Between the shoes, boots, dirty jackets, coats, scarves, hats, and extra ‘junk’ crammed into the average person’s closet, odors are bound to become an issue sooner or later.
Common Causes of Closet Odors
Smelly shoes come to mind when you think of the most common problem in bedroom and coat closets. Stuffiness from lack of air circulation is another major factor. Putting even slightly damp clothing and linens in the closet can lead to mildew as well as the dampness activating the natural odors of the other fabrics or fragrances left behind from cleaning products. And, then, there are the clothes you’d like to get one more wear out of before taking to the cleaners. If you’re a smoker or you let one share your space, just one item will affect the rest of the closet.
There are other unexpected possibilities such as pests, leaks, and curious pets. Insects and rodents will leave droppings. Even though the droppings will be very small, enough of them will cause odors. Mice are oily and leave their scent wherever they go. If the mouse population increases, you’ll definitely be able to tell by the smell. And, not all mice will make it out of your closet. One may get inside and die. The tiny decomposing body will leave a really big stench. If there are any leaky pipes or a leaky roof that drains down a wall in your closet, there will be a lot of dampness with mold and mildew. And cats are very good at snooping into closets and finding discreet areas to pee in.
With linen closets and utility closets, there may be spills from cleaning supplies, pest sprays, paints and oils. Some scents permeate the boxes they are in, like soap powder and mothballs, and others will affect the rest of the closet area. If you use your linen or utility closet to store your vacuum cleaner, brooms, mops, and/or power tools, you’re just marinating everything that tight space.
How to Remove Specific Smells
The first thing to do is clean out the closet. For clothing and linens, you may have to wash everything. Hopefully it is a very nice day outside because line drying fabric is one of the best ways to get rid of odors. In fact, if you have removable shelves or storage boxes, letting them sit out in the sun can rid them from odor. For help, see “How to Clean Your Closets.”
If the closet smells a little musty, a good airing will generally handle it. Just by cleaning and organizing you’ll pretty much eliminate the problem. Use potpourri sachets, scented cedar blocks, or charcoal deodorizers to help keep the closet fresh. Putting shoes in shoe boxes that still have their silica packets; or using Odor Eaters Products will keep the smelly shoe problem in check.
If you won’t quit smoking for your lungs, do it for your clothes. The smoke gets trapped in everything around you and that includes your closets.
- Air everything out.
- Neutralize the remaining odor with white vinegar. Don’t worry, you won’t smell like a salad; the vinegar smell will quickly dissipate. You can mix 1/2 cup in a bucket of warm-to-hot water and wipe down the shelves, walls and floors. If the floor is carpeted, sprinkle baking soda on it and let it sit for an hour before vacuuming.
- Even if you do not smell it after your thorough cleaning, you could still benefit from using an odor absorber like charcoal or baking soda to get what’s left.
- If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to get hardcore. Pour 1/2 cup of straight bleach into a bowl or a bucket that you feel you will not accidentally tip over. Sit it inside the closet, shut the door and leave it overnight. You can also use white vinegar or coffee grounds, but bleach is a fail-safe.
If you find evidence of pest-infiltration wipe the shelves and walls down with a strong household cleaner like Pine-Sol. Not only will it kill the odor, it will leave a strong scent that bugs and mice do not want to be around. The scent will eventually fade so identify the type of pest that has invaded your closets and look into extermination or deterrent methods designed especially for your situation.
Mold and Mildew
What’s the difference between mold and mildew? Well, Wisegeek.com says, “Mold and mildew have many similar characteristics, but they are different types of fungi, and are often different in color and texture. Mold and mildew are often mentioned together as they can both grow in many of the same moist and warm locations… Mold is often black, green, red or blue in color while mildew is usually gray or white.” Whatever it is, you’re going to have to stay on top of it with bleach. Fill a spray bottle 3/4 full with hot water and pour in two capfuls of bleach. Shake it up and spray it directly on stains then let sit until they disappear. The odor will go with it.
After finding the exact location of the stain, use a pet urine neutralizer from a pet supply store. There are hand held black lights you can purchase to help locate urine (among other things). Spray the area down really well and let it sit. If the urine has seeped into wood, you may have to repeat this process 4 or 5 more times until the odor is gone. You can also sand a layer or two off of the wood and then shellac the area. The shellac will cover any remaining odor and seal it from ever bothering you again. Just keep kitty out of the closet.
General Odor Removal
If you are not sure what is causing the odor, or you just want a general odor-removing trick to try, here is an easy option that works well in most situations.
You Will Need:
- Deodorizer (choose one):
- White vinegar
- Baking soda
- Activated charcoal
- Coffee grounds
Steps to Remove the Odor:
- Select a deodorizer from the list above. Activated charcoal is said to work particularly well on organic odors like sweat. If you choose to use coffee beans, be aware that they will not only remove the odor but also replace it with a coffee smell, so make sure you choose a coffee that has a smell you like. If you choose white vinegar, don’t worry about the smell; the vinegar smell will dissipate after you remove the bowl.
- Put your selected deodorizer on a plate or in a bowl.
- Set the plate or bowl in the closet. If the closet is large or has multiple shelves, use more plates.
- Close the closet door.
- Let the deodorizer sit for several hours or overnight, then remove the deodorizer.
- Repeat this process as many times as needed for the odor to be removed. Use a fresh batch of deodorizer each time.
- Once the odors have been removed, consider putting a few sachets of potpourri in your closet to give the room a pleasant smell.
- Clean off all of the items in the closet to remove any lingering odors on them so they don’t put the odor back into the closet.
- If you have metal hangers, be sure to clean those as well. When metal becomes dirty from finger oils it can have a metal smell that gets onto clothing.