After a long winter of living in tightly insulated spaces with closed windows, don’t you want to throw open the shutters to the fresh, bracing air?

All homes build up odours that come from normal, necessary but smelly human activities, like cooking, changing diapers, looking after pets and so on. At the end of the closed-in winter season, the air can smell stale. The best solution is to tackle the source of unpleasant smells:

• Air out the house as soon as the weather allows;
• Dust those hard-to-reach places that have accumulated a coating over the winter. Remember to wipe blinds;
• Change vacuum bags often;
• Remove encrusted ducts and vents and wash off dusty deposits;
• Carpets and fabrics (upholstery and drapes, for example) can hold smells. Try sprinkling baking soda onto carpets or onto upholstery and leave it overnight, allowing it to absorb odours. In the morning, vacuum. And wash or professionally clean drapes with a cleaner that uses non-toxic chemicals;
• Consider having carpeting or rugs professionally steam cleaned, and replace old carpets;
• Mold and mildew can cause sour smells. Wipe down walls and floors and surfaces in areas that get damp such as bathrooms, laundries and kitchens with a solution of white vinegar and water (1:2). Use exhaust fans to remove moisture;
• In the kitchen, scrub ceilings and areas near the stove. (Minimize frying in fat, as airborne fat particles will adhere to everything and leave a smell. If you do, use a pan cover, and always use the kitchen fan while cooking);
• To combat lingering odours from foods with strong smells such as cabbage, fish or curries, try putting out a bowl of white vinegar to absorb smells. Or, fill a plastic yogurt container with charcoal briquets, punch holes in the top and leave the container in an unobtrusive place. An open container of unused coffee grounds or beans will also absorb smells, as will boxes of baking soda.
• Basements can often smell moldy due to dampness. If you’ve got an unfinished basement, fix any cracks in concrete with concrete sealer, and clean and seal weeping basement walls. Also wrap condensing pipes with pipe wrap so moisture doesn’t trickle down pipes. If it’s a finished space, use a dehumidifier to keep moisture to a minimum, and fix any obvious sources.

Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design;

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