-old's room.

I've tried activated charcoal but it seems to do better in small spaces (closets, etc.). Maybe an air freshener with an "odor neutralizing" scent? But really, the best thing to do is find the source of the funk.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:18 PM on May 27, 2016

Ditto to the laundry and clean your sheets and shoes.
You can set bowls of coffee beans around & they'll smell good and absorb some odors. Bars of soap and dryer sheets can be mild air freshners too. I'd do the cleaning with vinegar thing (come on, the smell goes away in minutes. Add some scented orange or lemon oil to it to make it less vinegary).
But can you ask the person to help pinpoint where the odor is coming from?
posted by areaperson at 1:21 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Instead of vinegar, try a solution of rubbing alcohol, water and a light scent that you like (possibly the cheap colognes, if you actually like those).
posted by jacquilynne at 1:24 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Check the vents.

Also check for anything under the floor or over the ceiling, or in an adjacent room.
posted by amtho at 1:25 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Febreze style air fresheners and fabric "refreshers" really do quarantine odours instead of masking them with heavy scents. Please note that if you leave out used cat litter and plates of sardines, the product will "fail". But if you make an effort at ordinary cleanliness and the other techniques recommended here are only partially successful, adding Febreze to the mix may help finish the job.

I don't care for the scent of Febreze, mind you. The problem is that even though the original version of the air freshener was unscented, it was a marketing failure until P&G added a scent so that the typical consumer would think it smelled fresh.

I've chosen the least objectionable one ("linen and sky") and it's tolerable, fading quickly. They do make an unscented version of the fabric refresher, which may be worth a try.
posted by maudlin at 1:26 PM on May 27, 2016 [11 favorites]

Where are you doing your laundry? If at home, is it possible your washer has gotten permeated with some kind of funk and needs to be cleaned out?
posted by deludingmyself at 1:27 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would strongly recommend you ask a trusted friend with a sensitive nose to come help you either identify the problem or tell you that someone is fucking with you.

I grew up in a part of the country where "smells bad" was a way to get away with being racist or fat-hating, or to mean-girl someone for fun. If there *is* an actual smell, you need to solve the problem rather than cover it up, and someone with a better nose can help you.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:30 PM on May 27, 2016 [37 favorites]

When I was in my first trimester and smell-sensitive, the smell of my bedroom bothered me. My husband got a carpet cleaner and cleaned the carpets, which was helpful - the previous owners had dogs in the bedroom and I think that made the room smell. Before that, I think he tried putting baking soda on the carpet for a few minutes before vacuuming but I don't think that did much. We also got an air purifier (I think?) and in addition to its main function, it creates some white noise which helps us sleep.
posted by kat518 at 1:31 PM on May 27, 2016

Do you ever nosh in bed? Are there any crevices where something could have fallen and started rotting?
posted by praemunire at 1:31 PM on May 27, 2016

Do your laundry regularly, including sheets and towels. Don't leave used workout clothes around or store a gym bag in your room. Keep shoes and sneakers (especially) in another room.
posted by bonehead at 1:34 PM on May 27, 2016

To neutralize airborne, ambient odors, I've always boiled water with a couple glugs of white vinegar in it for 10-15 minutes. Get a trusted, friendly 3rd party to come sniff your room before and after to see if it helps.

Plenty of other good advice up thread, but this can help give you a fresh start or maintain odor free zones.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:35 PM on May 27, 2016

If you can't smell it, it might be coming from you.
posted by Area Control at 1:36 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

This $40 air purifier is AMAZING.

But really, just wash everything and open your window. Vacuum every few days. Linens every week.
posted by jbenben at 1:47 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

My mother always thought I needed to clean my room and it smelled. She was right, but there was also damp that wasn't discovered until after I moved out. It maintained a musty smell even when spotless and aired out.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:52 PM on May 27, 2016

Seconding recruiting a good and trusted friend, if you can, to help figure out the source of the smell. They don't have to sniff every corner like a bloodhound, they just need to stick their head in and offer a quick tentative diagnosis: Feet? Dog? That weird Jeff smell? (No judgment from me - my room gets Jeff Smell if I'm not careful.)

