Help! My house and everything in it smells like a dirty hippie commune.
February 8, 2017 9:41 AM   Subscribe

You know that aromatic funk that cooperative living spaces have-- a combo of food, spices, body odor, used furniture, and nag champa? MY HOUSE NOW SMELLS LIKE THAT.

It started about a year after my partner and I moved in together. I don't know if it's our unique combination of stank, or whether we're doing something wrong, but I cannot seem to rid the house or my clothes of the smell! Some key factors:

1. We have cleaners come every two weeks, so it's not that we're just dirty.
2. We use 7th Generation powdered laundry detergent.
3. We wash clothes pretty frequently (I think).
4. We prefer to use natural-ish cleaning products-- Method, Bon Ami, that kind of thing.
5. No pets, no rugs.

posted by Mystical Listicle to Home & Garden (64 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Are your cleaners using scented cleaning products or "fresheners"? That could be contributing to the odd smell.
posted by heatherlogan at 9:49 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Carpets or floors? Maybe the washing machine or dryer needs to be cleaned out? Vinegar? Carpets could need a thorough cleaning.
posted by AugustWest at 9:50 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Hate to bring up the possibility, but maybe mold? Either in the structure itself or in some upholstered furniture that got wet?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:50 AM on February 8, 2017 [10 favorites]

A few suggestions/questions...

- are either of you pot smokers? do you have a bong? Is it empty? Could someone have spilled it?
- do you compost? is your compost container sealed tight? is it clean?
- what's your food storage like? is it possible there is an old potato somewhere?
- is your laundry in a container that is closed off (has a lid)? is your laundry one of those HE ones where you need to leave the door open after you're done so it doesn't have a dead lizard smell?
- do you wash your sheets/blankets when you do the regular laundry?
- what's your heating system? Have you had the vents cleaned if it's forced hot air? Do you share walls with other people?
- does your kitchen have a vent/fan? do the cleaners clean it, or do you?
- does your bathroom have a vent/fan? do your towels dry in a reasonable amount of time after you bathe/shower?
- are you emptying the drain strainer and peeking under the fridge to see if there is a funky drip pan?

Do you have friends who could come in and assess where they think the smell is coming from? I have a partner who, occasionally, winds up with a smell and we're not sure where it comes from. Cooking scents getting on clothes and then not being washed immediately and turning into funky scents is my best guess.
posted by jessamyn at 9:50 AM on February 8, 2017 [18 favorites]

Do you have good air flow? I feel like a lot of that smell comes from unventilated BO and other natural people smells. Try leaving some windows open.
posted by monologish at 9:50 AM on February 8, 2017 [8 favorites]

Oh, you know what I've noticed frequently in other peoples' houses? They leave their wet towels scrunched up on a rail in their still-damp bathrooms, and the towels start to smell strongly of mildew. Could that be happening?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:54 AM on February 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

Smell all of the furniture or maybe quarantine certain items to the garage that you think are causing the smell and see if it goes away. My brother in law's place smelled like this. Once he got rid of multiple pieces of old furniture he'd grab free off the sidewalk, the stink went away.

Oh and don't forget to wash the curtains. That might help too.
posted by ilovewinter at 9:56 AM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's the hippie cleaning products. I used to use them, too, and they just didn't seem to work that well, and then I got cancer anyway and I said fuck it and started buying Tide and Clorox. It makes a big difference. They're a lot better, especially the laundry detergent.

Also, be sure to wash your sheets once a week.
posted by something something at 9:58 AM on February 8, 2017 [63 favorites]

You can spray down upholstery with a fine mist of vodka and a few drops of real (not synthetic) essential oil. Use lemon, not anything floral. This will disinfect and leave a light scent. Shake the bottle before spraying.

