Go away food smells, go away flies
June 29, 2016 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Hi, I'm having trouble with cooking smells lingering in my apartment. Plot twist: My windows have no screens and anytime I open them I get at least three flies in my apartment, which drives me nuts and grosses me out. Seriously, even if my window is only open a few minutes, flies get in. What can I do? I can't bear the food smells and I can't bear flies in my home!

I live in a studio/one-bedroom in a large apartment building -- there's a bedroom, but it's not totally sealed off from the rest of the apartment. There is a big opening above my stove and cabinets that leads into the bedroom. When I cook in here, the smells spread into the bedroom pretty easily and just fill the entire apartment. My stove does have a fan, but I'm pretty sure it just blows the air back up, not out anywhere.

I have two little windows that only open a few inches -- they are the kind you turn a handle and they open to the side. They don't have screens and my landlord says there are no screens available for them. Then, I have little balcony with a normal door out to it.

Simply opening my patio door for an hour at a time doesn't seem to do much with the smells. But even worse, tons of flies come in whenever I do that. My apartment is not that high off the ground and for some reason where I live seems to have tons of flies, even just when walking around outside. When they get in my apartment, it REALLY bothers me and it makes the place just feel dirty.

I want to start cooking more but after I made a Hello Fresh box the other night, I had trouble sleeping because my bedroom smelled so strongly like the food, even though I cleaned everything up when I was done.

What are my options? If I could stop the flies from getting in, I could just my door open the whole time I'm cooking and maybe that would help. Right now I won't do that because the thought of flies buzzing around in here while I am cooking seems way too unsanitary and also annoying. But I also don't know if opening the door will ever be enough, either. What else can I do? This is a two-part problem, it seems. Thanks for reading!
posted by AppleTurnover to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Velcro window screen?
posted by Mchelly at 4:06 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buy roll-up screening or get retractable screens at a big box store. When we lived in the French countryside, we travelled with a roll of screening and duct tape to tape up during the night. There wasn't enough French wine to make me sleep with big fat French flies buzzing around the room all night. Do the same.
posted by Elsie at 4:09 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Fresh Wave candles have worked to help this problem for me.
posted by Fig at 4:11 PM on June 29, 2016

You could try buying multiple Arm and Hammer fridge and freezer baking soda boxes and set them around the apartment.
posted by Michele in California at 4:12 PM on June 29, 2016

Depending how much money you are willing to spend, you could get some sort of retractable screen for the door out to your patio (I'm assuming by normal door, you mean a door that swings rather than a sliding door). You could also get some kind of velcro or otherwise attached screen for your windows (even just taped on screen material would work). It really helps to have cross-ventilation if you want to move air. To increase airflow even further, could you use a box fan in one or both of the windows or even just set on the floor in the doorway?

Can you check if your range hood is really recirculating (blowing air out the front or sides) or if it is supposed to vent outside and perhaps blocked? Finally, you can potentially, depending on the model, install a charcoal filter in your range hood no reduce odour.

If cooking smells are lingering for many hours, insufficient ventilation to maintain indoor air quality in other dimensions is likely, so you'll want windows with screens for other reasons. Could you crack the door to your hallway somewhat? Do you live in a modern highrise building or a something else? Highrises are designed so that the hallways should be at higher pressure than the apartments, so if you open your door to the hallway and have somewhere for the air to escape, you should have a lot of ventilation (unfortunately, design and reality don't always meet up).
posted by ssg at 4:24 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

what about a fan situation like this?
posted by vunder at 4:27 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

A trick I learned a few years ago, right here in good ol' AskMe, was described as a way to deal with the stench of a dead animal leaking into a house. I found it because my kitchen smelled of death*.

Let me tell you, perfumes only mix with the stink so you end up with death + vanilla.

Very simple. Cover the bottom of a skillet with ground coffee, turn the stove on the lowest heat. We replaced the coffee when the potency dropped below olfactory tolerance levels.

It is so damn effective with that awful smell, I'm sure your cooking odors will be no match.

*The pest guy couldn't find the dead animal.A couple years later I was replacing a board on my deck and found a raccoon skeleton. The deck served to channel the smell into the crawl space vents.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:28 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think there are screens for those kinds of windows, some of them. Can you take a pic and ask (here or on a home reno forum)? Find out if your LL is telling the truth, and ambush them with info and grief if they're not. It's good to be able to open the window sometimes, whether it helps with the cooking smell or not.

