16 ways to get rid of cooking smells

What you need to do before, during and after cooking to minimize unwanted smells
By
Updated on April 3, 2024
Written by
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.

There’s nothing finer than a home-cooked meal. But all of your hard work can easily be ruined if all those cooking smells linger around afterward. Yes, a delicious meal can result in a pong that lives on throughout your household for days, if not dealt with correctly. 

So, we’ve put together a multitude of tips and tricks to help you get rid of those unwanted odors. 

Before you cook: How to prevent smells from leaving the kitchen

More often than not, what you do before you start cooking can affect the aroma you create. So why not give yourself a head start?

1. Close doors 

When ingredients are thrown into a boiling pan over a pool of olive oil, scents will burst into life, quickly filling the room with flavorsome steam. That steam, like any cooking odor, really wants to escape the kitchen and take over the rest of your house. 

So this one is simple — closing your kitchen, dining, and living room doors will trap the odors.

Tip

Place a towel down at the bottom of the kitchen door to fully block in the smells and stop them from spreading to the rest of your home.

2. Sprinkle baking soda into your trash can  

Occasionally, we get lucky and the bin is full of remnants, ingredients, and leftovers so we can take out the trash immediately. But not always. If the meal you’ve just cooked has a particularly potent smell, then your trash will stink. 

Sprinkling baking soda into the trash before cooking will absorb odors and minimize the smell from spreading. Baking soda is composed of a sodium cation and a bicarbonate anion. With most kitchen odors being acidic, it’s perfect for eradicating these smells.

Tip

If you’re a cat owner and don’t have baking soda to hand, kitty litter will also do the odorizing trick.

3. Boil vinegar and water on the stove

Simply add half a cup of vinegar and half a cup of water to a saucepan and slowly boil it before you begin cooking. The mixture of both will create a steam that absorbs scents and prevents them from spreading around your kitchen. The acetic acid in white vinegar has been proven to absorb odors very effectively.

Other things you can simmer and leave to boil whilst you cook include:

  • Orange skins
  • Lemon peels
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Potpourri

4. Ventilate the kitchen

Most kitchens these days have an extractor fan — we suggest you use it while you’re cooking up a stinky storm. Also, if your kitchen door is closed and the rest of your home is relatively shut off, open some windows and back doors. Doing this will improve your kitchen scent by allowing the outdoor air in, and once the cooking starts, it will feel much fresher. Leave that ventilator fan on for at least an hour after cooking. 

5. Put lemons in your garbage disposal 

Throwing lemon bits and peels into your garbage disposal (that blade mechanism located inside your sink) will release the lemony aroma around your kitchen, killing odors and breaking up blockage through the power of citric acid. 

Lemons and limes contain citric acid, which can act as an odor eliminator and a cleanser. It can also dissolve small pieces of food and grease from your drains.

Tip

Soda crystals are another great product to break up food and disperse odor in the kitchen:

  1. Sprinkle a handful of crystals down your garbage disposal
  2. Leave for 10 minutes
  3. Wash away with hot water

While you cook: How to keep odors at bay

Many foods and dishes give off different smells that can be approached differently when it comes to dispersing them from your kitchen. Other than waiting for the smell to simply disappear, these tips will help tackle them before they have the chance to spread around your home. 

From the smell of burnt toast to a heavily spiced-up curry, we’ve got you covered.

1. Use vinegar and lemon peels to minimize fish smells

Seafood, more often than not, is considered to be one of the worst odors when cooking. Although lighting a chef’s candle and opening windows while cooking will help the stench a little, you can also try these tried and tested hacks: 

  • Hack # 1: Leave a bowl of white vinegar out overnight — Vinegar’s acetic acid content has the ability to absorb unwanted odors.
  • Hack # 2: Simmer lemon peels or ground ginger — The steam produced releases the odor of the lemons into the air, acting as a natural air freshener. 

