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8 Cleaning Mistakes That Will Make Your Home Smell Bad (and What To Do Instead)

Last updated December 15, 2022

This post may contain affiliate links.

Author
Author avatar Marie Cookson

Based in Manchester, Marie is one of the writers at HouseFresh and our resident dust expert. She works together with our in-house researchers and our Managing Editor to produce in-depth articles offering practical advice on how to tackle indoor air quality issues.

Our verdict:

You’d think that regular cleaning would make your home smell lovely and fresh. However, all that scrubbing and washing can occasionally result in unpleasant pongs. Whether it’s spraying surfaces with vinegar or reusing the same dishcloth again and again, some cleaning methods can cause bad smells. 

But there are simple ways to rectify the situation both immediately and in the future to avoid these unwanted smells. Equally, and if you’re particularly concerned about household odors, purchasing an air purifier with an activated carbon filter will further help to eradicate pungent aromas. 

You might be thinking: how can cleaning my home make it smell bad? Well, many of your cleaning methods probably make it smell lovely! There may just be a couple of things you do that cause unwanted aromas. For example, adding too much detergent to the washing machine can lead to foul whiffs. 

We’ll point out some of the most common cleaning mistakes and give advice on how to fix them asap. And you’ll find tips on how to adjust your cleaning methods to reduce those pongs in the future. 

We’ll give you the lowdown on some other common causes of household smells, such as new furniture and hidden mold. Plus, if you really want to make your home smell as fresh as possible, we’ll look into the benefits of air purifiers and the best units on the market.

There’s nothing like having a clean, fresh-smelling home. Yet if you sometimes detect nasty whiffs, you might be inadvertently making cleaning mistakes. Let’s have a look at some classic blunders.  

❌  Mistake 1: Using an ammonia-based cleaner to tackle pet stains

Why it’s a mistake: Ammonia is one component of cat urine, so if you use a cleaning product containing this, your cat may think the cleaning solution is actually another feline marking its territory. Cue your beloved kitty marking the same spot again right after it has been cleaned, resulting in a stink that can take over the entire home. 

How to rectify it nowHow to do it differently next time
1. Sprinkle baking soda over the stain and work it into the carpet fibers.

2. Mix 1/4 cup peroxide with a teaspoon of dish detergent. Use three-percent hydrogen peroxide. 

3. Spray the mixture over the soda and work into the carpet using a toothbrush.

4. Once dry, vacuum the residue using an upholstery brush attachment.
1. Remove the larger chunks by using a dustpan or scraper.

2. Blot carefully with a towel to help clean up the moisture.

3. Mix 2 cups of warm water, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap, and 1/2 cup of vinegar.

4. Using a soft cloth or sponge, dip this into the mixture and apply to the area.

5. Blot the stain lightly.

❌ Mistake 2: Utilizing vinegar as a household cleaner 

Why it’s a mistake: White distilled vinegar is a reliable and sustainable cleaner, its acidity can leave an overpowering smell. This can be a particular problem if you’re using it to clean before the arrival of guests.

How to rectify it nowHow to do it differently next time
The most convenient method for masking the smell of vinegar is to use essential oils as you can apply these immediately. 

Citrus, peppermint, and lavender scents are ideal.

1. Dilute ½ the vinegar with ½  cold water in an empty spray bottle. 

2. Add 10-20 drops to the solution. 

3. Seal and shake the bottle to combine and try spritzing. 

4. Be sure to label the bottle, so you don’t confuse it.
This should give you a surface cleaner that’s still natural and potent, but much less stinky.

1. Mix 1 part baking soda with 2 parts vinegar (you can also add a spoonful of dish soap in there for ultra-cleaning). 

2. Ventilate your space during and after cleaning with vinegar as this will help to neutralize the smell. 




❌ Mistake 3: Sprinkling baking soda to remove carpet stains 

Why it’s a mistake: Adding baking soda directly onto your carpet can help to absorb unwanted odors. But it doesn’t completely remove the actual source of the smell – it only masks it for a short time. To eradicate the odor for good, it’s crucial to blot the stain as quickly as possible.

How to rectify it nowHow to do it differently next time
1. Using a clean towel, blot the stain. Repeat this until it can’t absorb any more liquid.

2. Clean and rinse the stain, making sure to blot out all excess moisture.

3. If the stain persists, scrub gently.

4. Spray clear, undiluted vinegar over the stain.



1. Fill one empty spray bottle with cold water. Fill another with a mixture of 1/4 teaspoon mild dishwashing liquid, and 1 cup warm water.

