Best approach for removing perfume smell from a closet?
August 14, 2021 8:42 PM   Subscribe

A closet in my apartment has a strong scent--like someone's cologne or aftershave or perfume, not just like laundry detergent or cleaning product. I want it to not smell like anything. What should I try?

We've been using it for storing boxes and stuff and I hadn't really noticed the smell, but now that it's been closed up for a long time it's pretty noticeable. We're rearranging the house in a way that heavily relies on having it available for hanging clothes in, and I don't want them to pick up the scent, and I don't want to sneeze every time I open the door. It's a rental. I'm very certain the scent is the closet itself and not anything I've stored in it. I do not like scents in general and don't want to cover it up with some other scent.

I'm tentatively thinking I should remove everything that's been stored in it, scrub the (old, painted drywall) walls and (hardwood) floor with... something? (seeking ideas on that), leave it open with the windows in the room left open to dry/air out, then maybe leave it closed up empty with a tray of baking soda in it for a while before using it for clothes, and keep a box of baking soda or an activated charcoal pouch in it when it's in use. Is this likely to work? Any other steps or products I should try?
posted by rivenwanderer to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Kilz primer is used to cover and lock in other stinky things (smoke residue, urine stains and worse) and might work in this situation, if the cleaning you plan doesn't work out.
posted by slightlybewildered at 9:02 PM on August 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

TSP (technically TSP substitute is what’s available in the US) is used to clean walls before painting and worked well on my smoke scented staircase. Leaving a bowl of vinegar in the closet will help. I also used some of the odor killer products that are a gel in a plastic tub with a perforated lid, and those helped and the unscented ones were vaguely “fresh” smelling but not too bad and seemed to reduce the odor a bit longer term. If you can paint, that will help, too.
posted by momus_window at 9:06 PM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have a few of those “rechargeable” charcoal bags and they seem to help a little.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:36 PM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sometimes, something as simple as a mesh bag filled with charcoal briquettes (the type of charcoal used for grilling) will help absorb odors. It is cheap and easy.
posted by mightshould at 4:03 AM on August 15, 2021

Do you have a HEPA filter you could leave running in the closet for a while? I don't know how well it would work on a lingering perfume scent, but our HEPA filter works extremely well on cat litter box odors so it might be worth a shot, especially if you already have one.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:04 AM on August 15, 2021

I'm also here to suggest charcoal. It's also available as small pellets in stores that sell aquarium supplies, as it's used in the filters. It did seem to have it's own smell when I first poured it out into pans to neutralize the small of spoiled milk spilled on auto carpet, a really, really bad smell. Of course I cleaned the carpet but a sour smell lingered. I left then there for a few days with all the doors closed, and then removed them, left all the doors open for a couple of days and finally both the charcoal and milk smell went away.

Charcoal briquettes is another possibility but take care to use only briquettes that are not "self-lighting", since these have been treated with lighting fluid I believe. If you are near a whole foods I think they sell untreated briquettes.
posted by citygirl at 6:05 AM on August 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

posted by Enid Lareg at 7:46 AM on August 15, 2021

Ozium can help actually get out bad smells. I used it when I left a pot on the stove for too long
posted by raccoon409 at 8:19 AM on August 15, 2021

Heat, first.

Get one of those little plugin ceramic cube heaters, empty the closet, place it in the center of the closet on a baking sheet, mostly close the closet door, and get it up to between 100 and 200 degrees fahrenheit.

Keep that high temperature for 12 hours, checking it regularly for safety. Do not leave it unattended.

Be prepared to ventilate the room the closet is in, as the odor of the closet will be much stronger as the heat cooks the volatiles out of the wood, wallboard

Turn off the heat, open the closet door, let it cool completely, and see if it is not improved. If an improvement is observed, repeat at intervals of about a month until no more improvement is apparent.

You might need a wooden board under the sheet pan if you have plastic floors, and you might have trouble if you have vinyl trim or other plastic parts in the closet. Use good judgement regarding plastics and composite materials, reducing your target temperature to accommodate their temperature sensitivity.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:49 AM on August 15, 2021

Best answer: Momus_window and slightlybewildered have a good series of action I think: TSP first, and then B.I.N. or Kilz if TSP doesn’t work.

You can still buy trisodium phosphate at the hardware store in many states and it works really well. Mask and gloves I guess (I guess I’ll know at some point how bad it was for me, a teenager in the 1980s, to mix this in a bucket using my bare hand, and then scrub the ring off the apartment pool every day).
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:55 AM on August 15, 2021

Best answer: I've had good luck with Zeolite odor absorber like this
posted by radioamy at 5:22 PM on August 16, 2021

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