Some friends of ours just moved into a rental house and they were having trouble getting smells out of a couple of the rooms. So I told them about our various methods of eliminating smells. I thought they might be helpful to share here as well.
There are several things that can help get smells out of buildings, depending on what the smells are.
*plates of baking soda, about 1 cup each, set out for about 15 minutes.
*bowls of vinegar (Heinz brand isn't processed with petroleum products so that's what we use), about 1 cup, set out for about 15 minutes.
*charcoal tablets (from any health food store), anywhere from 10-25 of them depending on the size of the room and the heaviness of the smell. Spread around the floor or set on 2-3 plates. Again leave them out for about 15 minutes.
*zinc tablets (a cheap brand is usually ok), again anywhere from 8-25 or even more depending on the room size or how bad the smell is.
*cut an onion in half and place both halves in a bowl of water, leave out for 20-30 minutes. If it's a big room or strong smell you can use 2 or 3 onions in different bowls.
Some of these things work better for specific smells. You can also alternate what you use, though sometimes it's best to leave a little time in between using the different items.
For moldy smells vinegar is usually best.
Note: If there's actually mold in your room/building then get out as soon as you can! Mold and mycotoxins from mold are very dangerous to health.
But if it's just a moldy/pollen smell from something you brought inside or from having doors and windows open, then vinegar is good for absorbing that. It's helpful for other smells as well.
The cut onion is great for absorbing smells like smoke (from fires), burnt smells, some toxic smells, etc.
Zinc tablets are wonderful for absorbing almost any kind of toxin. You can set them out in a room to absorb toxins. You can put them in new appliances for 15-20 minutes to absorb the 'new' smell and chemicals. You can even hold some zinc tablets in your right hand for several minutes if you've been exposed to some toxin like pesticide, mercury, etc., and it will help draw them out of your body.
Charcoal is another good absorber of toxins, similar to zinc. You can also hold charcoal tables in your right hand to absorb different toxins you've encountered.
For the most part we've found that 15 minutes is about the optimum absorbency time (except for the onion). A few more minutes probably won't hurt, but once the item has absorbed all it can, it needs to be thrown away so it doesn't give off the smells or toxins again. Also, when picking up the zinc or charcoal tablets after leaving them in a room, use a paper towel or something, not your fingers, just to be on the safe side of not touching whatever toxins they've absorbed.
Note: As far as I know, nothing can completely remove the smell of cigarette smoke. Some of the above things should lessen it, but the smell (and toxins) is pretty much there forever.
Here's an example of one way I use these tools:
If we've got the windows open to air out our house and suddenly in come toxic fumes of petroleum, cadmium, and smoke, we of course close up the house. Then I'll set out a few plates with zinc tablets for 15 minutes to absorb the cadmium and other toxins. After that I'll set out a bowl or two of vinegar to absorb the bad smells. After that I might set out a couple of plates of baking soda to catch any remaining smells, and to absorb some of the vinegar smell. (My mom doesn't handle the vinegar smell well, so we almost always use baking soda after vinegar.)
It's sad but true that indoor air quality is much worse than outdoor air quality, so along with using an air purifier, I hope these tools will help improve your indoor air and eliminate unwanted smells.
If you have questions about dealing with a specific smell, feel free to post it in the comments or email me.
P.S. If you need to get smells out of clothes, here are a few options:
-To remove moldy smells and some fabric softeners, try soaking the clothes in 2 pints of vinegar for anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours depending on how bad the smell is. Then wash like you normally would.
-For chemicals like gasoline, formaldehyde, etc. try this recipe for soaking clothes using coca-cola and baking soda. It works really well for many things!
-For stubborn smells, (like once we accidentally got some flax oil in our laundry and the smell was overpowering), a friend told us about a product called EM-1. It's quite amazing for many uses, removing smells is just one. Use a small amount and soak the clothes for several hours or overnight. Then wash them.
Note: All of my clothes are cotton and they do fine with each of the above items. But I can't say how clothes made from synthetic materials (i.e. polyester, rayon, etc.) will react to these things.
If you need to repeat any of the above options, that's ok too. Sometimes it takes a few soaks to get the clothes fresh and clean again.