If it's just that kind of generic Jeff Smell funk, the most likely culprit is laundry. Wash all your linens (yeah, regularly) and your laundry. Laundry Hamper Zero should be your goal; if you always have a little stale laundry around, you'll never completely knock out the smell. It's the opposite of set-and-forget, unfortunately, but it works.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:54 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Everyone has offered a lot of good advice.

You can spray your carpet & mattress with Febreeze. Also use something like oxyclean when washing towels & bed linens to help with odor. Do you wear a lot of fancy wicking fabrics for sports etc they can really hold onto smells & be hard to wash clean. A soak in oxyclean can help.

Also you may want to wash out your laundry hamper, if damp from sweaty clothes sit in it a while it can get funky. If you can't keep shoes someplace else you can get shoe deodoriser balls to help with the smell.

As a side note Febreeze doesn't just cover up smells it really does neutralize them, they have to add the scents because otherwise people don't believe it's working. You can actually get perfume free/unscented versions.
posted by wwax at 2:04 PM on May 27, 2016

Do you have an unusual diet (or at least, different to that of the person complaining)? I've known two people with particularly stinky rooms- one ate loads of garlic with everything, and the other just lived off white carbs (pasta, white bread, cream crackers)
posted by KateViolet at 2:06 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing washing all your bedding - sheets, blankets, comforters, etc. and washing your sheets regularly - like every week, two max.

"Old house smell" can be yucky too. And the closed windows seriously don't help. Screening is cheap. With some 1x2s, some screening and a staple gun, you can put together a makeshift removeable screen that goes on the inside of your window so you don't have to make any changes to the house.
posted by cecic at 2:18 PM on May 27, 2016

I also really hate the smell of vinegar, but adding a few drops of essential oil to it helps. (I like citrus.)

It really does help eliminate room funk.
posted by Space Kitty at 2:26 PM on May 27, 2016

Oxy-clean or similar laundry additive can really help with old funky linens, worth giving it a shot if you haven't.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:29 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh and you can, maybe VACUUM your mattress! It's weird and a hassle, but really can get some funk out of things.
posted by jessamyn at 2:35 PM on May 27, 2016

When was the last time you moved the bed and REALLY investigated under there?
posted by magnetsphere at 2:53 PM on May 27, 2016

If it's an old apartment you could have a rotating cast of critters dying in the walls.
posted by phunniemee at 2:55 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Sometimes it doesn't take rotting food. All it takes is one cleanish-looking dish that's been in the room for less than a day.

Everything else I can think of has been covered or ruled out (wash sheets, keep laundry in closet with door shut, unscented candle).

Oh! But if you try vinegar and find that it does the trick, you can solve the vinegar smell by making a little time to clean with vinegar right before you're about to head out for at least a few hours. (You can also drop a little lemon essential oil in the diluted vinegar mixture to give it a lemony-fresh vinegar scent. Drop a cinnamon stick in the bottle if you ever get ants.)
posted by aniola at 2:56 PM on May 27, 2016

Dark denim jeans and other deeply-dyed things can have a strong ammonia, fecal, or wet dog smell.
posted by milk white peacock at 3:15 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding veery and cecic's suggestion to wash sheets and other textiles more. Also, have two sets of sheets, towels, pillowcases, etc. Wash all such things frequently ("oh, it's Sunday, time to wash my sheets and stuff"). As soon as you take one set off the bed to be washed, put the other one on. THEN go do the laundry. This helps it become a habit faster.
posted by a sourceless light at 3:29 PM on May 27, 2016

Damp fabric gets mildewy and some people can't seem to smell it; others (hi!) smell it very acutely.