2. Try the potato hack to minimize curry smells

Opening spice jars, chopping herbs, crushing garlic, and spilling ingredients over your countertops. Yes, cooking a curry is often an action-packed process with an assortment of herbs and spices — all of which are great at leaving lingering odors around your home for days. 

Try this, it’s what we like to call: The Potato Hack: 

  1. Rinse some potatoes and chop them in half
  2. Place them in a dish on your counter-top 
  3. Sprinkle them with table salt and leave them there as you cook 

Unlike other common vegetables, potatoes contain multiple microscopic starch granules, which can soak up all types of cooking flavors, water, and even odors. 

Tip

Place potatoes into the pan you have just cooked curry in and leave it for a few hours. The smell will be absorbed into the potatoes.

3. Make a homemade spray to minimize bacon smells

One great tip for dispersing the smell of bacon grease is to make your own aromatherapy spray. 

Spraying your countertops and stove after cooking with a homemade spray will reduce the unwanted food smells from multiplying. 

It’s super simple to make a spray: 

  1. Fill three-quarters of a spray bottle with water 
  2. Add 2-3 teaspoons of rubbing alcohol
  3. Add 10-15 drops of essential oils
Tip

These essential oil flavors will work well as they are all-natural aromas with pungent scents:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Peppermint
  • Orange

4. Boil this herb mix to minimize smells from Italian cuisine

Fresh garlic, onions, peppers, and tomatoes will all burst with flavorsome aromas as soon as the cooking begins. 

  1. Add half a lemon and some fresh rosemary to boiling water
  2. Allow the steam to fill your indoor kitchen space

Rosemary, similar to eucalyptus, has a beautiful pinewood-type scent that, when boiled alongside lemons, releases a nice aroma.

5. Use coffee grounds to minimize smells from burnt toast

The stink of burnt toast can linger around the house for some time. A great way to tackle this particular odor is simply to leave an open cup or bowl of coffee grounds out on your countertop for a couple of hours.

Aromatic compounds can be broken down by acidic java, making coffee grounds a handy odor eliminator.

This one works for any dish. Cleaning as you go will diminish the odor of lingering smells, so here are five cleaning hacks to implement next time you hit the kitchen. 

  • Use towels – Paper towels are great for soaking up spills and avoiding mess around the kitchen, but re-useable towels are better for the environment and just as effective. I use bamboo ones, and they work great! 
  • For preparation, use a garbage bowl – Grab yourself a large bowl in the kitchen and save multiple trips to the garbage can by having a mini version right by your side. 
  • Clean up spills and mess instantly – If you crack an egg and it goes all over the stove or spill some Italian sauce all down your cooker, deal with it right away. Don’t give stains a chance! Wipe them up instantly. 
  • Use a splatter screen – Some food, when cooking, can split all over the place. Using a splatter screen over your cooking pots will help prevent that.
  • Soak your utensils in hot water – Soaking your utensils after use will only benefit the process. More often than not, you need to reuse your utensils, so plan ahead and let them soak. 

After you cook: How to eliminate cooking odors

The most important part of fully getting rid of cooking odors depends on what you do after you cook. Taking out the trash for sure will eliminate the stench of leftovers, but is that enough? 

More often than not, when we’re cooking, we become a little immune to the smell of food due to constant exposure. Here are some great tips on how to get rid of food odor after you cook. Oh, and these tips also apply to other mysterious odors that may be lingering around your home. 

1. Turn on an air purifier 

Air purifiers are a fantastic way to eliminate odor! But, not all models are designed to tackle this issue. From being a bit of a geek in the air purification world, you learn which units do what and for odor elimination, you want a product that features an activated charcoal carbon filter. 

Carbon filters will trap cooking odors and, after time, help disperse the smell altogether. The odor will attach to loose pieces of bonded carbon and be broken up through filtration.