2. Spray the solution onto an absorbent cloth and dab it on the spot. As the stain dissolves, blot with a clean section of cloth. Continue to apply and blot until the stain is gone.

3. Spray another cloth with the cold water and dab the area to rinse the solution from the carpet. Blot again with a dry cloth.

4. Pile a stack of paper towels on the wet spot, place a heavy vase or pot on top, and leave overnight. The towels will soak up any lingering liquid deep in the carpet.

5. If the stain remains, repeat these steps or try a specific carpet stain remover.

❌ Mistake 4: Adding too much laundry detergent to the washing machine 

Why it’s a mistake: The build-up of leftover detergent can cause mold in your machine. This can lead to a really unpleasant pong. Remember that less is definitely more when it comes to laundry detergent. 

How to rectify it nowHow to do it differently next time
1. If your washer has a cleaning cycle, put this on to dissipate and reduce excess suds. You can also add a commercial washer cleaner to help remove residue.

2. If your washing machine doesn’t have a cleaning cycle, simply add ½ cup of white vinegar to the detergent dispenser and run a rinse cycle with an empty drum.


1. When you’re doing a full or even heavy laundry load, use only the specified amount of detergent recommended for a light load.

2. Do not use more than half the maximum recommended amount. This applies to heavily soiled loads.

3. Take a black permanent marker and draw a line on the cap at the halfway mark. This way, you’ll always be able to see how much you should use.

❌ Mistake 5: Using the same towels again and again

Why it’s a mistake: When you use the same towels over and over without washing them, bacteria builds up in the towel fibers. This build-up can lead to a bad stink and can even spread bacteria around your home.

How to rectify it nowHow to do it differently next time

1. Be sure to let towels dry completely between each use.

2. Wash bath towels after three uses. A regular laundry routine should be sufficient to clean towels and remove any germs that are starting to collect.

3. You can also soak towels in vinegar to kill smells or hang them on a clothesline. The sun will help to bleach stains and remove odors.

4. If you use washcloths in the shower, air-dry these after every use.
1. Always hang towels to dry before putting them in the laundry pile and avoid putting wet towels directly in the hamper.

2. Try using a laundry booster or adding vinegar to your rinse cycle.

3. Read the washer manual to find out how often your machine needs to be sanitized. 

4. Don’t overload your washing machine. A machine that’s too full means the towels won’t get as much detergent or water or have enough room in the drum to be cleaned effectively.

❌ Mistake 6: Cleaning with bleach 

Why it’s a mistake: With a distinctive smell that can quickly become overpowering, bleach can cause health issues if you breathe in enough fumes. But even if it doesn’t pose a health risk, bleach can definitely leave a strong odor behind.

How to rectify it nowHow to do it differently next time
1. Open a window as soon as possible to let in fresh air and allow bad fumes to escape. 

2. Create cross ventilation by opening multiple windows.

3. If the odor remains after a few hours of ventilation, use a fan to push air out.

4. If you have an exhaust fan in the bathroom or kitchen with an over-range hood, turn these on to enable the fumes to escape more quickly.
As well as opening windows, try these natural odor-eliminators:


1. Fill a dish with a 1/2 cup baking soda and put it in the room you’re cleaning. Give it a few hours to work and absorb the bleach smell. 

2. Use activated charcoal the same way you would use baking soda — place some in a dish and set it in the room. The bleach smell should be gone in just a few hours.

❌ Mistake 7: Reusing a dirty dishcloth 

Why it’s a mistake: That tangy smell of a dirty dishcloth indicates that bacteria is breeding. The bacteria then gets transferred to any surface you wipe with a smelly dishcloth, such as counters, sinks, appliances, and even your hands. 

How to rectify it nowHow to do it differently next time
1. Simply fill a pot with water, bring it to boil, add the rags, and keep them in the boiling water for about 15 minutes. This will kill off anything nasty that’s living inside the cloths.

2. Try adding about 1/8 cup of baking soda to help eliminate odors.

3. Remove the cloths with tongs and hang them up to dry (or you can pop them in the dryer).


1. Add a couple of capfuls of household bleach to a bucket of cold water and pre-soak stained or very dirty cloths.

2. Rinse the cloths thoroughly with water.

3. Place them on a hot cycle in the washing machine.

4. If you can, hang to dry outside. 

❌ Mistake 8: Neglecting to clean the bottom of your trash can  

Why it’s a mistake: Even with bin-liners, the bottom of the bin can collect all sorts of germs and bacteria. Excess food often finds its way in there too. Yuck!