It probably won't, tbh - I live in a bachelor; have
1 - one decent-sized window next to stove (with screen, no flies)
2 - two decent air purifiers, plus a portable A/C
3 - a range hood that goes outside, but is weak AF

3 is the weak link for me, the other stuff doesn't help. (Even when I point a fan towards the window to hustle cooking smells out.)

I still cook steak sometimes (and clean the pan & stovetop right after, per advice to at least get rid of residual contributions from surface grease), but basically try to stay out of the house for a couple days, because hanging out in there after that is unendurable. With all my machines and screen and lack of flies.

My LL has said I'm free to replace the hood with something more powerful if I want, and he'll facilitate the actual hookup. It's on my to-do list. Meanwhile, I am eating a lot of chicken.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:47 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

(That said, it's really only cooking beef at high temps that is a problem - smells from chicken and veg and stuff are more or less taken care of by the air purifiers etc. So it might be worth getting those, and some kind of screen, as well.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:54 PM on June 29, 2016

Magic mesh. Get two boxes - one pair for the balcony door and then the other pair should cover at least two windows and can be cut down to the right size. You'll probably want to use the included velcro stips for the balcony door but may prefer Command picture-hanging strips for the windows.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:20 PM on June 29, 2016

Just looked into some of those screens you can put over your door, but they are all magnetic and I just tested my door frame and magnets don't stick to it. Or am I misunderstanding how the magnets are used with it? Any thoughts on how to proceed or other options?

I think some people are misunderstanding what kind of windows I have. They don't open up and down - they have little handles and you push them out, and they only open like three inches at the most. (They look like these or these via Google image search.) I don't think there's anything practical I can do with the windows because they aren't designed to open all the way, so I think I have to deal with the door. I should also note, I don't see any tracks or anything that would be for screens, so I think these windows just simply might not be designed for screens. Major window choice fail by the company that built this high-rise.

In the meantime, I'm going to buy some odor absorbing tubs and a charcoal filter thing and try a few out to see if they help with the food smells. But finding a way to stop these fucking flies from getting into my apartment remains a major goal of mine! Thanks for the suggestions so far - please keep them coming!
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:51 PM on June 29, 2016

Boiling a glug of white vinegar in a couple cups of water will work great to neutralize most cooking odors.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:06 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

The magic words for your windows are "casement windows." That's the type of windows they are. You can totally get screens for casement windows—I have some in my kitchen. When your landlord says that screens are not available, I suspect he's just saying that he doesn't have any (and that, by extension, he's too lazy and/or cheap to buy any). If you hassle him, you might get some results.

It may very well be possible to make screens for your windows, even if you don't know what kind of windows they are. The only potentially-tricky part involves the location of the crank. Can you send pictures of your windows? If you can, I may be able to find or give you instructions for making your own screens for them, or information about how to find a generic pre-made screen that will work.

Also, if you can somehow find out what brand and line of windows they are then I might be able to find you a link to a place where you can get factory screens, so that you can get some or push your landlord to get some. Even if you can only tell me the brand, approximate age (nearest decade), and material (wood, aluminum, or vinyl) of the windows there's a chance I can track them down. Detail photos of the cranks would help too.

There is zero reason why you should not be able to have screens in those windows. Your landlord either doesn't know what he's talking about or is lying to you because he can't be arsed to deal with it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:26 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Those are casement windows. Because you have cranks like the first picture instead of the sliders like in the second picture you can fit screens fairly easily. The screen fits in behind the crank. Here are a couple pictures of the screen on my casement windows. I have swing levers but they work the same as the cranks as far as case construction goes.

Once you have a screen in a window you can add a window fan. The fan will mitigate the small opening.

Is your patio door a slider or swing?
posted by Mitheral at 7:28 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

By the way, when I say that the cranks are potentially tricky, I don't mean that they might make it impossible to have screens. It just means that depending on their placement you might have to have a way for the crank to stick through the screen, which is 100% doable. They just complicate things slightly, is all.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:29 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Could you make a screen for the door with some lightweight wood and nylin mesh? Sounds like the windows won't let on loads of air even if you do hey screens for them. But with windows and balcony door open you should get a good through draft.
posted by KateViolet at 10:27 PM on June 29, 2016

Do you have room to position a fan above, in or across from the window? Restaurants often install a fan right above their doorway; little insect wings aren't strong enough to fly against the fan. I actually do this when I'm worried about mosquitoes in the summer and it works well enough.
posted by mmmleaf at 11:35 PM on June 29, 2016

My patio door swings open onto the patio like a typical door.