Do this while opening the windows and running fans.
posted by jbenben at 10:06 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Wash your stuff with oxi-clean. It's the only thing that has defunked sports clothes and towels I thought were beyond saving.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:20 AM on February 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

Are you using the 7th Generation Orange & Sandalwood one? Because that smells like Tang and head shop, in a nice way, at small values. Maybe this has been magnified on your laundry, with some other sealed up house, winter-funk, as well?
posted by kellyblah at 10:20 AM on February 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

Some thoughts:

- If you were fine before your partner moved in, and now it's a problem, your new partner- laundry may need some good old Tide or something. And hot water. Oxy-clean is environmentally ok (I think?!) and can help a lot. Try switching up the laundry detergent before you get too worried. It may be an easy fix. And make sure you get your bedding washed HOT. Bedding gets funky. If you have any down comforters, stuff like that that is tricky to wash at home, take them to the dry cleaner. (And going forward put them in a washable duvet cover so you don't get them funky anymore.)

- it takes very little to get a nasty funk of mold throughout the house. If you're lucky it'll just be from a damp towel somewhere; if you're unlucky it may be from something in a wall or floor. Go outside, come back in, evaluate: is there mold in the mix? If there is you need to find it.

- check your drains. Doesn't take much to get a nasty smell going on in there.

- Is your partner by any chance smoking weed in the house?
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:24 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yeah, try unscented products. (Also, the more people who buy unscented products, the more unscented products become available, so I'm always hoping more people will use them...)

Also, if you manage to get the smell reduced at some point, maybe immediately after cleaning, you can start looking for the _sourc_ of the smell. Carpet? Sofa? Sheets? Walls? Window? Ducts?
posted by amtho at 10:25 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wash all of your clothes and bedding first with just vinegar and then with just baking soda. After that, don't ever leave wet clothes in the washing machine for more than 5 minutes, and don't leave wet towels or clothes in a pile.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:32 AM on February 8, 2017

Best answer: A few other ideas:

-Pull out your stove, fridge, anything not directly against the kitchen wall, and clean behind it
-What's in that laundry? Synthetic workout wear is notorious for hanging onto odors.

Is the smell specifically in the clothes? Can you smell it in the clothes even if the clothes are out of the house for a few hours? Change your laundry detergent. You might need to start using some sort of bleach as well. Read the instructions for cleaning your washing machine and do it -- if it says to use bleach, do that even if you use bleach for nothing else.

Do you leave wet clothes sitting in the machine before drying them? Stop that. Also, if you have ever left wet clothes sitting in the machine long enough to have an off smell, they need to be rewashed, even if they were dried and "didn't smell" when they were put away. The stink will come back with the slightest dampness. Get them out and wash them again.

Dishwasher? Stuff can get stuck in the drain. Read the instructions for cleaning the drain.

Vent hood above the stove? The filter can develop a bad smell... guess what you need to do? Instructions, clean, etc.

You are probably going to need to do some of this maintenance cleaning yourself, and much of it is meant to be done on a regular basis. Check manuals.

Oh, and see if the smell is stronger near the base of the toilet, where it meets the floor. Check this after the cleaners have come. The wax ring under your toilet can go bad, and this usually results in sewage leakage in the inaccessible area under the toilet. If you want to fix it yourself it's very cheap to repair, about $10-20 if you get one of the new alternatives to wax rings, or you can call a plumber.
posted by yohko at 10:42 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

What are you cooking? Spicy food smells can be lingering and pervasive.
posted by mochapickle at 10:43 AM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

oh, yeah, for sure some of the hippie food smells linger strongly. If you're cooking lots of cruciferous vegetables, and particularly if you're using cumin or some of the Indian spices, you'll want to aggressively clean around your stove and any kitchen curtains. Run the fan religiously when you're cooking if there's any question about your kitchen ventilation.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:49 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

I am going to guess its a funky couch or chair. Tricky to clean but Professional costumers use spray Vodka, I guess. Gets rid of the smell instead of covering it up. Googling that will lead a few ways to use this method. Good luck.
posted by ReluctantViking at 10:50 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there any chance you are pregnant?
posted by waving at 10:57 AM on February 8, 2017 [10 favorites]

I vote it is the hippie laundry detergent.
posted by cda at 11:23 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use a mainstream-brand unscented liquid detergent and I still have to add vinegar or oxygen bleach to my laundry pretty often to keep things from getting funky.