How to rectify it nowHow to do it differently next time
1. Empty the trash can and be sure to remove any lingering food particles or debris.

2. Rinse the can out with water. If you have outdoor space, the easiest method is to use a garden hose. Otherwise, rinse it out in the bathroom tub.   

3. Use any disinfectant spray or all-purpose cleaner and spray down the inside and outside of the can. Let it sit for 5–10 minutes.

4. Scrub the can using either a sponge, a microfiber towel, or a bristled brush. Don’t forget to scrub the outside of the trash can and its lid, too.

5. Thoroughly rinse the can again and then dry it off with paper towels or an old towel. Wait until the can is totally dry before you put in a new trash bag so that moisture (which can cause mold) doesn’t get trapped in the can.  
1. Create a mixture of equal parts white vinegar to water and spray down the trash can once a week.

2. Try adding cat litter, baking soda, or newspaper to the bottom of the can to prevent odors. Be sure to change these once a week.

3. Look out for garbage bags with odor protection.





4 Other Reasons Your Home Might Stink 

It isn’t just cleaning mistakes that can make your home smell unpleasant. There may be various other reasons for those terrible whiffs. Sometimes, however, you just can’t put your finger on where they’re coming from. Read on for some of the most common causes. 

1. New furniture

If you’ve recently bought a cozy sofa or glossy cabinet, you may notice that your home smells a bit stinky. This could be because the new items of furniture are releasing volatile organic compounds (aka VOCs) into the air. VOCs are gases such as formaldehyde and toluene. 

As well as producing smells, they can irritate your nose and throat, and may cause headaches and dizziness. Be sure to open windows to ventilate your home. Equally, and to help limit exposure in the future, look for products with low VOC.

2. Kitchen odors

Your kitchen is one of the most likely culprits for malodorous scents. Alongside the trash can, your dishwasher may be a prime suspect because food particles can get trapped in the filter. Make it a weekly habit to take the filter out and scrub it with a soft brush under running water. Also, be sure to wipe up other residue inside the dishwasher with a sponge. 

You might also detect funky whiffs coming from your fridge. It’s best to wipe up any spills asap using hot, soapy water, and get rid of anything that’s well past its expiry date.

The garbage disposal can also be a source of stenches. It’s essential to maintain it regularly to prevent bacteria from thriving. For effective odor removal, you can put a mixture of ice cubes, bleach, and lemon wedges into the disposal and run for a few minutes. The ice helps to dislodge trapped waste, while the bleach destroys bacteria. The lemon, meanwhile, emits a lovely citrus smell.

3. Hidden mold and damp

Visible mold growing on walls and even furniture can produce unpleasant smells. Yet if you find that you can smell damp but can’t actually see it then you may have hidden mold. Mold thrives in areas where there’s lots of moisture, for example, under a sink with a leaky pipe or in a bathroom with little ventilation. 

It’s possible that damp may also grow behind drywall or wallpaper, or under wood paneling. It could also be found under carpeting and ceiling tiles or inside air ducts. If you think your home is suffering from hidden mold, it’s wise to contact a professional as attempting to fix it yourself could release harmful mold spores.  

4. Deceased animal

Unfortunately, if you can smell something unpleasant that seems to get stronger over time, it may be that a rodent or other small creature has died. Your attic, basement, or garage are the most likely places that the animal has crept into for food or shelter. 

It’s crucial to dispose of the animal as soon as possible, as well as to disinfect and sanitize the area. Ventilating the location will also help to disperse foul odors. 

The Best Air Purifiers for Odors

Air purifiers are specifically designed to remove allergens, pollutants, toxins, and VOCs from the air. To get rid of smells effectively, you need to look for an air purifier with an activated carbon filter. Activated carbon traps gas molecules through a process called adsorption. This means that those smelly molecules stick to the outside of the carbon, and all those unpleasant aromas are successfully eradicated, making your home smell fresh. 

Be aware also that a purifier with just a bit of carbon won’t cut it; you need one that has at least five pounds for it to remove those noxious odors. There are a variety of air purifiers to choose from and trying to make a decision can seem overwhelming. Luckily, we’re here to help you out.