Some tips to make sure your fabrics don't smell:
Always hang bath towels to dry (don't drop them in a pile).
Hang them as flat as possible- not folded on the rack- the insides never dry properly if you hang them folded or scrunched. If you can hang them so the whole width of the towel is pretty flat (like this), they will dry thoroughly and not smell.

Wash your towels in hot water, no fabric softener, and make sure to tumble-dry them til they are REALLY dry and warm, not still a bit damp or cool. If they come out still damp, lay them out overnight to dry. Don't fold wet towels (or any other items), they will mildew and smell gross.

Clothing that's been worn all day is a little damp as well. Hang it out to dry (just drape it over the edge of the hamper, or over a chair, or even leave it on a hard floor) for a night before tossing it into a ball in the hamper. Especially workout clothing.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:10 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are products called Smelly Towel Cleaner and OdorZout that are both quite good. The latter absorbs OdorZ with zeolite.
posted by mortaddams at 6:56 PM on May 27, 2016

Two weeks on bedding is ok if you have to carry everything to the laundromat, but one week max if you are in a place with a washer/dryer. Towels are one week MAX, but I can often smell the towel smell mid-week when the humidity is up, so you may want to cycle those more frequently.

Fresh air solves most issues, so getting a cheap expandable or friction fit screen will be key. Then just leave the window open and let the place air out for a long, long time.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:16 PM on May 27, 2016

On top of all the great suggestions above, I can attest that volcanic rock does work. It defunked a former roommate's room that smelled terrible when she moved out.

I also like a product called Bad Air Sponge.
posted by radioamy at 8:58 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised people are saying to wash your sheets every two weeks. If you are a smelly person - sorry, sounds like you are - you need to do it more frequently than that...like twice a week.
posted by Toddles at 9:25 PM on May 27, 2016

> If you are a smelly person - sorry, sounds like you are

Well, one person has said the room smells bad. It's quite a leap from that to "you are a smelly person."
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:01 PM on May 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

Being smelly doesn't necessarily mean the OP smells *bad*. I had a roommate who for no obvious reason had a strong, distinctive scent that suffused his room- strong enough that you could smell it walking past the room with the door shut. It wasn't BO or sweat or dirty linens or mildew, it was just him. I didn't find it hugely pleasant but I wasn't going to complain about something he couldn't control. That could be what's going on here, except the OP's roommate is being an ass instead of nice.
posted by mymbleth at 1:15 AM on May 28, 2016

That Onion article had me seriously LOLing because I had a college friend (coincidentally, his name WAS Jeff) and his room just smelled! Nothing identifiable, much like your scenario. Not sure if you are in a dorm room but if you are- perhaps you brought the smell with you from home?

I ask this because when I visited my friend Jeff at home- THERE WAS THE SMELL. It was from his house and he had just simply brought it to the dorm with him. It was just part of him and all his stuff. So he was blind to it.

But it never really went away. I didn't have the heart to say anything to him about it so I just got really good at avoiding his room as a destination.

Anyway- perhaps it's just "baked in" to your stuff in this manner, and you just can't recognize it like outsiders can. Maybe you might need to get some new stuff, especially if you have a lot of "soft goods" that may be the source of unknown funk? Bedding, curtains, rugs, furniture, pillows etc.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:20 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Check the vents.
Also check for anything under the floor or over the ceiling, or in an adjacent room.

Seconding this. When I was growing up, a horrible smell became apparent in my room. My mother was *convinced* it was my feet. Foot washing, powders in shoes, etc. didn't help, so she just came up with other things I had to do about the "smell from my feet." We lived in a pier and beam one story house - i.e, floor raised up off the ground with a crawl space under the house. Exterior walls continued to the ground at the perimeter of the house.