Do you share a wall / ventilation with anyone? New neighbor?
posted by momus_window at 11:38 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you wash other surfaces/textiles you rest your head(s) or bodies on frequently? Random blankets used for naps, throw pillows on the couch that you lie on when watching TV, a reclining chair that you sometimes sleep in, etc. etc. ? Do you have a high-backed computer chair that you rest your head against when working? I have found built-up hair oils often create that "house full of bachelors" funk (especially if you are using some kind of all natural shampoo or 'no poo')

Are your clothing drawers/closets crammed full and overflowing? Are your clothes 100% dry before you put them in drawers, or do they get folded and put away when still hot from the dryer? They may be still slightly damp and releasing that as they cool down in the drawers. I would take everything out, wipe down the drawers with diluted vinegar, and make sure there was enough space in the drawers and closets for air to move just a little bit. Maybe add a packaged bar of soap or block of cedarwood in there too.

Do you store anything else unusual or scented in your clothing closets and drawers that is not clothing? Food products, soaps/makeup, a bunch of old smelly shoes...something like that may be imparting its odor onto your clothes.
posted by castlebravo at 11:42 AM on February 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have totally had this problem and it was really hard to live with. Here's some stuff I found out/that worked for me:

-A lot of the natural cleaners I really like don't also sanitize. 7th generation makes some sanitizing cleaners that come in bottles and also as wipes. This made a difference in the bathroom especially.
-Enzymatic cleaners for laundry and toilets
-Powdered dishwashing detergent really didn't work for me and I had to switch to gel. Maybe this could be part of the issue in terms of laundry detergent. I used the 7th generation liquid laundry detergent briefly and I don't remember any issues.
-Putting vinegar in the wash cycle to help with laundry odors - because sometimes stuff can be clean and sanitary but smells hold on. It's hard to put in too much. I've had to soak something in pure vinegar before and it did take 2 wash cycles to fully rinse, but ordinarily that's not necessary.
-I wash everything on cold that I can, but for linens I've found that they just have to be washed on hot. So, socks, underwear, towels, sheets, etc.
-Sometimes plastic holds on to smells even when it's clean and consistently sanitized. I've had to replace trash cans periodically. Most of the plastic ones are recyclable, I think.
-A really good airing out can help - all windows open, fans, etc for as long as you can.

Good luck! I hope you can find something that helps.
posted by Verba Volant at 11:52 AM on February 8, 2017

Check under your clothes washer/dryer in case water has pooled under there. Also the refrigerator and/or dishwasher.

Look for things under the house and inside walls (outlets, light switches) if you get desperate.
posted by amtho at 11:53 AM on February 8, 2017

The laundry powder is not bad, and don't believe that it isn't cleaning well. I use the fragrance free version, and it works beautifully. Tide is not better, it just covers smell, it doesn't remove it.

Like all detergents, you need to use the right amounts for your load and machine. And clean your washer. Read the manual. Wash your clothes a few times in a row to get them very clean. DO NOT USE ANY FABRIC SOFTENERS. They trap stank in like nothing else. I just got a new front loader after my old top loader died, and it was like magic btw.
posted by monopas at 11:54 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe you have a mold/mildew issue in your washing machine? Front loaded washers are particularly prone to that.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:58 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, another thing that helped get rid of my overall persistant t-shirt funk was to add some Odoban to the rinse cycle (like 2 TBSP, not 8 oz.). And it cleans and sanitizes really nicely for general purposes.

