De-odorizing a house for sale

linnea56May 14, 2009

We have a townhouse for sale that was rented out for 10 years to the same elderly couple. We are finding that we canÂt seem to get rid of the old cooking odors. Replacing the carpeting, padding, and repainting the entire place seemed to help: but there is still a lingering odor of spices or maybe itÂs grease. The husband was a smoker but it really doesnÂt smell like smoke (anymore).

We open the windows every time we are over there working but canÂt leave them open all the time due to rain. We bought some gel air freshener in a jar but it did not seem to have any effect.

I thought of liberally sprinkling the whole kitchen with baking soda, inside cabinets, floor, behind the stove, etc., then vacuuming it up after a few days, not sure if that would be effective.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

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I doubt that the baking soda is going to help - won't hurt, but probably won't help. If it is a grease smell, have you checked to see whether there is a grease trap or filter around the stove that needs to be cleaned or changed?

If you have cleaned everything there is to clean, maybe you just need to replace the odor with something more pleasant. Find a plug in scent that you like - like the Glade plug-ins - and put one in each room. Leave them there for a couple days, remove them, and see what you are left with. Or have you tried spraying Ozium throughout the townhouse?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 9:01AM
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There are several natural deodorizers you could try-place one or more of these things in bowls and place near the source of the odor 1.dry coffee grounds 2. vinegar 3. sliced lemons and limes 4. activated charcoal (available in pet stores). Then again, fresh air and sunshine are my favorite deodorizers.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 2:01PM
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you really need to find the source of the lingering odor. If he was a smoker, take down the curtains and draperies. Cleaning the carpet should help. If it's grease, -- anything and everything in the kitchen should be cleaned. If it's "spices" -- air it out -- open the windows! Unless it's buried beneath the floor (just kidding), fresh air and removal will work for you. Odor cover-ups will not.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 7:20PM
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You may want to try Odaban. You can find it Wal-Mart, usually on the same isle as Frebreeze. It works great at knocking out odors and it kills lots of germs too.

Here is a link that might be useful: odaban

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 4:35PM
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What about inside the closets? A neighboring house was owned by smokers and the smell is still in the closets, they weren't painted.

Have you cleaned the entire kitchen really well?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 7:40PM
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You may want to bring in an air purifier. Also, change the filter on the furnace. Clean with products that don't have any scents and you will see if you are getting rid of the smell. Fresh ground coffee beans should be put in bowls around the house to help remove the odors. Check the filter in the kitchen vent. Also, vacuum the coils on the fridge because that air gets blown back in the home. You may also consider getting your ducts cleaned.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 18, 2009 at 10:40AM
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I use bowls of vinegar to deodorize. If you would like you can add some essential oil for a pleasant smell. It took the stink out of my teenage son's room (you don't even want to know!) and the cigarette smoke odor out of the car. It should help with your problem also.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2009 at 2:32PM
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Thanks for the ideas!

There are no window treatments: no fabric anything. It has now been fully painted including the ceiling and inside the closets. The painter used Kilz on everything first. He also commented on the smell so we cleaned out all the ducts. The carpeting was replaced last week. Under the new padding the floor is concrete, so at least itÂs not a wood subfloor. But it still smells! It doesnÂt smell specifically like smoke anymore, itÂs an odor that you canÂt quite identify, maybe part grease/part spices/part smoke.

We have now scrubbed everything we can find including inside and outside all cabinets. The kitchen is now the least smelly. We replaced the range hood. ItÂs now strongest in the living room and main bedroom.

It is supposed to be sunny the next few days so we will try leaving all the windows open plus the other suggestions. It was rainy and damp the whole time we were working on this so maybe the odors were just lingering.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2009 at 10:27AM
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Open the windows and turn on the furnace fan without heat and be sure the filter is a new one. Then maybe change it again when you are done. That should help get the air circulating and blown outside. Or bring some fans to pull the air out the widows.

Sounds like you have done a lot to get rid of that odor.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2009 at 5:22PM
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sometimes, it's just a matter of wearing it out...

newspaper crumpled in the drawers and changed ever day or two, activated charcoal, and the 'odor magnet' bags of pumice...

spraying the whole place down with a solution of water, oxyclean (or nature's miracle, which breaks down more than just pet odors), and an 'astringent' essential oil (rosemary is my favorite, tea tree, fir, balsam, and thyme also work) - you'd be amazed what funk a concrete slab can hold!

we actually sprinkled ground clove all over the place when we first bought our house - it smelled like its old people moved away a year ago, which they had...

whatever you do? avoid the temptation to use air fresheners, or artificial scents... the last thing you want is 'powder-fresh funk' - not to mention that the last thing we need is more junk in our lungs.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 4:53PM
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I think we finally have it conquered. (knock on wood!) We had a period of warm sunny weather and kept the windows open for 5 days and nights running. I put fans in all the windows. We sprayed Odo-Ban behind all appliances we could not pull out and every crevice we could find. I put a bowl of white vinegar in every room, 2 in some rooms, with a few drops of lavender oil in each. I would not have thought that you could smell the oil, but I guess as the vinegar evaporated, it volatilized the oil. It was subtle, but pleasant. I think the vinegar was what finally did it. (Thanks, ebear 1271!) IÂve got to remember that! When workers came in I mentioned the bowls of vinegar so they would know what they were, and was surprised they all knew about it.