So one day, very frustrated, I opened the hatch in the floor, went under the house, and found a very dead rat on the ground right under the foot of my bed. Suddenly I had no more problems with stinky feet.
posted by rudd135 at 5:44 AM on May 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Didn't see it yet, but throw out your pillows and start fresh if you haven't lately. Old hair grease can smell up a room pretty quickly and it lingers - in my experience it doesn't wash out, either. Ditto pillowcases.
posted by Otter_Handler at 6:11 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Couple of ideas:

1. A rarely mentioned side effect of some prescription medications is a body odor change. You won't notice it, but other people will. Ask a trusted friend to literally smell you.

2. Only one specific person has complained. Like someone upthread said, get a trusted friend to smell your room. The complainer might not be reliable/trustworthy on this. What's his/her motivation?
posted by yesster at 8:41 AM on May 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've had a staircase thought, which is that keeping places clean is never "set it and forget it". You can either have a active cleaning routine that's so habitual you don't really think about it, or be paying attention all the time so you catch anything getting smelly before the smell settles in. (The experience of the ages says it's the routine that works, long-term.)
posted by clew at 2:00 PM on May 28, 2016

My roommate has left laundry in the washer for too long too many times now. Her bathroom (bathmat really) smells something awful (I washed it in HOT water a million times with vinegar and every other combo when she was gone one weekend. Once it got wet again the smell was right back . Could you have done this with any of your things at any point? The smell doesn't seem to bother her at all and she doesn't carry the smell with her.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:58 PM on May 28, 2016

Serious Eats did an article about how activated carbon is the best thing ever to remove smells from the air, even better than vinegar or baking soda. The stuff sold at pet stores for fish tanks is cheap and allegedly works great.

Also: wash the bedding every week.
posted by Neekee at 3:16 PM on May 28, 2016

Airing out the room will help. You can make a screen that won't damage the window-
Amazon has screens that stick on with double-sided tape.

Or, if wrecking the paint is a concern, buy a role of some flexible netting, cut it quite a bit larger than needed (the overhanging edges will help keep bugs out), make holes in the corners (grommets might help if it seems to rip easily, or just reinforce the holes with strong tape) and attach it to the walls with command hooks, which can be removed later, without damaging the paint.

You should be able to rig a removeable window screen for under $25. It won't be perfect but it will keep out most bugs, especially if you leave the edges of the screen longer and kid of drapey so they fill in the spaces around the edges. Fresh air will go a long way towards solving the issue!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:02 AM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

To me, any room that isn't properly ventilated every day smells badly, regardless of the level of cleaning, laundry attention and showers.
Also - the building needs ventilation. I've lived in the same apartment building for almost 20 years, and again and again, we have problems with mildew (and worse problems) created by otherwise nice and respectable tenants who don't air their homes.
Open the window and ventilate the room for 30 mins every day, preferably in the morning because the various critters are more interested in indoor spaces at night. There are good solutions for screens above. Do it.
Make sure to air your bed-clothes - I agree washing every week is important for many reasons, but for smell, health and building safety, airing is more important. Dust mites hate airing.
posted by mumimor at 2:41 AM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

If your window is big enough, you can put a fan in it (or in front) to pull the fresh air in. It works just fine with screens.
This is kind of a hippie solution: burning sage is really helpful in the back hallway of my house, which sometimes gets stinky from the kitties' litter box. It definitely neutralizes bad smells and might even kill bacteria in the air. You can get smudge sticks (bundles of sage) at most natural-foods type stores. Just let your roomies know so they don't think you're blazing up a huge joint in there.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 5:21 PM on May 29, 2016

Bad Air Sponge and Citrus Magic are two "set it and forget it" options that help remove funky smells from the air without putting out too strong a chemical-y odor. (Citrus Magic smells pretty citrus strong for the first day or so if it's a small place, but after that, it just sort of quietly clears out odors.) If fresh air isn't an option (and in my office where it can occasionally get a little stale/stuffy smelling, it's not) this is what I use, and it works pretty well.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:00 AM on May 31, 2016

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