I'm allergic to almost every common detergent and scented product, so I end up having to be very careful in what I choose. 7th Gen works just fine.
posted by monopas at 12:00 PM on February 8, 2017

Can you ask a trusted friend to come over and do a sniff test for you? Someone who hasn't been to your place in a while should be able to give you an honest idea of how bad it is and where they perceive the smell is coming from. I helped a friend who was convinced her whole house and wardrobe reeked of mildew, but she really just had a bad odor coming off some thrifted drapes that really wasn't noticeable unless you were sitting right by her computer desk.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 12:21 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do cleaning cycles on your big appliances that have them. So, oven (wait for a day when you can leave your windows wide open or else it will be pretty alarming), dishwasher (run on empty with soap once, then run empty with no soap, if there is an extra hot sanitize cycle use that), washing machine (run empty but use bleach, hottest water) and dryer (soak some rags in vinegar and dry them on the most vigorous settings) then leave these appliances wide open to air out for as long as is convenient.

Also preemptively clean out any traps or filters or crumb trays these things have. If you have an integrated heating/cooling system in your house clean that out too as best you can - change filters, vacuum what you can get at, wipe down surfaces that get hot.
posted by Mizu at 12:23 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Dishwasher? Stuff can get stuck in the drain. Read the instructions for cleaning the drain.

Oh, ooo, eurgh, so, recently I was having an issue where my dishes were just not getting clean in the dishwasher. Little flecks of food residue on everything! I decided to check online to see what could be causing it, and...

Oh god. Did you guys know that there's a whole big food trap in the bottom of dishwashers that you're supposed to clean out? Because if you don't, it will start to rot?

I sure didn't. Neither had anybody else I mentioned this to (and they all got this dawning look of horror as they realized that they too probably had gross rotting food in their dishwasher.

I had to go on youtube and find a tutorial for how to remove the billion screws covering my access to the filter. And then, once I finally got it open...


Well. My dishes are clean now. And the trauma has faded with time.

(On another note:

Tide is not better, it just covers smell, it doesn't remove it.

I use unscented Tide, it absolutely removes smell! And it doesn't leave my clothes smelling like anything at all. Not saying there's anything wrong with using hippie-style laundry detergent but it's silly to say Tide literally doesn't work.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:25 PM on February 8, 2017 [19 favorites]

Deteriorating plastic/vinyl can smell like an unwashed person--and shades and screen door linings, which get massive exposure to sun and/or the elements--start to reek after many years.
posted by tully_monster at 12:29 PM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, consider putting Bad Air sponges around the house. They really and truly work. I don't know why, but they do.
posted by tully_monster at 12:31 PM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Here are my theories:
-A funk stuck in an older piece of furniture
-Your washing machine itself--newer HE ones require regular cleaning, otherwise your "clean" clothes come out smelling bad.
-Needing to wash bedding and towels more often?
-If you don't already, close the door to your bedroom when you're cooking something really aromatic--that way onion or curry scent doesn't get caught in them. Same for the bathroom (towels) or anywhere you might have laundry hanging to dry.
posted by purple_bird at 12:33 PM on February 8, 2017

...There are a lot of home maintanence things in this thread that I have never even thought of and now feel as if I desperately need to do
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:38 PM on February 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

Temporary fix if you need to neutralize smells: ozium (I hate the regular scent of Ozium) but it works
posted by tangaroo at 12:39 PM on February 8, 2017

So many great suggestions. I have heard a lot of this from Jolie Kerr, so I would emphasize:
- Drying towels completely
- Washing sheets and towels with white vinegar
- Cleaning appliances
- Bad Air Sponge (I keep them tucked in the closet behind the laundry baskets)
- Taking care when washing sweaty stuff like workout gear (let it air out before tossing in the laundry, use an athletic-specific detergent, dry on low heat)
- Use unscented products (scented stuff just masks the smell! I can recommend some if you need suggestions)
posted by radioamy at 12:47 PM on February 8, 2017

Best answer: oh, do you have a garbage disposal? Because that part that sticks up next to your faucet is a cover for a kind of trap thing that gets gross rotten food bits in it and you just reminded me I need to go clean mine and I'm terrified but yeah check that thing if you have it.