In this video, Danny shares the top three air purifiers for cooking odors, based on our tests:

2. Clean your oven, cooking surfaces and countertops with an antibacterial spray 

Wipe down your kitchen surfaces. We all know that after a meal, the kitchen can be a bit messy. Spray your surfaces and stove with antibacterial spray and give it a thorough clean to prevent any odors from sticking around longer than you’d like them to. 

You can also use homemade sprays infused with odor-elimination ingredients such as lemons or lavender.

Tip

If there’s an odor lingering inside your cooker from a previous meal, place some lemons on a baking tray and bake for an hour to help keep your oven smelling fresh.

3. Wash your pots and pans properly

Sometimes either during or after a meal, your pots and pans can burn. The combination of these two smells will create a whole new scent that is not nice to have around your home. 

So be sure to soak your pots and pans thoroughly with hot water and use specific household products that remove grease effectively. Dishwasher detergent is designed to remove stains and burn marks from particular cooking materials, so this will help tremendously to loosen these staining problems.

Tip

Soda crystals are another great way to remove stains from kitchen materials — the alkaline neutralizes all things greasy combined with hot water.

4. Use aromatherapy and scented candles 

Oil diffusers and scented candles work super effectively (as long as you’ve cleaned up too). However, cleaning your kitchen by removing grease or leftover food is very important. When the candle burns out, you don’t want old food odor kicking back in.

Look for products containing geranium or basil extracts to ignite a powerful floral aroma to replace the cooking odors.

5. Open kitchen windows and doors 

Allowing the fresh air in will only increase the chances of helping with the smell. Give your room some outdoor fresh air after you’ve cleaned, taken out the trash, and removed other unwanted odors. 

Tip

If you own an air purifier, don’t open the windows and doors while it’s running. Either use an air purifier before you introduce fresh air, or after to maximize both tips effectively.

6. Bake yourself a dessert

This is a great excuse to treat yourself to something sweet after a nice dinner. After a long and exotic spicy meal, introducing the smell of a freshly baked pie or a tray of double chocolate brownies will no doubt cancel out previous odors and replace them with something divine. 

🍰 The smell of baked bread or cocoa powder oven cooking releases a malty or caramelized aroma as opposed to an allicin odor foursome savory meals. 

Commonly asked questions about cooking smells

Using heat or cold treatments often helps with dispersing odors when they linger on fabric. Washing clothes with fabric softener and setting them outside to blow dry will have great results. However, pretreating fabrics with baking soda is also a great way to protect your clothes from cooking odors. Place your clothes in the sink or a bucket with hot water and add baking soda. 

If you’re experiencing a bad smell on your dishes and glasses, try the following:

  1. Fill your sink with glass water until the glasses and dishes are relatively submerged
  2. Add ⅔ cups of white vinegar
  3. Remove the items after 30 minutes
  4. Scrub them with a clean sponge
  5. Dry them with a clean dish towel

In most cases, dishwasher odors are usually caused by some form of buildup or blockage, so a bit of maintenance may be required.

Check the filter for any sign of blockage and clean it, if necessary
The spray arm is usually detachable, so check to see if everything is running smoothly and clean it, if necessary
Clean around the edges of the seals to see if there is any build-up of any kind
Run a rinse wash with vinegar or baking soda

Final thoughts 

For many people, cooking during the Covid lockdown became a fun and experimental pastime. The odor that lingers after we cook is a problem we would all like to eradicate, so don’t get put off by the thought of your home smelling after a nice meal. These steps above will help diminish any unwanted smells, keeping your home smelling fresh and full of life. 

Join our newsletter

We’ll send you a nice email every once in a while. No spam.

Support HouseFresh

Buy us a coffee
Your support makes it possible for us to keep doing what de wo.
About the author

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.

Join our newsletter

We’ll send you a nice email every once in a while. No spam.

Support HouseFresh

Buy us a coffee
Your support makes it possible for us to keep doing what we do.

Leave a Comment

We are ad-free and buy all the devices we test with our own money. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission, which we use to fund new product tests. Learn more