It’s a sense that seems so unimportant and trivial, but the sense of smell is one of the most basic and fundamental senses we have. Our sense of smell affects us very deeply on an emotional level and is particularly linked to memory – one sniff of something can plunge us very deeply back into a memory immediately.
This is one reason why it’s so important to have your home smelling nice. Smells, while they may be insidious and subtle, go a long way to making your home friendly and welcoming – or otherwise. Each house does have its own particular smell that is unique to that house. You can’t do too much about this smell, as it’s a combination of all sorts of things – the food usually cooked there, the people living in it, the furnishings, animals, even the sorts of cleaners that get used. Wood is particularly porous and keeps smells for a long time – this writer owns a compactum that was once owned by an Indian restaurant. Ten years on and it still has a slight tang of coriander and cumin whenever I open it…
The first thing to do to eliminate bad smells is to have a look at your habits. There are probably a million reasons to stop smoking – this is one more. Cigarette smoke, apart from all its other hazards, has a tendency to really permeate a house and linger for ages.
Fresh air is the easiest and cheapest way to stop a house smelling musty or dank. Open windows as often as possible to let the breeze blow through. This will also help dry the house out if it is in a damp location and can possibly also help prevent asthma (at least according to some authorities). Regular domestic cleaning also helps a lot – this stops old sweat, mud and other odds and ends being allowed to create an unpleasant smell. Take rubbish out frequently and don’t put organic rubbish in a plastic bag to go out with the rest of the garbage. Compost it – it doesn’t smell so bad that way, besides being better for the environment.
If you have pets, make sure that you keep them clean, too. Dogs, even short-haired ones, smell and need regular washing. Don’t let a dog sleep inside and especially not on the furniture, even if they are house-trained (obvious exception: if you have a tiny flat with no garden – but then, what are you doing with a dog?). Cats aren’t quite as smelly, but it is best if you don’t let them use a litter tray inside the house, as far as possible. If they do use a litter tray, use proper cat litter, as this is designed to absorb smells, rather than dirt (awful) or wood ash (not too bad but not perfect, and it flies everywhere when the cats dig in it). Birdcages will need regular cleaning; mouse-cages need cleaning at least twice a week to avoid that ghastly ammonia-stink of mouse urine.
Don’t rely too much on sprayed air-freshener. Too much of this can just make things worse, adding a pungent floral (or other) scent to a collection of bad ones – they jar badly. Keep these for the toilet only. In bedrooms and living areas, pleasant scent can be subtly added by use of a burner with essential oil. Be subtle – even pleasant scents can be overpowering and oppressive if over-used. Scented flowers are also good, but avoid the shake-on-then-vacuum powders. They’re rather toxic as well as overpowering AND expensive. If you really want your vacuum cleaner to scent your house, put some essential oil on the filter or on the bag.
Make use of an extractor fan when cooking, especially when cooking things like fish, as this does go a long way towards extracting lingering smells. However, not all cooking smells are unpleasant. While burnt fat and fishy oil are oppressive, baking, roast meat, spices and even fried onions (at least in my opinion) smell welcoming and homelike – at least while they’re cooking. Any cooking smell, however, can turn stale and unpleasant – fresh air helps here, of course.