Un-stuffy my apartment
September 14, 2016 4:55 AM   Subscribe

My efficiency apartment can get stuffy and stale, especially in the seasons between heating when it’s too cool to open the windows, but the heat isn’t on yet. What can I do to make it nice to walk into after a day away?

My solution now is to open a window and put in a small double fan to either blow in or exhaust out. But I don’t like to leave it in while I’m away, especially if it’s raining. It’s a 1920s building with hot water radiators, designed to have the windows cracked open all winter. (Not kidding, otherwise I would cook like a giant steamed ham.) It’s one room, with windows on one side only, no cross ventilation. I keep a small Voranado fan in the corner on low at all times.

I don’t like chemical scents, or Febreeze, but I can get with spa-type scents or essential oils. Or a neutralizer. Nothing strong. I do already keep up with laundry, empty the trash, and scoop the cat litter before heading out. I could sweep and vacuum more than I do, but it’s not *that* dusty. Ok, maybe a little. There is a wall vent over the stove, but I keep it covered because it was pulling in strong smells from other apartments (Pine-Sol, pot smoke, cooking, etc.). There's also a built-in wood cabinet in the closet that I don't keep fabric in because it makes everything in it smell "old." (Could that be a culprit? How do you freshen musty 1920s wood?) My neighbors use something near their entrance that smells like mothballs, so that’s the first scent in the hall when I’m unlocking my door. Ugh. Luckily it doesn’t get inside. But it would be nice to not be hit with wall of stale.

I feel like a scent routine might help, but I don’t know where to start. I keep up with surface cleaning with a spray bottle of Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap mixed with a lot of water. I like that clean smell, but it fades immediately. I’m afraid I’ll buy an expensive reed diffuser and find out it overpowers my small place with chemicals. Do you have a diffuser that you love? Do HEPA filters make a difference?

What light scents or cleaning tips keep a small space fresh?
posted by quarterinmyshoe to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Do you have the space, light, and patience for a good whack of houseplants?
posted by kmennie at 5:09 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Back when I had radiators (you know those little foil pans that chem labs have to measure out solids? I had a small stack of those) I put a drop or two of essential oil (usually peppermint because that's what I had and also it smells bright) on a foil pan and stuck the pan on top of the radiator. Works pretty well for diffusing scent and cheered up my dank little apartment room nicely.
posted by phunniemee at 5:15 AM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: We have two or three reed diffusers around the house at any given time. Nest brand diffusers have, in my experience, the most consistently high-quality (non-chemical) scents, and the descriptions are pretty accurate in terms of (let's call it) sweet versus herbaceous versus woody.

Ideally, at least in my view, you only want to catch the occasional light whiff of scent; you don't want the room marinating in it. In your small space, you might want to start with just half the sticks provided, to avoid over-scenting, then add more if desired.

(My personal Nest favorite is the Holiday scent. It's bright and clean and Christmassy, though I only use it in December.)
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:39 AM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I leave a HEPA filter with the carbon pre-filters running in my stuffy bedroom all day; it really makes a difference.
posted by gregr at 5:42 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

An air filter will help a lot. Also plants, if you can do that without worrying about it too much.

Scents will be nice at first, but will get "into" things after a while. Also, if you ever have a guest, they might not be a...fan.
posted by amtho at 6:04 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

For the cabinet: try placing a tray or bowl filled with charcoal inside it. Charcoal can absorb odors.
posted by areaperson at 6:14 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

If it's literally damp, Damp Rid might help. I'm not sure from your description.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:29 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

This obviously depends on where you live, the weather, and what your window is like, but if it's at all possible and cat permitting, I'd just leave the window open as much as I could without a window fan and run a regular fan inside (like you do with your Vornado, but ideally with something larger.) Then close the window when you come home.

Beyond that, maybe sofa covers you can remove and wash frequently, frequently washed sheets and blankets, dirty laundry and unused shoes in closed containers, towels hung so that they can dry out fastest. If you have a carpet, it might be trapping a lot of stuff.
posted by trig at 6:36 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would start with an air filter, as gregr suggests. Something with both a HEPA and a carbon filter would be best. It will trap dust and odors, so that they don't build up in the air; just make sure you replace the filters regularly. I would also consider a dehumidifier, since I find that damp air feels much more "close" and stuffy than dry air.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:45 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Air filter. But also have you looked into wax warmers? I have them in every room of my house and near the entry way. It's a huge help. You can also find scented pads for your air filters. I live in an apartment in Florida and we pretty much never open windows because of bugs/snakes, etc
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 7:06 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

What you're already doing (opening windows when you're home) is probably the best solution. Plants is another possibility, but you seem to also have a cat (or just a litter box? ;) ) so I'm not sure if that's an option for you. My cat used to eat all the plants I brought home....
posted by easternblot at 7:13 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is an odd solution, but I had this exact problem in my tiny apartment and unwittingly solved it when I bought some bars of Dove Cool Moisture soap for the bathroom.

Now when I walk in the front door I don't smell a musty smell anymore, I just smell... soap. Which I can deal with. (The bathroom is right next to the front door.)

So... maybe some bars of Dove Cool Moisture soap?
posted by mekily at 7:14 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd probably start with an air filter. but as an other option an essential oil infuser. I recently bought this one & I love it. Get a small selection of essential oils & mix & match. My house smells like a spa now. It doesn't hurt that it looks great too.
posted by wwax at 7:22 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Vinegar absorbs odors - you can leave out bowls/glasses of white vinegar in the morning in the rooms you'd like to freshen up. The sharp smell will have largely dissipated by evening. This trick is particularly good for cooking smells, like when you pan-fry something and can still feel/smell the grease in the air. Vinegar is cheap, too.
posted by superfluousm at 7:56 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You might try wiping down the wood cabinet in your closet with vinegar. For a short time (30 minutes?) your place will smell like vinegar but that goes completely away quickly and often takes other odors with it.
posted by mcduff at 7:57 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've seen people recommending the Bad Air Sponge, but haven't tried it myself yet. Seems like a good choice for the cabinet.
posted by momus_window at 8:18 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A couple suggestions:

1. I like wax warmers because you can basically "turn off" the smell of it becomes too much (unlike reed diffusers)

2. Is your closet made of unfinished wood? Does it need to be oiled (like with cedar oil?)

3. You can make a cheaper air purifier by taking a 20x20 air filter made for a home central heat system and attaching it to a window box fan.

4. Replace the filter that brings in air from the neighbors with a center that is rated for HEPA and odor removal. When I nearly burned down our apartment a couple of weeks ago (left a pot of beans on the stove) doing laundry and changing the filters helped the most.
posted by raccoon409 at 11:12 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Adding good smells to bad smells never works for me very long. (I end up disliking the good smells, often.)

If you open the window in the morning as you're getting ready to go, so the apartment is too cold but well-aired as you close it and leave, is it good enough when you get home?

Ideally, you might like a heat-exchanging ventilator, though those are rarely made for small apartments (opening a window is likely to be as energy-efficient).
posted by clew at 2:46 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Plants! I never thought of plants, and it’s so obvious! “A good whack of houseplants.” Luckily my cat is lazy and doesn’t eat or knock over much. Thank you, there’s so many great answers. I think I’ll start with plants and a diffuser, save up for a HEPA filter, and put vinegar, cleaning, and maybe oiling the closet cabinet on the to-do-later list.
posted by quarterinmyshoe at 3:34 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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