[edit it had mold that definitely needed to be cleaned. yeah, go check yours!]
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:52 PM on February 8, 2017

This is a great thread, some more that I can add:
- If you cook with very fragrant ingredients (I'm looking at you, curry) the smell can permeate the paint in your house. I once rented an apartment that never stopped smelling of curry for the entire 6 months I lived there and I realized it was actually emanating from the walls from the previous tenants. Try washing the walls with real non-hippie soap. I think this can be even worse if you have non-matte paint.
- I do not mean this to be rude, but is it possible you are smelling your hair? Hair also traps funky cooking smells (I cannot cook bacon and not wash my hair afterwards or else I am secreting pork stank from my head.)
+1 on washing sheets and towels once a week or more and hanging up your towels and bath mats after using them.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 12:55 PM on February 8, 2017

Best answer: seconding the fact that dirty hair can hold all manner of horrible stinks. sometimes when i leave the gym after a super sweaty workout, i will arrive home and suddenly my entire house smells like the 2 train (wet towels, hobo toes, a greasy fried thing, nutsack) and i can't find the smell. the smell is me. it's on me. it is my dirty sticky smelly head.


in further head stink news you should also be washing your pillows occasionally along with your sheets and blankets.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:09 PM on February 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

There is a lot to be said for Tide with Febreeze. It works very well to remove stank - particularly in synthetic work out clothes and in bedding. Also, if you do have a mildew issue, apple cider vinegar (and probably regular vinegar, but I just always have the apple kind around) will kill it. Just run every load for the next few weeks with a cup of it thrown in. It won't hurt your laundry and it nukes mildew.
posted by chuke at 1:22 PM on February 8, 2017

incidentally when people say "just add vinegar to your laundry" what precisely does this mean? at what point during the wash do i add this vinegar? in the beginning with the soap? just pour it on top of the clothing? when the filling up part is done and there is visible water in the tub? during the rinse?

i have definitely asked this here before and i am 100% too lazy to search for it
posted by poffin boffin at 1:39 PM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

What about the clothes that typically don't get washed so often? Winter coats, scarves, ties, hats. They can get pretty funky, not just from being worn but also by soaking up smells around them. I once worked with someone whose coat smelled like rancid fried food - it was overpowering, but she just didn't seem to notice. And yeah, I have scarves that really need to be washed every couple of wears - even though I don't think of my neck as a particularly stinky part of me, they pick up general body-smell and the various smells of the world surprisingly quickly. Wash 'em all!
posted by embrangled at 1:50 PM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry that wasn't clear! For a front loader I pour it on top with the liquid detergent and bleach, and for a top loader sometimes I use the fabric softener compartment because I don't use that otherwise and the other two (detergent and bleach) are already full. I'm not sure how I would do it if I did use fabric softener in the washer. I don't know if there's a better way to do it though. :)
posted by Verba Volant at 1:53 PM on February 8, 2017

Are there any drains (sinks, tubs, washing machine drain) that aren't being used regularly in your house?

The water in the traps will evaporate over time, or if it's too humid to evaporate might develop a bad smell. The trap is what keeps sewer gasses from entering your home. Sewer gasses do not smell good.

You need to run water into any open drains often enough so this doesn't happen. The overflow things on sinks and tubs can also develop smells.