Model
Best Overall
Best Budget Option
Best for Large Spaces
Style
Alen FLEX Air Purifier, Quiet Air Flow for Large Rooms, 700 SqFt, Air Cleaner for Dust, Pet Dander, Pollen, Absorbs Cooking/Smoke Odors with Long Filter Life
Smart Air S (HEPA + Carbon)- Attractive and Effective Air Purifiers For Home And Office - Includes HEPA And Carbon Filters - Take a Breath of Fresh Air!
IQAir HealthPro Plus Air Purifier - Medical Grade HyperHEPA filter for home large room up to 1125 sq ft - for Viruses, Bacteria, Allergens, Asthma Triggers, Smoke, Mold, Pets, Dust, Odor, Swiss Made
Pros
The ionizing feature is optional, so can be switched off if you have respiratory issues
A CADR of 185 cfm for a very fair price that competes well with other good budget brands like the Levoit Core series
Top performance with 300 CFM and the ability to remove odors with 5lbs of activated charcoa
Cons
The replacement filters are expensive
No auto function which is common in similarly priced units like the Levoit 400S
Price is at the top end for 300 CFM performance
CADR
245 CFM
185 CFM 315 m³/h
300 CFM / 510 m3h
Filter Technology
Pre-filter, H13 HEPA and Activated Carbon filters
H12 HEPA and optional activated charcoal filter
HyperHEPA (99.5% particles ≥ 0.003 microns) and V50-CELL gas and odor filter
Recommended Room Size
800 sq. ft.
430 sq. ft.
1125 sq. ft.
Weight
15 lbs / 6.8 kg
10.1 lbs / 4.58 kg
35 lbs / 15.9 kg
Price
$274.00
$189.95
$899.00
Best Overall
Style
Alen FLEX Air Purifier, Quiet Air Flow for Large Rooms, 700 SqFt, Air Cleaner for Dust, Pet Dander, Pollen, Absorbs Cooking/Smoke Odors with Long Filter Life
Pros
The ionizing feature is optional, so can be switched off if you have respiratory issues
Cons
The replacement filters are expensive
CADR
245 CFM
Filter Technology
Pre-filter, H13 HEPA and Activated Carbon filters
Recommended Room Size
800 sq. ft.
Weight
15 lbs / 6.8 kg
Price
$274.00
More Details
Best Budget Option
Style
Smart Air S (HEPA + Carbon)- Attractive and Effective Air Purifiers For Home And Office - Includes HEPA And Carbon Filters - Take a Breath of Fresh Air!
Pros
A CADR of 185 cfm for a very fair price that competes well with other good budget brands like the Levoit Core series
Cons
No auto function which is common in similarly priced units like the Levoit 400S
CADR
185 CFM 315 m³/h
Filter Technology
H12 HEPA and optional activated charcoal filter
Recommended Room Size
430 sq. ft.
Weight
10.1 lbs / 4.58 kg
Price
$189.95
More Details
Best for Large Spaces
Style
IQAir HealthPro Plus Air Purifier - Medical Grade HyperHEPA filter for home large room up to 1125 sq ft - for Viruses, Bacteria, Allergens, Asthma Triggers, Smoke, Mold, Pets, Dust, Odor, Swiss Made
Pros
Top performance with 300 CFM and the ability to remove odors with 5lbs of activated charcoa
Cons
Price is at the top end for 300 CFM performance
CADR
300 CFM / 510 m3h
Filter Technology
HyperHEPA (99.5% particles ≥ 0.003 microns) and V50-CELL gas and odor filter
Recommended Room Size
1125 sq. ft.
Weight
35 lbs / 15.9 kg
Price
$899.00
More Details

We’ve found that the best unit overall for tackling strong smells is the Alen BreatheSmart 45i. However, this is on the pricier end of the scale, so for a more modest alternative, we recommend the Smart Health S. If you have a very large space to purify, check out the IQAir Healthpro Plus as this is ideal for areas up to 1125 square feet.

You may feel that the majority of your household smells arise from your cherished cat or delightful dog. If this is the case, you should definitely check out our guide to the best purifiers for pet odors. Equally, if you spend a fair bit of time cooking up a storm in the kitchen, then have a look at our advice on the top purifiers for cooking odors

Final Thoughts

No one wants a smelly home, especially if you’ve accidentally caused the odor yourself through cleaning! After reading this article, you’ll hopefully be more clued-up about how to clean more effectively in the future to reduce unpleasant pongs. Never again will you use the same towel over and over again! 

Similarly, being aware of other household odors such as those that come from new furniture also means you can take steps to prevent them from overpowering your home. And if you really want to eliminate foul smells, then check out our recommendations for the best air purifiers.   

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