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How Do I Make My Apartment Smell Not-Gross?

Out, Damned Spot has long provided general tips to keep your fashions looking amazing, but now, twice a month, I'll also be answering questions about the very specific problems your new (or old!) purchases may present. Do you have questions for me? Ask away!

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My whole apartment smells like cigs and old man and maybe dog from the previous owner. I feel like it's in my couch and in my clothes. Is this (a) me being paranoid about smells? And (b) how do I rid my apartment of previous owner grossness? — Kenzie Bryant

Oh God, an apartment that smells of cigs and old man and maybe dog is not glamorous, Kenzie! You deserve so much better in life. (For what it's worth, I don't think you're being paranoid.) But we will solve this problem right quick, so that you can live free of paranoia and, more importantly, free of a lingering dog-and-cigs smell because yuck.

There are several types of odor neutralizers, all of which are good, but which definitely shine in different circumstances. I think it's worth going through all of them, because while Kenzie's issue is a broad "everything smells" one, some of you may be dealing with more localized smells in, say, a bathroom or a closet.

Canister-style Odor Eliminators

These types of odor eliminators, ones that are semi-solid gel- or paste-based compounds inserted into a plastic canister, are great for use in spaces like the kitchen, bathroom, or closet. Some are scented (citrus, pine, and lavender are common ones), some are not, and some aren't "scented" but do have a smell of their own. So! Be aware of that when you're out or online doing your shopping, because for some people pine smells clean and for others lemon smells clean and for some others, no scent at all is what smells clean.

How about a few specific products to get you on your way? Sure thing! Here are three:

  1. The Bad Air Sponge: I've recommended this to a ton of people, all of whom have given it high marks for removing smells. Just know that it has its own scent, which may be off-putting for some folks.
  2. Nature's Air Sponge: Similar to The Bad Air Sponge but entirely odorless.
  3. Fresh Wave Odor Removing Gel: A gel-based odor eliminator that has a light pine-ish scent.

You can buy all of these online, or you can make a trip to your local hardware or home improvement store and peruse the options in stock — those are excellent sources for all sorts of odor-eliminating products. Depending on your smell situation, you may want to buy a canister for use in more than one room; for very large spaces, two canisters may be needed.

Odor Neutralizing Sprays

There's a difference between air fresheners, like those cans of Glade people like to stash in the bathroom, and odor neutralizers. Air fresheners will add a layer of scent on top of an existing smell, while odor neutralizers will eliminate the smell entirely. It's the latter that we want in this case.

I would suggest she start with one of the sprays.

Just like with the canister-style products, you can find these kinds of sprays at hardware stores. Two brands to look for are Ozium, which is a favorite among stoners who want to keep the weed smell from taking over the home, and Zep Smoke Odor Eliminator.

In Kenzie's situation, I would suggest she start with one of the sprays — which she can use on her couch, too — and also set out a canister-style odor neutralizer to absorb lingering smells.

What to Do When the Walls and Floors Smell

I feel pretty confident that Kenzie's problem can be addressed through the use of those odor eliminating products we just talked about. But in the event the smoke-and-dog smell persists, bigger guns may need to be toted out. These are the kind of things that, if you're a renter, you should speak with your landlord or superintendent about, in the event they will either perform or at least cover the cost of the service.

Oftentimes, in homes that have been inhabited by a heavy smoker or a malodorous pet for many years, the walls themselves retain those smells. If that's the case, the walls need a fresh coat of paint. But not just any old paint! They need odor absorbing paint, which is a thing that absolutely exists in this wonderful world of ours. You can either use an odor eliminating primer, like Kilz, or look for paints that have an odor neutralizer built right in, like Dutch Boy Refresh.

The problem with pet and smoke odors and carpeting is that the smells get all the way down into the padding.

If there's carpeting in the apartment, it will definitely need to be cleaned — and possibly even replaced. The problem with pet and smoke odors and carpeting is that the smells get all the way down into the padding, and it can be very hard to get that clean. A carpet cleaning machine like the Rug Doctor, which you can rent for about $20-$30 at your local grocery or hardware store, may do the trick. If it doesn't, however, it means that the smell has gotten into the padding and the carpet will need to be replaced.

If you have hardwood, you'll be in better shape but wood is porous and therefore can retain odors. It's not a bad idea to give wood floors a good washing with something like diluted white vinegar, which has odor neutralizing properties in addition to being safe to use on hardwood.

A Note on Air Purifiers

Air purifiers are great things! However, according to Consumer Reports and The Sweethome, both of which have done extensive testing of air purifiers, most of them do not remove odors. So before you run out and buy an expensive purifier, make sure to do your homework.

The Sweethome notes that there are some models that will remove odors from the home, but that those tend to be quite pricey. At the time they did their testing, the Dyson air purifier was not yet on the market; it's available now and it can be added to the list of purifiers that will reduce odors in the home. It is, as is the Dyson way, not inexpensive, priced at about $500. While that's a lot of money, I have the Dyson Cool Link, which is a combo air purifier and standing fan (disclosure: Dyson provided it for review purposes) and I love it — it's made a huge difference in my allergy situation this year, and I do notice that cooking odors don't linger in my home. Plus, it has this cool little app that lets me control the fan from outside of my home and allows me to check the air quality levels both indoors and outside. On the other hand, $500 is a lot of money, so unless you have a serious allergy situation like mine (oh God, you cannot imagine the hours I spent with my ENT trying to rid myself of my persistent sniffle), you may want to try other methods for removing odors in your home before you invest in a purifier.