How to remove almost any foul odor from your house

Last month we moved to Florida and immediately got started working on the house.

Step one for our full home renovation was to clear out of all of the things and all of the smells. There were a lot of terrible smells that had accumulated after years of general neglect, smoking indoors, and more recently mold and sewage.

We came to the house with a pretty clear idea of what needed to be done to completely remove and neutralize the foul odors, and I’m happy to report that we found success following these steps.

Note: A lot of the products we used are household products that are harmful if used improperly! Please wear appropriate PPE (respirators and gloves are a must!) when handling these chemicals.

Step one.

Remove any unwanted upholstery and textiles from the house. Odors love anything porous, so the fewer soft things you have in the space the better! Our initial sweep of the house (ripping up carpets, removing couches, mattresses, and clothing) helped the smell a lot.

Step two.

Invest in (or rent!) an ozone generator. These compact machines are designed to pump ozone into your space to remove odors such as cigarette smoke and pet odors.

Ozone reacts with odor molecules by transferring the “extra” oxygen atom of the ozone molecule to the odor molecule, changing its composition so it no longer has the same chemical makeup.

There are a variety of different models to choose from, but we had effective results using a model designed to treat hotel rooms and automobiles. To cover more area, we set the machine to the “hold” setting for an extended treatment until the machine is turned off manually. We ran it for about 12 hours at a time for about 5 nights for 1500 square feet of space. We moved the machine to each room in the house to make sure we got every area and turned it off during the days with windows open while we were in the house.

It’s important to note that you cannot be in the space (nor should pets or even houseplants!) while the ozone is running, and you should wait at least 30 minutes after the treatment has completed to re-enter the space. Open all of the windows to help air the space out in between treatments.

Step three.

After removing everything from the house and running the ozone generator, we started deep cleaning. We opened all of the windows to air some of the residual ozone smell out and diluted bleach with water to mop the walls and floors. There was a lot of smelly dirt buildup in this house, so this step was especially effective for us.

Step four.

The night that the first pass of bleach was complete, we tried a room shocker. This gets into all the nooks and crannies and is great for any upholstery if you have any left in the space. Run for 24 hours, and then let the house BREATHE. Open up all of the doors and windows and air that baby out.

The room shocker is not odorless. It does eliminate odors, but smells pretty strongly of chlorine at first. The smell does dissipate after a day or two, but that chlorine smell is pretty intense at first. After the chlorine smell faded, I thought the room shocker was very effective. However, it is hard for me to say if this was more or less effective than the ozone generator since we used both in tandem.

Step five.

For our second pass or cleaning the walls and floors, we switched from bleach to vinegar. We mopped diluted water on the walls and floors after the bleach from the first pass had completely dried. I’m also not sure how effective this step was compared to the ozone, bleach, and room shockers we used but it definitely didn’t make things worse. It was a quick step and I think it is worth trying if you are stuck with lingering odors!

Step six.

After walls and floors were scrubbed, we moved on to scrubbing porous surfaces. The only porous surface we had that was not going to be removed during our renovation is our brick fireplace. I started cleaning the bricks by only using boiling water and was shocked by how much dirt that lifted. When that started running clear, I diluted TSP, scrubbed it on to the brick, and rinsed it out with boiling water. The amount of thick black grime that came out of the bricks from this was equal parts gross and very satisfying. I did a lot of the scrubbing with a brush and elbow grease and later picked up this handy drill attachment to speed up the process.

Step seven.

We are replacing all of our drywall in our renovation, but if we weren’t we would be priming the walls with Kilz Odor Blocking Primer. This product seals fire, smoke, cigarette and pet odors and can even be used to block odors from sub floor when replacing carpet or wood flooring. Do not skip primer if you need to repaint and you’re hoping to cover odors!

At this point, the house should be significantly less stinky than what you started with. Ours certainly was, but we still had some lingering old house smells. The cigarette and sewage odors had largely been remedied, but we’re still a ways away from a neutral odor.

After all of this, your house really should smell almost good as new. If you’ve found any of these steps particularly helpful—let me know!

This post was written for the  Collected Eclectic blog.

Collected Eclectic was a passion project focused on recording the process as Grace and Michael van Meurer transformed their builder grade home in to something special.

124 blog posts were published between 2018 and 2021. Explore the complete Collected Eclectic archive here

Learn more about the project here

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