How do I make my apartment smell fresher and better?
August 6, 2018 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Beyond the basics of keeping our apartment clean: do you have any thoughts/one weird tricks about ventilation or cleaning practices that can keep our place fresher, more ventilated, generally better smelling?

We are a fam of 4 living in an apartment on the first floor of a two story building with two cats in NYC, and we don't get a lot of ventilation. We do have windows we can open, but air doesn't seem to move through it very quickly.

While we are solid about cleaning regularly and changing the litter, a few days after cleaning its back to stinky like cats - and generally, the air is always stale, even right after cleaning. We are renters, so we can't do anything drastic like construction.

We don't want to make it smell like anything specific - just cleaner, fresher, more consistently. What techniques have you used to make your abode more pleasant, especially if you have cats?
posted by RajahKing to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't have window fans, get some. A simple window fan can work wonders in terms of circulating air (and can bring down the air temperature a surprising amount - not like an AC can, but more than you'd expect).

Also - how is the humidity? Is there a sort of musty smell anywhere? A couple of DampRid units can help a lot with taking humidity out of the air that can keep mildew at bay; that can in turn curtail any musty mildew-y smell. They do have ones that "smell pretty", but you can opt for the bog-standard fragrance free version and it'll still work great.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:12 AM on August 6, 2018 [8 favorites]

The biggest difference in our apartment has been window fans... here’s the one we have. We also have a litter genie which makes cleaning the litter box multiple times a day no big deal. This one.
posted by Huck500 at 9:26 AM on August 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

can you get one of those reversible window fans that fill the entire window and draw air in from the outside? some of them have dual fans and you can set one to intake and the other to exhaust.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:26 AM on August 6, 2018

Also in an NYC apartment with a cat--I have one of these that I have plugged in by the litter box that I turn on when I have guests over to eliminate any smells that my nose may not catch bc I'm used to them and I also have a low-key reed diffuser by the front door as a nice introduction to my space. Also a fan of the tried-and-true linen-scented Febreeze. I just spray lightly on things like rugs or throw pillows that can hold scents.

Every few months I buy freshcut French lavender from the Union Square farmers market (or Grand Army Plaza) and put in a vase in my bedroom. It's a very nice light scent and once a week or so you mist it with water and kind of squeeze it and it refreshes it and makes things smell wonderful. I do the squeeze over a table, then gather all the little buds that fall off and put them in a small tray or dish and set that somewhere strategic such as the bathroom.
posted by greta simone at 9:28 AM on August 6, 2018 [10 favorites]

The key is to vent air at the same time as you are bringing other air in. So have one window fan bringing air in while another (ideally, at the other end of the apartment) is venting air.

And take advantage of the weather outside. Air in NYC in the summer can get pretty fetid. So if you notice there's a particularly fresh breeze outside, start the fans going immediately to get that nice air circulating in your apartment. (Right after a thunderstorm is perfect)
posted by lunasol at 9:37 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can leave out used coffee grounds or put them in open tupperware in your fridge/freezer as cheap, fragrance-free air fresheners/deodorizers. If you like the smell of coffee, and you can prevent cats/kids from scattering grounds everywhere, they're great.
posted by bagel at 9:41 AM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I also use these gentle odor-obsorbers in my closets. The linen scent is perfect, but I find their citrus and lavender too strong. It's so nice to have a lovely scent when I open my hall coat/junk closet.
posted by backwards compatible at 9:45 AM on August 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

A weird but great side effect of getting a robot vacuum has been improved indoor air quality. Not only does it have an air filter, but it sucks up fine dust particles that then don’t get sent back into the air when we walk around. It’s made my indoor allergies basically disappear. Could also help make the air feel fresher.
posted by mai at 10:20 AM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Carpet deodorizer made for pets, such as this. Sprinkle on, vacuum up.
posted by AFABulous at 10:34 AM on August 6, 2018

No cats, but I have two Honeywell air purifiers that help tons with removing cooking smells from my condo (which does have HVAC, but the max CFM permitted for the vent over the stove is 400, so the extra purification is helpful when I want to make steaks). One of the filters is a true HEPA filter, the other’s a bit of a faker, I think - mine are old now, so it’d be worth checking reviews on Amazon.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:47 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Fabric holds smells, more than you'd believe. If you have curtains, take them down and wash them to freshen them up. Going forward, shake them out regularly and occasionally spray them down with a very light spray of vodka or vinegar as a deodorizer. Vacuum and wipe down soft furnishings occasionally. If your cats have regular contact with any fabric surface at all, their smell has likely seeped in really deeply. Cats don't stink, but they definitely have a recognizable scent. If you can't launder the fabric, brush it off and wipe it down with rubbing alcohol or vodka (after patch testing for staining!). If your cats wear collars, take them off now and then and wash them.