Has your house ever been remodeled? Might there be any uncapped old drains that were shored up into the walls?
posted by yohko at 2:29 PM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a minor, but lingering odor in the bedroom that seemed to come and go, but all was cool if I aired it out. When I painted, we took the mattress up and the stank from underneath drove us out of the room. It never really came out, no matter what I applied to it (alcohol, vinegar, vodka, Nature's Miracle) or how long it sat outside in the sun. (three days up, three down.) Not sure if it was perspiration or some kind of breakdown of synthetics. Our first mattress was a cheapie, was over 20 years old, and never stank. This one was a moderately expensive, brand new, five year old brand name, and we tossed it. I'm pretty religious about airing bedding on the line, washing my mattress pad and pillows, and changing sheets once a week. Don't know why it did that.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:40 PM on February 8, 2017

If your cleaners are just doing surface dusting and not deep dusting of hidden spaces, that dust build-up can really let some gross odors get a foothold. Do a deep dusting (pulling furniture away from walls, dusting the very tops of tall furniture, vacuuming upholstered furniture and curtains) and see if that helps.

I also add borax to laundry to help optimize the power of my natural laundry detergent.
posted by quince at 3:04 PM on February 8, 2017

Wash everything that can be washed with unscented detergent and borax, and if there's any funk/BO smell to it, use an enzyme stain remover as well. For anything that can't be washed in the machine: steam it, dry clean it, or scrub it with hot water and vinegar with a stiff brush. Hippie cleaning products combined with spices (esp if you buy in bulk) contribute to this scent. Also sprinkle baking soda and a paper towel or newspaper anyplace damp (compost bin, garbage bin, fridge drawers, under the sink) to absorb moisture.
posted by SassHat at 3:06 PM on February 8, 2017

It is nearly the end of winter, but for now it is what they used to call, close. Close quarters in winter, because you don't want to pay for heating the outside world. Houses get stuffy. You can put a hot plate on the balcony if you have one, to cook spicy meals out doors. Clean out the microwave, more regularly. Put the microwave outside if you have a good space. Shoes, close the shoes up somewhere, or put them in plastic bags until the spring comes. Wash all the coats.
posted by Oyéah at 4:07 PM on February 8, 2017

Have you tried Charlie's Soap?

I'd start with pouring hot/boiling water into your drains, cleaning all the traps and using ol' Charlie's in the laundry with HOT water.
posted by 26.2 at 4:22 PM on February 8, 2017

Best answer: Do you ventilate your home sufficiently? You should turn off air-condition and cross-ventilate for at least 10-15 minutes every single day, year round (ten minutes on a stormy winter day, maybe open windows for an hour during summer - you can do it at night or early morning). If you have a lot of books, textiles and/or upholstered furniture, you may need to ventilate more. It helps with the smell, but it is also best for your structure. Many people are not aware of how important this is, and it is actually more important with newer buildings which have less leakages and cracks. Air condition does not change the air efficiently enough. If you don't have air-condition, you maybe need to ventilate even more.

I love all the stinky spices, and I never have a problem that can't be solved with proper ventilation.

During Christmas, my mother stayed at my house, and because she is a smoker, even though she didn't smoke indoors her room became very smelly in just three days just from her clothes and probably hair. I put a bowl of vinegar in the room when she left and it took the smell within a week.
posted by mumimor at 4:28 PM on February 8, 2017

I disagree with all the suggestions to use unscented products. That's exactly what hippies in a commune do. Do a thorough wash of everything with Tide, Clorox, Windex, and other standard cleaners. You can even plug in an air freshener when you're done.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:36 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also spray down the bottom of your garbage can.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:37 PM on February 8, 2017

You can get super-strength cleaning products without the perfume! And thank god. That shit gives me headaches. Especially the plug-ins. It's not an either/or between hyper-organic soap powder and Fresh Meadow Grandma's Perfume Chest Overwhelming Fake Flower Nightmare.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:50 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Wash the whole area behind your ears, and all around your necks, aggressively, with a soapy cloth. Hard enough to make the skin turn pinkish. Rinse well. DRY BEHIND YOUR EARS, AGGRESSIVELY. A lot of people have a little crease where their ears meet their head, and it never gets washed or dried and it grows a greyish human cheese in it that stinks. And then I feel like that smell gets on the pillows.
posted by spraypaint at 5:33 PM on February 8, 2017

That's exactly what hippies in a commune do.

