Keeping filters clean in air exchange or air purifier units will help keep your house smelling clean. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

There are times when extreme household odors call for extreme measures. Jake Robichaud, owner of Jake’s Cleaning Service in Fort Kent, knows this. He’s used everything from a shopvac to ozone machines to clear homes of unpleasant smells.

And while not every odor problem requires aggressive measures, or calling a professional, they do require eliminating the source, Robichaud said.

Tackling an indoor smell without first getting rid of what’s causing it in the first place is only going to prolong or worsen the problem, he said. Measures such as opening windows, burning scented candles or placing air fresheners are just not up to the job of getting rid of certain smells in your house.

Unless the source is obvious, you are going to have to follow your nose to track down what’s making your house smell bad.

If the odors are coming from your kitchen, it may simply be past time to take out the trash. Check your refrigerator, pantry and cupboards for spoiled food. If you find any, throw it out immediately and then wash down the area it was in. If the smell is lingering after a good washing, you can neutralize them by placing an open box of baking soda in that area.

Common household items like vinegar and baking soda can help fight smelly indoor odors. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

Kitchen sink drains and garbage disposals can also start to smell bad.

When it comes to drains, Robichaud said there is no substitute for a hands on solution.

“Your best friend is elbow grease,” Robichaud said. “Use a brush to scrub down the inside of the drain but don’t scrub too far down because you don’t want to hit the trap.”

Robichaud recommends using nylon brushes designed to clean out pellet stoves as they are the perfect size and length for the job.

“When you are done scrubbing, fill the sink with hot water and let it flush down the drain,” Robichaud said. “If whatever is making your sink smell is really far down the drain, you can put a shopvac to it and suck it out.”

Once you have scrubbed out the drain, you can also pour apple cider vinegar down it to get rid of any remaining odors. This drain-cleaning method also works in bathroom sinks, showers and bathtubs.

If you have a garbage disposal that is giving off a bad smell, you can toss some orange, lemon or lime peels in and run it with cold water to give it a nice natural citrusy-smell. You can also pour baking soda or apple cider vinegar down the garbage disposal drain to neutralize any odors.

Household drains can smell bad if they are not in frequent use. Drains that have not had water run through them for a long time can start to smell. That’s because the trap — the curved part of the drain pipe below the sink — has dried up. Keeping water in the sink trap is what keeps odors from your septic system from seeping into your home. So it’s a good idea to run the water down seldom used drains in sinks or showers at least once a week for several minutes.

Sometimes whatever is making your house smell bad is long gone but the odor remains. This can be the case with something like smoke from heavy tobacco or cannabis product users. Those smells can be bad, Robichaud said, especially if the home has been closed up for a while. But they can be eliminated.

“Smoke travels through all the cracks and crevices in the home,” Robichaud said. “You are going to want to wash down whatever you can and then mitigate the smell by using an ozone machine.”

Instead of just covering up a smell, ozone machines dissolve odors and purify air on the molecular level, according to Robichaud.

Closed spaces can also start to get really musty smelling from mold and mildew, especially if you live in an area with high humidity.

“I struggle with this in my own home,” Robichaud said. “I have achieved success dealing with it using an air exchange unit and, in the summer, I put a dehumidifier in my basement set at 45 percent humidity.”

Mold can also grow in air ducts, so if your house starts to smell really musty, it may be time to replace any filters in your heating or cooling systems.

To neutralize other lingering smells from sources like pets, place used coffee grounds or white vinegar in shallow bowls around your house to absorb and eliminate bad smells. Before you vacuum, sprinkle a layer of baking soda on the carpet and let it stand for a few minutes. That can also help neutralize odors.

Pets are a source of unpleasant odors in your house. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

Then there are those cases when, no matter how well you clean, there are times the only option is calling in the professionals. If your rugs are harboring smells you can’t get rid of, they may need to be removed or replaced. If lingering odors are stronger in certain rooms, that space may need to be repainted.

“In cases where the smell is really bad and if there is visible damage, the no. 1 thing to do is contact your insurance company,” Robichaud said. “Then you can have professionals come in and clean.”

But no matter how bad the smells are, Robichaud said there is almost always a solution. And he’s seen a lot in his years as a professional cleaner.

“I’ve dealt with homes where barn animals were kept in the basement and where people smoked so much, the walls were yellow,” he said. “We got those smells out.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.