Most economical way to make your house smell good?
March 26, 2008 12:44 AM   Subscribe

What's the most economical way to make your house/apartment smell good?

My apartment doesn't smell bad, but it doesn't really smell good, either. I've tried a few candles, potpourri, aerosol sprays, and plug-in air fresheners that all work at varying degrees of effectiveness, but they usually don't last long and they're expensive.

I already keep my place fairly clean by vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, disinfecting countertops, sweeping and mopping often. I try to open the windows as much as possible, as weather permits.

I've searched Ask Me, but most questions seem to be on removing odors, not solely providing pleasant ones. I did find this thread at Yahoo Answers where a few people said simmering some water with cinnamon and/or your favorite scent was a pretty good way to make your house smell good. I haven't tried this, but I'd imagine the smell would fade after several hours (correct me if I'm wrong). I'm looking for something more long-term.

So, has anyone found any other low cost ways of improving odors for a long period of time?

(Also, if it helps, I'd have to say my favorite scent is vanilla.)
posted by tanminivan to Home & Garden (41 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on how big your place is, I'd get a bottle of good quality reed diffuser.

I am not a big fan of really overwhelming smell, so reed diffusers are good for me. I have two in Vanilla and it's very subtle.

If your apartment doesn't smell good, I am guessing you mean you'd like some smell to it as opposed to there being a cause for the place to smell not so good. I'd shop around to see which smell you like. Diffusers are VERY popular and they're everywhere.
posted by icollectpurses at 1:17 AM on March 26, 2008

Flowers help a lot + they look pretty.
Non-scented candles also smell nice and don't cost much.
Small levels of ozone in the air is perceived as "fresh" by many people. You might get an ozone generator. Ozone is often bad for your health though.
Make food that has a smell you like. Chili, tomato sauce etc. Nothing makes you house smell as good as something simmering on the stove.
Buy a camphor chest or some other furniture made from camphor.
Many antique carpets have a woolly smell I like.
Get rid of any smelly downstairs neighbors.
posted by uandt at 1:30 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Plink (available at Vons and your local neighborhood pharmacist/grocery). For all your dishwasher disposal/apartment-holey-things cleaning needs.
posted by dhammond at 1:40 AM on March 26, 2008

Grow jasmine, or magnolia. However, any scent you choose, natural or artificial, you won't be able to smell after a while. Do you live alone? You could dab vanilla under your nose, or crush a stalk of rosemary and keep it in your pocket. That way you don't need to scent your entire livnig space.
posted by b33j at 3:26 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Myself, I cannot stand most air fresheners or scented candles. Sickly sweet, unnatural and otherwise unidentifiable chemical mashups. Plus, once something stinks up a place and you start adding a "freshener" to the mix, that pretty much makes instant awful.

Stuff I do:
Grow herbs on my balcony. That keeps a good basil and rosemary draft coming in, and now and then I'll cut sprigs and put them wherever. Right after I have rubbed them all over my body.

I have chunks of cedar in my dresser drawers, and I used to have one for my closet. Come to think of it, I wish I could find a good chunk of sandalwood for this - that would be even better. Smell-good wood.

I keep a few used dryer sheets (not exactly natural) from the laundry and keep them stashed in the linen/towel closet. A new sheet is oily and will stain, but a used one won't and still has a fresh-ish smell that keeps the closet from smelling stale.

There are a lot of places that sell essential oils, including vanilla. For my car I buy a small bottle of an oil I like (from a craft fair) and dab it on a piece of felt (from a craft store) that I stash it under the seat. It lasts pretty long and it doesn't use a lot of oil, depending on how strong the aroma tends to be. I could see doing the same thing in your house - jam a lubed up pad in yon nook and cranny and refresh as required.
posted by krippledkonscious at 3:47 AM on March 26, 2008

Now that I don't have a dryer, I hang dry things in my room and it has been commented that my room smells like fresh laundry, which I love. And since I do laundry every two weeks the scent is pretty constant.

