The 30-Day Sustainable Domesticity Challenge: Why does my house smell? (Day 18)

As we proceed through the 30-Day Sustainable Domesticity Challenge (Yay for Day 18!) you may find yourself asking: why does my house smell? I mean, if you’re like me. *Ahem.* Sometimes our thoughts turn lightly from thoughts of the aspirational to thoughts of the imminently practical. Yes to showers, taking out the trash, self-love, and making our stuff. No to bad smells.

So anyway, hypothetical you is asking “Why does my house smell?” Go you. You’re so smart. This is an excellent question.

Houses smell for mysterious reasons.

Well, I mean some reasons are super obvious. But not all of them. Today let’s set aside Maxim 1 and 2 and take a little look-see at all of the nefarious ways in which a house can begin smelling.

Uh oh. Is that a whiff of something awful I smell?

Moldy oranges

A few years ago, I came home to a house that smelled terrible. The scent lingered for weeks. It was truly atrocious, the kind of smell that makes you wince and then embarrasses you. I searched high. I searched low. I searched the garbage cans, under the beds, in the freezer, under the sink. Under the house. I sniffed the walls, wondering if something had crawled inside and died.


Until, one day, I took a closer look at my fruit bowl.

Clementines. Moldy, malodorous clementines.

It turns out that the smell of moldy citrus is STRONG. Powerful. Disgusting. I ran those moldy clementines out of my house, hurled them into the green bin, and heaved a sigh of relief. Then I aired out my house.

As we say in our house after we make a mistake, I grew my wisdom.

Now when I come home and I smell THAT smell I go directly to wherever the citrus fruits are. Oranges. Lemons. Clementines. They all smell terrible when they mold. I mean way worse than other fruits. The smell is distinctive. I know it when I smell it now.

Have a mystery smell? It isn’t lemon-fresh. It’s lemon mold.

Unaired beds

Okay. So we sleep in our beds. We sweat. We have a little bit of body odor. I skin cells shed. Our skin produces body oil. Any dirt or residual smell from the day that lingers on our skin rubs all over the sheets and pillowcases. And the sheets get moist.

Then we wake up and leave the blankets close to the mattress, capturing the moisture.

Things fester in there, my friends.

Bacteria frolics, growing ever mightier.

Eventually, your bedding turns into a veritable festival for smelly microbes.

Quick fix! Toss your blankets over the foot of the bed, flip your pillows upside down, and let your bedding air out while you’re awake. The sheets will be pleasantly dry when you crawl back into bed, and they will stay cleaner longer because you’re forestalling bacterial growth.

Dirty Laundry

Dirty underwear anyone? No body shame. We all have oozing, sweating, pooping bodies. But it’s a simple describing fact that our clothes – particularly our undergarments – smell when we take them off. Unless you’re body oil and sweat only smell like rose and lavender potpourri, in which case, I am envious.

You don’t need to put your laundry away. You don’t need to sort it. You don’t need to fold it or iron it or starch it or anything. But please wash it and dry it and separate your clean stuff from your dirty stuff.

And put those dirty clothes in the washing machine AND THEN ALSO INTO THE DRYER as often as necessary to keep the smell down.

Make. Sure. To. Transfer. The. Laundry.

Because wet laundry that lurks in the washer for a few days makes a smell too. And if you’re bipolar like me, remembering to change the laundry over when I’m distracted – or mustering the will to rise and transfer it when I’m depressed – is an effort.

It’s an effort worth making. Wash your dirty clothes and dry them.

Ripe Pet Litter

Unfortunately, the urine and poop soaked bedding and litter of our beloved pets stinks horribly, and much quicker than we’d like. If you stay on top of it, it’s a quick chore. If you don’t… well, there are natural consequences.

Enough said. Change the litter.

Hidden Milk Spills

Today I traced a smell to my kitchen. It wasn’t in my fridge. Or my sink. Or my floor. Or in my garbage can. It was in the cupboard where I keep my pots and pans.

I opened the cupboard with trepidation.

Friends, someone spilled milk into a saucepan. They didn’t notice. The milk languished unseen and untouched in the saucepan. And it stank.

At least the milk STAYED in the saucepan and didn’t leak. Always think positive!

But anyway, look for hidden milk spills when odors stay mysterious. There’s always something you’ve never thought of before.