Expecting a few more days of rain now, we had to close the windows again. I am hoping the odor does not reappear! Thanks for all the suggestions! I have learned a lot.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 5:06PM
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You mentioned the appliances but did you clean the kitchen range, taking it apart as far as you could? Underneath the stove top can harbor some pretty bad stuff as far as grease. So can the oven if things had baked over.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 2:10PM
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I was wondering how steam could be usefulÂwhen there is no furniture or carpets! Seemed fishy to me! HÂmmm: How do you remove a fishy odor from a post???

One if the last things we did was to remove/unscrew everything possible from the stove and clean them again: I took them all home and "Easy-offed" them several times. That did help. At this point we have done all we can. ItÂs now on the market: a few people have seen it but itÂs early days yet to hope for a sale.

When the windows are closed again there is still a whiff of something, but you stop noticing after a minute inside. It seems more stake than anything else. We hope people will just think it is the odor from being closed up.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 10:52PM
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Depends on where the odor is coming from, as to what cleaning method/products you should use.

If there are "soft" furnishings still in there, such as curtains and/or drapes, carepting, rugs, they will have captured all the odors.

If carpet, then steam-cleaning is the only answer. I do not and never will use any solutions for cleaning carpeting that are not enzyme-based. The enzymes break down all the odors and organic materials (like body wastes, food), pet stains, and also degrease.

I swear by Simple Solution. I have been using it for 20 years or so. I mix it 1:1 with a steam-cleaner solution that is found at Sears under their own brand. Both are low-sudsing and virtually odorless. You can also mix in some white vinegar. It is excellent at taking out odors. Just add them altogther to the solution tank of a steam cleaner. I have a Bissell ProHeat and all togther they work miracles.

You can read about Simple Solution here:

You can buy Simple Solution at Petco and probably PetSmart. I order online by the gallon. It's not expensive.

I've bred & raised large dogs for all that time and I would not use anything else for my carpeting and upholstered furniture.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 6:55AM
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As I have said several times before, there are NO soft furnishings of any kind left in the townhouse. All were removed. We cannot trace any of the odor to its source. Our former tenant was a heavy smoker. It is smoke, not pets. Maybe a touch of cooking odor (curry). All I can think is that it penetrated the walls and is now seeping out. The painter scrubbed all surfaces, walls and trim, used both Kilz and an odor killing paint. It has not been enough. Even the kitchen cabinets were stripped. The kitchen has no cooking odor at all now: but it must have traveled out to the hall walls and sunk in there.

After all we did, with the windows open every day for 4 weeks while we were working there, we thought it was better. We did almost everything suggested in the first 10 posts. Vinegar, essential oils, etc. We have bought every odor killer and air freshener there is in the stores. But as soon as the windows were closed the smell came back.

The front door opens into a kind of bottleneck that seems to be the smelliest. There is no air circulation there at all. Of course that is the first impression any prospective buyer has who walks in. Once you walk in and are there for a few minutes you canÂt smell anything anymore. But first impressions matter and buyers can afford to be very picky right now. The agent has brought a few people in and has said that everyone comments on the stink.

If the windows are open again for a while the smell gets better, but since we donÂt live there, we canÂt come over and close the windows every time it rains. Since the unit is vacant and totally bare, putting a fan in that dead air zone would be very obvious. I made some flower "arrangements" with eucalyptus and we put them in there. Hopefully that will look just like we are trying to make it look less bare, not covering up odors.

I would never have dreamed that the stench from smoking would be so impossible to remove.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 12:52PM
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Once nicotine gets into the walls & ceilings it's impossible to get the odor and even the nicotine itself out.

I bought a house that is now nearly 60 years old. It had had only one owner before I bought it and the entire immediate family smoked (2 adults and one grown kid) for the whole time they lived here.

The nicotine would actually "bleed" from the walls and ceilings if there was any steam at all in the house. Which there was - in the bathroom, the laundry room and when I would steam clean the carpets. Brown nicotine would leach out of the walls and seep down them, leaving stains. The ceiling in the bathroom would ooze yellow-brown nicotine. And then of course there was the smell.

I washed the walls repeatedly with bleach water. Then I washed with TSP. I did this over the course of years. I did not use Kilz but I should have, but I have bad shoulder joints and I just couldn't do that physically all over the house.

I painted the living room & hall, soon after washing the walls with TSP.

I painted the kitchen and laundry room.

The living room ceiling had to be replaced due to water damage from the attic, so that took care of one ceiling.

The horrendous, c. 1960s bathroom was gutted completely back to the studs and remodeled this past winter. So that took care of the source of the smell & drippage in the bathroom.

I wish I had encouraging news for you but the only thing I can think of is for you to wash all the walls and ceilings with bleach water, apply Kilz II again, and repaint everywhere. You won't get all the nicotine out but you will have it as deodorized as you can get it and new paint will "seal" what's left behind, keeping the smell and the seepage from beeding through.

I would never live in another house that has been smoked in, or buy a used car from a smoker.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 1:17PM
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