Air your bed linens - when you get up in the morning, pull the covers back to the foot of the bed to expose the sheets to the air. Everyone sweats in the night - no matter how cold you think you were, you released some sweat into your sheets. You want to give it a chance to evaporate instead of trapping it in the bed. You only need to air for 15 or 20 minutes - air the bed, have a shower, make the bed. Then open the windows (and as suggested above, use a fan to circulate the air a little). This will keep your bedroom from retaining that 'stale sleep room' smell.

If you have a particularly difficult time getting the area around the litter box to smell fresh, it's worth cleaning not just the box and floor around it but also the walls nearby. It's weird, but paint also absorbs smells. Wipe the walls with a vinegar-dampened cloth (again, after patch-testing to make sure you won't ruin your paint job).

Retire towels to the laundry basket after 3 or 4 uses - past that, they're just hanging in your bathroom smelling musty. Make sure they're dry before they go in the laundry. In fact, make sure that all your dirty laundry is dry before it gets crammed into a laundry basket - wet dirty laundry, beginning to go musty and moldy, is a major source of apartment staleness.

If you can, close the doors to the bedrooms and bathroom before cooking, to keep the cooking smells from seeping into these rooms and giving you more square footage to need to air and clean post-cooking. Get a splatter screen if you fry a lot - tiny oil particles floating around makes things smell kinda fusty really fast.

Check your refrigerator drip tray and make sure there isn't a gross little puddle of murky water sitting in there smelling up the place.

Scoop the litter box obsessively, and take out the trash really often - like, every day often. I know this part suuuuucks, but it's going to make a huge difference. Especially in the summer heat, your garbage adds a nasty little 'unclean' undercurrent of scent to the house long before it gets to the point where you can definitively say 'oh, the trash is what's smelly'.

I know I just gave you a long-ass list of boring house-cleaning chores, but apart from the trash and airing the beds most of what I listed can be done really rarely and still make a big difference compared to never doing them at all.
posted by DSime at 10:59 AM on August 6, 2018 [84 favorites]

Air purifiers will give you the most bang for your buck. They also reduce dust. Check Wirecutter, the prices for high quality machines has gone down a lot.
posted by quince at 11:15 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding DSime: keep up with your laundry, change/wash your towels and sheets regularly, and keep other fabrics and upholstered surfaces clean and aired out. Laundry piles, even if the clothes themselves aren't stinky, can be a major source of stale air.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:32 PM on August 6, 2018

Get some plants! NASA did a study a few years ago with recommendations on common houseplants you can use for air purification. Note that you'll want to take precautions against anything poisonous to cats (and humans, if your kids are small).
posted by veery at 1:19 PM on August 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

if your laundry DOES get musty, put a pint of vinegar into the washer load .
posted by brujita at 1:52 PM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you don't want to take out the trash every day, keep a worm bin in the cupboard under the kitchen sink. Most of what makes the trash stink up the place is the food in it.
posted by aniola at 5:55 PM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I was taking care of my mom, some busybody friend of Mom’s called Adult Protective Services and told them I was neglecting Mom. One of the complaints was that the 8 combined cats mom and I had were stinking up the house. The investigator came in the house and spend the next 20 minutes exclaiming that “I can’t even tell you have one cat, let alone eight! How do you keep it smelling so fresh?!?”

The answer is two-fold: every week, I sprinkled the carpets with baking soda and let it sit for several hours before vacuuming. And I made two of these homemade air purifiers, and put a few drops of either essential oils or fragrance oils on the filters, and left them running at either end of the house for several hours a day. Even running them without scented oil will help a lot.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:12 AM on August 7, 2018 [9 favorites]

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