Wet Garbage

If your garbage contains wet wrappers, soaked paper towels, or old organic matter like meat or rotten vegetables, make a priority of tossing it – even before it’s full. Probably before you go to sleep, so the smell doesn’t ripen and seep through the house when you sleep.

Dry garbage is not a smell issue. Wet garbage is. Particularly wet garbage that contains tomato sauce. Trust me on that one.

Old Air

It’s always a good idea to air out the house. I like to open windows at opposite ends of the house to create a cross breeze. Getting the old musty air OUT and the clean fresh air IN revitalizes the whole house. I like to do this in the early morning or late evening when the air is cool. I especially love to air out the house on cool rainy days or evenings. It smells so delightfully fresh.

Basically, oust the source of the smell and air out the house

Out with the wet smelly thing. In with the clean air. That’s the gist of it.

Hey, do you have any tips for getting rid of smells? What are your mistakes, sob stories, and triumphant smell hacks? Comment below and let me know.

See you tomorrow!

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10 thoughts on “The 30-Day Sustainable Domesticity Challenge: Why does my house smell? (Day 18)

  1. Wow! It is truly the perfect time to start airing out the  house. Though all of these didn’t sound too much of a problem but truly, it is the little things such as these being ignored that spoils the air around the home. Very cool to know of so many things to keep a lookout for immediately that smell is in the air at home. Top notch post and surely a helpful one. Thanks

    1. Thank you Rodarrick. You’re right – this beautiful fall (or spring!) weather really is a wonderful temperate time of year to open up the windows and let fresh air blow in. And you’re right – several small things can add up to one big stench. Lovely to hear from you – and let me know if you have any smell-reducing tips of your own! 

  2. As a confirmed bachelor, I’m always smelling things that may be malodorous. Your tips on the cause of some of these unpleasant aromas are on point. There are a few I’d add, as I don’t remember the last time I cleaned my bathroom or mopped a floor.  I like your pictures associated with the paragraph topics. I’m not bipolar, but remembering to take the wet clothes out of the washer before the mold kicks in is a chore for everybody.

    1. Heh heh. It’s so true about the wet clothes in the washer! And yeah… bathrooms do tend to get stinky, especially when shower curtains get moldy or the rugs collect mildew. Not to mention the scum in the tub or the, shall we say, residue in the toilet…

  3. Oh my this is a very good one. Who would’ve thought that some rotten citrus could take over the house with their smell. I think that I need to start searching all over my hose to see if any of this is lurking. One other thing that j think that might cause crazy smell around the house could be the curtain. Yeah not everyone makes use of the fabric curtain but if you do maybe you should send em to the dry cleaner too. Let’s get going sustainable.

    1. Oh wow. I never realized that a cloth curtain could smell! And yet it makes perfect sense, when I think about it for a hot second. Smoke, pet urine, and other odors could definitely seep in over time, not to mention plain old musty air from closed-off rooms. Good point! 

  4. With kids running around the house and parents not always being available to see the mess made instantly, there bound to be some real smell coming through, lol. Hello there, smells from our house is always as a result of one little thing we have refused to take care of or a minor one we didn’t know about. I hardly have a smelling house, big thanks to my wife. However reading through this post gives me some idea of things to look out because my wife would be traveling and I’ll be alone with the kids. In asoect of cleaning, do i have to do it on a daily as my wife isn’t around?

    1. Dane, it sounds like your wife is a treasure! You ask a good question. As far as daily cleaning tasks go, I recommend Maxim 2: Put away your clean dishes, take out one bag of waste, and take a shower. You can see more information about Maxim 2 here:

      I am wishing you so much while you’re alone with the kids. Please ping me if you have any questions! I’d love to help. 

  5. Hi! Thanks for the great tips. I enjoyed the YouTube video too. The video already covered great ways to keep the home clean. I tried the stove top method but it makes me feel like I’m wasting electricity and ingredients that i could use up for baking. So  ways I keep odour out of my home are by opening up the windows for fresh air to come in and putting baking soda in the fridge. I also make sure i change the garbage often. Something new I learnt from the video was putting vinegar in bowls and putting them around the house so the vinegar absorbs the odour. I didn’t know that so I will try that; since I can still use up the vinegar for cleaning purposes.

    1. Hey, I’m so glad you enjoyed the video! I’m obsessed with watching cleaning videos on YouTube. Does that make me weird? Lol. I think I’ll be trying the tip about setting out containers of coffee grounds. I just have a thing for coffee, I guess. =) 

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