On that note, I also used to stash used dryer sheets in my drawers too. Easy enough to replace when the next batch of dry linen is put away. Sandalwood sounds like a lovely idea but I think it depends on how much you like that smell. I find it very manly and pleasant.
posted by like_neon at 4:09 AM on March 26, 2008

Kitchens benefit from citrus or baking scents. I remove odors from my microwave by heating a small bowl of water with some lemon juice in it until it boils for about 30 seconds. When I open the microwave door, the kitchen then smells lemony.

Then bake some cookies. Eat them. Enjoy your house!
posted by maudlin at 5:05 AM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oil burner.... (candles from ikea, sooo cheap.... or electric).... and put lemongrass oil in it.
posted by taff at 5:21 AM on March 26, 2008

Lamp Berger. It's not the most economical, but keep your eyes peeled. They can be found on sale at gift stores, like Hallmark. You can purchase a lamp for around 30 dollars. They go up in the hundreds range, depending on the design and materials. A Lamp Berger will permeate your entire apartment with fragrance. Sometimes it can be so strong it gives me a headache, depending on the fragrance. If I'm having people over I'll put the the lamp in my bedroom or master bath and the fragrance still permeates to main living areas. It's a little glass lamp with a wick that you fill with scented oil especially made for the lamp. The bottle of fragrance lasts a long time.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:33 AM on March 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Incense! It's not to everyone's taste but, well, I like it, and although one stick doesn't last that long, it tends to work itself into a room pretty well. And you can get it in vanilla (or pretty much any other) flavour.
posted by Drexen at 5:34 AM on March 26, 2008

Baking and cooking a couple of times a week will keep the place smelling good; even if you're just tossing frozen bread dough in the oven.
posted by craven_morhead at 5:35 AM on March 26, 2008

I got some incense from an Asian supermarket. 400 sticks for $1.25! It is distinct from head-shop incense, and I have been complimented on the smell. You may or may not have an issue with the hippie connotations.
posted by scose at 5:40 AM on March 26, 2008

I came up with this idea in Alaska, and I've done it ever since. It's so cheap you'll likely laugh, but will only work if you have a pine tree nearby.

Grab a handful of fallen, but not rotten, pine needles. Cover a cookie sheet with foil, spread the needles on the sheet and spritz gently with water (I've done it without the water too, but it seems to increase the scent) and pop it into a warm (NOT hot) oven. Tilt the oven door slightly open and voila! You have a nice natural scent filling your home.

I've not yet tried it with other trees that have special scents, but I'm sure it would work just as well.

For the safety obsessed: I've done this for about twenty years and not once have I ever had a problem. Just be sure it's only a warm oven and you're fine.
posted by magnoliasouth at 6:01 AM on March 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Spray furniture polish on your radiators. Stephen Fry says it works, so it must be true....
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:14 AM on March 26, 2008

Check this out: reed diffusers for $2.99. They come in vanilla.

I have them in green tea & ginger, sandalwood, and thai lemongrass. They are very nice and last a long time. My favorite thing about them is that you can control the amount of scent that is emitted by adding or removing reeds (more reeds=more scent).
posted by acridrabbit at 6:19 AM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Bunches of eucalyptus makes everything smell good.
posted by contessa at 6:31 AM on March 26, 2008

Take an orange and about a dozen whole cloves. Poke the pointy end of each clove into the orange, in an attractive pattern, if you like, until all that shows is the head of each clove. You'll end up with an orange studded with cloves.

Tie it with string and hang it in a corner (if you leave it on a plate, the orange will flatten and rot), and the cloves will slowly leech the juice from the orange and evaporate a lovely clove-orange scent into the air. It will last a few weeks.
posted by breezeway at 6:46 AM on March 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

Boil a big pot of clean water on the stove. Add rosehips and green tea bags or leaves. Let simmer. It will clean the air and you can drink it during/after, hot or cold.
posted by mamaraks at 6:53 AM on March 26, 2008

Whenever I walk into my apartment, I am amazed how well my reed diffuser is still working. I got it in the beginning of December and it is only 1/3 empty, so they definitely last a while.

It's a nice, constant, not overwhelming scent. But it was enough for my cable guy to stop work twice and ask "what smells good?"

When and if this one ever runs out, I'd definitely get another.
posted by rmless at 6:57 AM on March 26, 2008

In addition to adding new (good) smells, you want to get rid of existing ones.

