Stinky House: How to Get Rid of Nasty Odors When Staging

Without a doubt, what to do about stinky homes when staging to sell is one of the biggest and least discussed problems when staging. 

How to remove odors in your home when staging to sell

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.

Here’s to no more stinky odors and success selling your lovely home!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jackie McLean

    While I agree with your post for the most part, I am surprised at your recommendation of “adding a light fresh scent, like a single potpourri or lavender scent.” I realize you are saying “light” but you are recommending a scent none the less, along with the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg – that is a rather strong scent and while it smells like Fall and might add to a homey, inviting effect to some, to others it’s just too much. But back to the recommendation of “light’ potpourri or lavender. PLEASE readers, DO NOT do this!! Many people, including myself are allergic to various scents, I’m not talking about “not liking a smell” – I’m talking about having a nauseous sickening reaction to certain cents, of which potpourri (most types) and specifically lavender, are such strong offenders that even if instantly returning to outdoor fresh air, the damage is done, and I have a nauseous headache for the rest of the day. Certain gift shops that I enter I have to instantly turn around and exit, if I were to go to a friend’s house who thinks they are improving the air with a bowl of potpourri or by boiling some scent on the stove, or the VERY WORST offenders, the cheap scents of those plug-in products. I actually experienced a friend having one of those plugged in, in the dining room, during Thanksgiving dinner! I could not eat with it on. And I discovered that lavender was an “offender” from my instant reaction to Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door and Green Tea, both which are lethal to me – and I love perfume and wonderful scents, but the few exceptions are unfortunately very common place (potpourri and similarly scented candles) and often these particular perfumes. I actually discovered the “Lavender” connection one day in a greenhouse when I suddenly thought OMG! someone has “Red Door” on, gotta get out of here. . . I looked around and no one was in site. I looked in front of me and I was in the herb section standing in front of lavender plants!! That’s how I discovered that it is the lavender note within these perfumes that is what I am actually allergic to.

    Anyway, getting off track, but back to that recommendation, please consider that someone allergic to certain smells, regardless of your favorite, might be THE BUYER for your house, but they had to turn away before getting to see everything because of the smell – Smells are turn-offs. FRESH is the goal here, not being able to describe what the house smelled like!! Just clean without a chemical cleaning smell. The Fresh Air air purifier sounds like a great product, thanks for that recommendation, I will look into that even for everyday use of my own home.

  2. HeartWork Organizing

    Jackie, you have a good point. You want homes on the market to appeal to as many people as possible. I’ll reiterate that the point is not to leave a scent in the home. This post was directed to those who are battling a nasty, stinky problem, and adding a pleasant scent may be preferable to some of the problems I’ve helped people with, which included heavy smoking and pet urine problems. Those are definite turnoffs, and can also make visitors sick. If you do chose to add scents, I completely agree that they should be natural scents from natural items that would otherwise be naturally found in your home, such as cinnamon, cloves, lemon, and (yep, I’m sticking to it), even lavender if you grow it in your yard. I do not recommend scented cleaning products or plug-in fresheners, whether for staging or just living. If you are adding scents, do so a day or so ahead of time so they have time to dissipate, not five minutes before your potential buyers are to arrive, which may irritate those like Jackie describes. Heavy scents are also a tip off that you might be trying to hide something. Happy selling!

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