Maybe, but then you can track down the thing that's producing the odor without wondering continuously if it's the detergent. Plus, having fewer "notes" in the ambient smell will help you figure it out. Finally, you can choose whatever particular scent you like to make your stuff/house smell better, rather than going with non-specific "meadow fresh" chemical odor.

(And if you choose to use a plug-in air freshener, you can do so knowing you'll get maximum value from it since it won't be competing with or mixing with conflicting scents. You could even use a lovely essential oil fragrance of your choosing.)
posted by amtho at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

If it is damp towel funk, I highly recommend pouring a cup of white vinegar in the rinse. I did this accidentally once, in an attempt to "naturally" soften towels using vinegar (some Pinterest tip). Turns out, vinegar did not make them especially soft, but it did completely erase a persistent funk that previous repeated hot-water washes had not budged. I mean it was miraculous. I was not expecting that at all.
posted by snowmentality at 8:32 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I definitely concur with taking another look at the cleaning products. I tried the 7th generation household spray for a year or so, but I finally admitted to myself that it smelled like stale shake (it's thymol, but still). If you're skitchy about chemicals, cleaning with baking soda, vinegar, and plain soap (Dr. Bronners kind of thing) is fine, if more work and elbow grease. If not, using regular mass-market products, scented or unscented, also definitely reduces the funk.
posted by Miko at 8:35 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it's mainly cooking smells, absolutely ventilate. If you are pan-toasting curry spices most nights or regularly cooking in oil, though, your place and stuff will always smell a bit like that. Is your place open plan? This is why I hate the proliferation of open floor plans. I don't want my jacket or pillows to smell like soup.

I add a drop of peppermint oil to hydrogen peroxide and clean most surfaces with that; I also spray it lightly on my sofa and curtains ocasionally. Sometimes after a particularly smelly meal, I boil peppermint water on the stove. Cheap, effective, even hippier than that expensive, dubiously marketed, sometimes totally ineffective hippie shit.

Can you leave the house for a few days (get a shower in and possibly wash your clothes while away)? It makes pinpointing the sources of odors easier.
posted by kapers at 8:37 PM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also: is it possible a wee critter died in the wall?
posted by kapers at 8:41 PM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

In my experience, dead critter smells sickeningly sweet in a way that is unlike hippie funk. It is like the smell of meat that has gone bad (because it is).
posted by Miko at 11:40 AM on February 9, 2017

I would hire a cleaner that does move ins/out. They get at everything.
posted by xammerboy at 6:25 PM on February 9, 2017

There can be a lot of buildup in and near the kitchen of atomised oils from cooking, and this seems to particularly harbour stale smells. Every six months or so, I fill a bucket with ammonia water or TSP solution and wipe down the walls and cupboards from ceiling to floor, wiping the appliances and decor as well. Your cleaners will likely only be wiping down the counters and the obvious smudges. When I move into a new apartment, I wipe down all the walls with the same solution, to get rid of the stink of previous occupants.

If you don't have rugs, also nthing checking specific pieces of furniture and the towel situation. Do you wash your sheets weekly? Other bedding regularly? We don't use any scented cleaning products, and lean toward the natural/vinegar/bleach solutions, and I don't think you need heavy perfumes to get rid of stink.
posted by amusebuche at 10:29 PM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Did you figure it out? I feel weirdly invested in this situation now.
posted by exceptinsects at 1:48 PM on February 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for these amazing suggestions. First up is washing all the blankets, pillows, and not-usually-washed items that may be harboring stink. I had no idea there were various traps and plates and trays that will collect gross food bits-- will be exploring that next. Y'all rule and I feel less ashamed of my funk-tastic living quarters.

I'll report back if and when the situation resolves. Huzzah!
posted by Mystical Listicle at 12:23 PM on February 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

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