This thread may help.

IMHO you are on the right track with your cleaning routine. Maybe also make sure that you:
- Wash sheets, etc., once a week.
- Put in fresh flowers once a week.
- Get an air purifier with HEPA and UV light. Shift it from room to room.
- Steam clean carpets and couches once a year, possibly twice (you will notice an immediate difference).

My wife Febreezes the carpets a few times a week, just walking around spraying them.

Finally, do what my mother and grandmother did to make their house smell good: cook! This is especially good when guests come over. Things like cookies or spiced wine give a nice, warm, welcoming aroma.
posted by charlesv at 7:40 AM on March 26, 2008

Soak some cotton balls in vanilla and place them discreetly around the room.
posted by bluekrauss at 7:45 AM on March 26, 2008

In addition to keeping the place clean and using a reed diffuser, be sure you open up your windows and let the (hopefully) fresh air from outside circulate through your place, on nice days. If you keep the windows shut day in and day out, the air inside your apartment gets stale, and starts to smell stale, too.

And if you have pets be sure they are kept clean, their bedding washed and the litter boxes scooped every day.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:45 AM on March 26, 2008

There's a clementine cake I make that calls for three slow simmered clementines. When I've finished, the house smells amazing all day.
posted by judith at 7:47 AM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Grow a bunch of sweetgrass.

When dried, you can burn it like a smudge. First Nations use it in ceremonies and can be purchased at their stores [braided].

Those diffusers basically mask smells and are 100% chemicals, I'd advise against them, totally.
Another thought, when was the last time the apartment was painted¿ The smells may be embeded in the walls from the previous tenants - if it's been 5 years, a coat of Latex Primer followed by a top coat of latex may help.
posted by alicesshoe at 8:07 AM on March 26, 2008

I love the smell of Murphy's Oil Soap. I use it on all the woodwork and floors. I'm surprised Baking Soda hasn't been mentioned. Dump some in your sinks and let sit over night one in a while.
posted by hilby at 8:10 AM on March 26, 2008

Bake bread. Rosemary focaccia, parmesan bread, cinnamon raisin bread, rye....

Your house will smell fantastic, bread is cheap to bake, and you get to feed yourself as well!
posted by kaseijin at 8:11 AM on March 26, 2008

Bunches of eucalyptus makes everything smell good.

This is what I do. It really doesn't make your house smell like a koala forest. I have a few bunches in the bathrooms which gives them a bit of a scent but not like "I am trying to make my stanky bathroom stink like something else!" way. When the eucalyptus loses its efficacy you can toss it in your car and it will have some more life there esp if you park your car someplace sunny.

Other natural things that work

- cedar sachets, esp for bedrooms
- making sure drains and underfridge areas are clean in kitchens
- keeping sink toilets clean
- lilac bunches
- lavendar
- orange or orange rind with cloves, any citrus peel really
- growing plants just seem to make the air better, whatever they are but fragrant ones especially
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 AM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Where do you guys buy eucalyptus? Is it at a home store? A garden center? Special ordered from an Australian internet site?

I've got a couple different fabric sprays in laundry-related smells ("fresh linen," "clean cotton, " etc.) that I spray on my bedspread and couches every once in a while. They give my whole apartment a gentle scent of clean laundry, which I just love. I think one is from the Yankee Candle Company (it's their only scent I can stand, but YMMV), and the other came from a Bed Bath and Beyond-type store.
posted by vytae at 8:53 AM on March 26, 2008

Response by poster: Wow! So many good answers! I definitely have a lot of things to try now.

A few replies:
I have done the fruit peels in the garbage disposal before, with good results, but the smell seems to hover around the garbage disposal.

A reed diffuser seems to be a good bet. acridribbit, thanks for the link to the cheap diffusers.

I hadn't thought of growing my own plants and herbs. My thumbs aren't the greenest, but I'll have to try that out.

I've never tried incense before. I guess I have a problem with those hippie connotations. ;)

Magnoliasouth, that seems like an interesting idea with the pine needles. There's not too many pine trees here, but there are some coniferous trees I might have to try that on.