And I'm not sure why I said I have a crank on the windows, they are actually just windows you push open. But anyway, here's a weird cell phone photo of the window. (It's dark outside now, so...) There are two levers, one at the bottom, one at the top -- they lock the window and serve as handles to open/close.

Anyway, I live in a huge building owned by a large national property management company. The "landlord" is not just some guy I can bug. I typically deal with one of four of the people who work in the leasing office. But I've asked both them and the maintenance superintendent and they do not have any screens. I don't see any markings on the window indicating a model or anything. But a window fan would absolutely not fit -- like I said, the windows open three inches outward at most -- so that's why I think I need to focus on the patio door.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:02 AM on June 30, 2016

Looks like the Velcro screen that Mchelly linked to would work in that photo.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:31 AM on June 30, 2016

But a window fan would absolutely not fit

I don't use a window fan (stove is right next to the window, it's just awkward); instead, I have a 16" standing fan that I only use while cooking smelly things. It's placed at the border of my (galley) kitchen and the living area, and pointed towards the stove-adjacent window. It doesn't quite work as well as a good window fan might, but it definitely helps! So do the air purifiers (Honeywell's AirGenius [that's the "5", I have the "4", which I think can be found at a reduced price] and True HEPA Air Purifier. As I said, they don't do miracles when it comes to clearing the air after I e.g. sear the red meat I prefer, but they do help a lot with everything else.

I think getting some kind of standing fan - or maybe two, placed to move the air in the direction you want (one pushing air away from the kitchen, another getting it out the door) could help.

(I was really thinking of my steaks and roasts when I first posted - beef, pork, lamb. Grilled fish doesn't work too well, either :/ I just put up with the smell for a long time, because I'm a huge carnivore. But I've mostly shifted to chicken, shellfish, and eggs for protein [for different reasons], and that is actually totally fine.)

FYI I have a charcoal filter for my fan - doesn't help for the smelly meat (or anything), really, if the fan's motor is weak. I think the biggest thing is having a powerful fan. Failing that, air purifiers etc. work pretty well with a less-smelly menu (which I recommend). Vinegar, baking soda, etc. - fairly useless, in my experience.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:05 AM on June 30, 2016

+1 on vinegar.
posted by Neekee at 12:55 PM on June 30, 2016

Oy! Do I feel you... I love food, but I'm not a fan of cooking smells hours after the meal is over, so I hear ya. I've also lived in places with poor ventilation, so food odors plus flies drive me downright batty. You need cross ventilation in your place so here's what you've got to do:

1. Apparently your landlord(s) aren't going to be any help, so assess each non-screened window and door individually and figure out a way to fly-proof them on your own. The cheapest and simplest way is to buy and make your own using some roll up screen mesh with a really tight weave as Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The suggested. Look through these and see if you can find a type you like.

2. You can build and customize full screens like this if you have the time or inclination or you can just measure and velcro the screening material into place for a fast and dirty solution.

3. Once that's done, figure out the best way to ventilate your apartment and direct the odors outside. You may need multiple fans and remember to keep your bedroom door closed with a draft door stopper when cooking. (Pro-tip: I use fish tank gravel instead of rice and industrial strength velcro to seal it if I'm not in the mood to sew.)

Bonus: When you move out, offer to sell your landlord your custom made screens for the next tenant. If he balks, take them with you or give them to one of your nice neighbors.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:40 PM on June 30, 2016

Not that I think anyone will find this, but I made my own screen, basically. I bought a roll of screen from a hardware store, magnetic strips, and magnets. Then I taped the screen around my door frame, but left one side open and the floor open so I could pull it back sort of like a curtain to get in and out. On that open side, I put the magnet strip on the door frame and I use the magnets to keep the open part of the screen in place when I open the door. I'll be honest, it looks a little janky, but it has worked well. I could probably make it look nicer if I tried, but no flies since I did it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:02 PM on April 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

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