How to Get Rid of That Old House Smell

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There is no worse feeling than when you walk into your own home and realize it smells bad. When a candle is no longer enough to freshen up your home, you likely have bigger issues at hand that you need to address. This is even more important when it comes to that old house smell that can be a sign of much bigger problems in the home than just an unpleasant odor. 

Let’s examine how to get that old smell out of the house so you can take a deep breath and relax. 

What is the source of that smell?

Before you can get rid of a bad scent that lingers in a home, you need to identify the source of the smell. While some scents like cigarette smoke might be more obvious, it can be a challenge to pinpoint more mysterious smells, such as the infamous “old” scent. 

When it comes to old homes, most have similar problems that lead to a musty scent. A lack of ventilation, darkness, and high humidity can all cause mold to flourish, which tends to be the root of that unpleasant “old house smell.” 

That scent is actually caused by mVOCs (Mold Volatile Organic Compounds), which is a chemical associated with the mold life cycle that is strong enough to emit a bad odor. Because mVOCs tend to be the number one cause of an old smell in a home, it’s important to take this bad odor seriously.

Why is this old house smell an issue?

Alongside being unpleasant to breathe in day after day, old house smell may damage your health if it is in fact a sign of mVOCs in the home. While the effects are unknown, there’s some concern that repeat exposure to mVOCs can lead to fatigue, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and eye and nasal irritation — even if you can’t see visible mold growth in the home. If you have asthma or allergies, some experts worry that mVOCs may aggravate those issues and even lead to disorientation and neurological effects.

It’s extremely important to note just how serious repeat exposure to mold is, as some molds produce toxins called mycotoxins that lead to symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting or acute liver disease or even death.

This is a problem you need to tackle sooner rather than later. If you decide to remain in the home, you deserve a better quality of life. If you choose to sell your home, you’ll find that easier to do with a fresh smelling home. 

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How do you get rid of bad scents in your home?

It’s safe to say that you want to get rid of that old house smell as soon as possible, so let’s examine how you can remove those scents as well as other common unpleasant smells. 


To remove mold — the main cause of old house smell — the first place to start is easy. Open up your windows and give the home some fresh air. Mold thrives in humidity, and fresh air is a great way to release some of that humidity. When you open the windows, you kill two birds with one stone. If you leave the blinds open, the sunlight will help disinfect mold. You can also run your air-conditioner or a dehumidifier to help lessen the humidity in your house. Next, you’ll want to fix any leaks in the home that may lead to moisture problems. 

Once you’ve introduced some fresh air and light into the home, move onto your furniture and any other fabrics in the home such as carpets or curtains. In some cases, bad smells may be simply caused by old furniture and fabrics in the home that absorbed a lot of moisture. Clean as much as you can and take the more stubborn decor items to be professionally cleaned. 

After you tackle some of the more surface level issues, you need to deep clean your home. From the furnaces, to the air ducts, to air-conditioners, there’s no shortage of spots that mold can grow in. If you think that old house smell is from one of those appliances or systems in your home, you may want to hire an HVAC professional who can investigate whether or not that is the case. Don’t forget to check under the sinks where leaks, old sponges, and plenty of junk tend to accumulate. 

Now you can move onto the finishing touches. Wash your walls with a mixture of half cup of borax and hot water (32 ounces), two cups distilled white vinegar, and 16 ounces of hydrogen peroxide. Let the walls dry (keep those windows open) and you’ll find that your efforts removed dust, mildew, grease, and bad odors. While you’re doing all of this work, add open containers of baking soda or white vinegar in unobtrusive spots in your home to help absorb bad scents and cleanse the air in your home.  

Pet odors

If mold isn’t the problem, but pet odors are, the task of removing the smell is a bit easier. To keep pet odor at bay consistently, you have to clean your home regularly. Dust, mop, vacuum, and wash any fabric such as rugs and throw pillows frequently. Pets also need to have frequent baths and you should brush them regularly (ideally outside to avoid a mess in the house). You should brush their teeth from time to time too, for extra freshness. 

Your pet also has their own set of possessions that need to stay clean. From bedding, to cages, to toys, a quick refresh will go a long way. This is especially true if you have a cat. Make sure you have a good litter box that has a cover and filter to help contain unpleasant odors. You can even add some baking soda to the litter to help hide odors. 

Again, don’t underestimate the power of fresh air. Open your windows from time to time, even in the winter, to help avoid unpleasant animal odor build up. 

Cigarette smoke

Another undesirable scent that you’re more likely to come across in old homes is cigarette smoke. Similar to the other steps we’ve outlined, you need to get ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work if you want to eliminate cigarette odors from your home. Fabrics are key here, as smoke tends to stick to soft surfaces. For any fabric items you can throw in the wash, add in two cups of vinegar to cold water. When it comes to items that you can’t wash at home, like curtains, you can take those to the dry cleaner. 

Sprinkle a commercial deodorizing product or baking soda onto any carpets, rugs, or furniture that have a smoke scent stuck to them. Wait 30 to 60 minutes and then vacuum those surfaces. If you bought a home with residual smoke scent, it would be better to replace the carpet and clean the home before you move in your non-smoke scented furniture. You can also shampoo the carpets if you aren’t able to remove them. When it comes to hard surfaces such as furniture and walls, you can cleanse those with a bit of vinegar (unless you have precious furniture).

No one wants to live in a stinky home, but luckily there are plenty of steps you can take to eliminate that old house smell and other undesirable scents so you can breathe a bit easier.

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