Without a doubt, what to do about stinky homes when staging to sell is one of the biggest and least discussed problems when staging.
I have had experience with this, and it takes a little strategy. First, if you are putting your home on the market, ask a friend (but not one who is at your home all the time) to come and honestly help you assess smell. You don’t need tact here, you need candor.
All homes smell like something.
What you strive for is a neutral to slightly yummy odor. Anything less will be a turn-off to someone, and you want to get ahead of that problem.
Basic Steps to Fixing a Stinky Home
First, do all the basic stuff. Vacuum and clean. Open the windows and air things out. Take out the trash and wash linens. If you smoke, stop smoking. Ok, I know this is easier said than done, but I had to say it. Even smoking only outside will not fix the problem, as odors come in on your clothes and accessories. Make sure the cat box is cleaned more than daily, and sign the dog up for a weekly bath at the local pooch spa. Take off vent covers and vacuum inside vents, and replace or clean filters. In fact, consider having your ducts professional cleaned. Have the carpets deep cleaned, and heavy drapes removed or professionally cleaned.
Adding Scents in a Stinky Home
Try adding a light fresh scent, like a single potpourri or lavender scent. Be careful, because the goal is to not actually have a scent, but just leave a positive “blink” impression. My favorite trick is to boil some cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg on the stove while I’m cleaning the day before an open house. Don’t wait till the day someone is visiting to address the issue. Please don’t bother with plug-in scents or candles, since these are usually temporary, not all that effective in dealing with the smell, and may contain chemicals that aren’t good for your family members.
Dealing with Pet Damage in a Stinky Home
Next, get serious about really problem odors by tackling large surfaces that hold odors. If painting, you can seal the surfaces first with a primer, then paint the color. Just replacing carpets may not be enough if there is heavy smoke or pet damage. If there has been heavy pet damage, chances are good that it’s gotten into the subfloor, which may need to be replaced or plywood floors sealed with primer before replacing both the carpet and padding. In the case of hardwood floors, if damage is extensive, you may need to sand and re-seal with polyurethane. If the odor is still pervasive, be sure to remove everything from closets and move off-site, if at all possible. Clothing will retain stale and smoke odors.
More Tools for a Stinky Home
Then it is time to bring out the big guns. My tool of choice is EcoQuest Alpine Living Air Fresh Air Purifier. This is a single unit, usually about the size of a small stereo, that treats the whole house by purifying the air and doing something with ozone to change the chemical composition of the environment. It sounds like hocus pocus, but if you’ve ever been in a house that has one of these, you recognize it because it has that fresh smell like after a rain storm. There is some debate about whether these are really a good idea for daily use, but they do the job for home staging. I bought a unit to use for a particular problem staging job. With two chain smokers, even a complete paint job and new pad/carpet AND having them completely remove all of their belongings didn’t improve the smell. After two weeks of running the air purifier, they had a completely fresh smelling property with a sold sign in the yard! I now rent my unit to clients as needed.