Alicesshow, I hadn't thought about painting the apartment. I've been here two years and when I first got here the apartment had a pretty funky smell, but since then it's subsided. I ask the management about replacing my blinds soon, maybe I can swing for some new paint as well. :)

I'll have to try baking more. I do cook a lot, but hardly ever bake.

Thanks for all the answers everyone! Keep them coming!
posted by tanminivan at 9:01 AM on March 26, 2008

HEPA filters are good at decreasing odors. You can get the freestanding ones made by Honeywell. Or if you have central heat or air, change your filter over to a 3M Filtrete (the one in the red packaging).
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:03 AM on March 26, 2008

I get eucalyptus at the supermarket, at Shaw's, in the garden/flower section. In fact, so few people buy it that it's often on special. It's just those sort of dried out greenish [or sometimes red] sprigs that don't look like much.
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 AM on March 26, 2008

Soak a few cotton balls in scented oil. Put them in your vacuum bag before you vacuum.
posted by charlesv at 9:31 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Most economical- open windows, cook yummy things, fill your house with natural things like the suggestions above: cedar wood, herbs, dried rosemary and lavender bouquets, fresh flowers.

Many air fresheners, drier sheets, incense, and reed diffusers are made with toxic materials. I'd stay away from cheap, powerful fragrances. Look for truly natural scents, not just things that sound natural.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:20 PM on March 26, 2008

A few notes about incense:

It *will* increase the dust load in your home.

Frequent use has been tied to an increase in low air quality/respiratory effects thereof. Carbon monoxide - 'nuff said.

Make absolutely positive that it has a secure place in which to burn so that tiny burning embers or entire burning sticks do not suddenly find themselves on your drapes, furniture, carpet, or beloved family members.

Many people with allergies or asthma have reactions to it - I've learned to warn folks that we burn it, so they can let us know if we need to make different arrangements when they visit. This is the same for oil-diffusers, reed diffusers, some spray scents, and even Febreze.
posted by batmonkey at 1:21 PM on March 26, 2008

My sister puts a pot of water to boil on the stove, and puts about a teaspoon of vanilla extract in it. Makes the whole house smell of vanilla.

However...don't laugh... she swears by bacon. Apparently, the smell of cooking bacon will eradicate virtually any bad smell in the house. The only downfall is that her hubby expects bacon to be on the menu for dinner if the house smells that way.
posted by LN at 2:00 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Make your own linen spray - A more natural version of fabreeze:

Take a spray bottle. Mix 1 part cheap vodka, 4 parts distilled water. 20-30 drops of your favorite (vanilla) essential oil. Shake bottle, Mist on linens and soft surfaces.
posted by delladlux at 5:11 PM on March 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

2nding Jessamyn's suggestion of orange rinds and cloves. Also use cinnamon (the unground kind).
posted by Eideteker at 5:37 AM on March 27, 2008

For that fresh laundry smell, put used dryer sheets (e.g. Bounce) in your heating a/c vents. Fresh smell. Subtle too, unless you run your conditioning constantly.
posted by Jezebella at 6:08 PM on March 27, 2008

An old trick used by realtors to make a house seem nice is drop of vanilla on a few warm light bulbs throughout the house.

You can even find ceramic rings that fit on a light bulb for holding vanilla or other oils. Here's one I tracked down...
posted by deanj at 9:44 AM on March 28, 2008

Febreze makes a small, plug-in air filter (I think it's called "True Air") which I've found works really well.

My next door neighbors, two little old ladies, both smoke heavily, have a horde of smelly cats, and, I suspect, neglect their housekeeping quite a bit. Unfortunately, my building is pretty old, and as it has settled, small cracks have opened up in the plaster through which a legion of old lady smells have entered. Also, my backyard shares space with the exhaust from 2 different restaurants, so opening the windows for "fresh" air is not really an option. (It makes the entire place stink of bacon. I haven't been able to stand eating bacon in 3 years. Sigh.)

Anyway, this Febreze filter thing has damn near saved my life. Even when the hallway of my building smells like fat old cat ass fried in rancid butter, my apartment smells good.
posted by elizardbits at 4:01 PM on March 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all the suggestions!
posted by tanminivan at 9:32 PM on April 9, 2008

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