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Help! My Apartment Reeks Of Drunken-Cooking-Incident Smoke!

Illustration for article titled Help! My Apartment Reeks Of Drunken-Cooking-Incident Smoke!

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Check the Squalor Archive for assistance. Are you still dirty? Email her.

The other night, I came home drunk as usual, but this time I was hungry. I boiled some water to cook some spaghetti noodles, and instead of passing out then, I proceeded to pass out AFTER dumping a box of noodles in the pot. Four hours later, I awoke to a decent cloud of smoke filling the entire apartment (I had disabled the smoke detector like a genius, because it was annoying).

I immediately opened every window, dumped the lump of coal the noodles had become, and went back to sleep. Upon awakening in the morning, everything in the apartment (clothes, furniture, rooms) smelled like nasty burning. The clothes and couch and fabrics were easy enough to clean, but now whenever I come home, I'm greeted with the acrid smell of burnt food. I'm in Chicago, and it's pretty cold here, so I can't leave my windows open for too long. I've tried various air fresheners, scented candles, Febreze, etc., but the place still reeks ferociously, especially the kitchen. Aside from repainting the place (not sure if I can even do that, as I'm renting), is there anything I can do to get rid of the smell?

Holy crap. Well yeah, there are things you can do to get rid of the smell, but before I tell you what they are, I'm going to have to insist that you go re-enable that smoke detector right this instant.

I'll wait.

(That goes for the rest of you, too.)

Okay, now that my Fire Marshall Bill routine is no longer needed, I can get back to the work of being a Clean Person.


Regulars here are probably already bracing for my white-vinegar routine, and yeah, that's coming. But first, let's back up and talk for a second about why air fresheners, candles, and Febreze didn't work.

Those products are great at adding a nice smell to your home; what they are not great at is taking an existing odor and eliminating it. I know that Febreze says that's what it does, and if you use it and are happy with it, by all means continue to do so. But from my experience—and from your many, many emails detailing the failure of Febreze to make things not smell—it's not a product I recommend.

Candles and air fresheners, on the other hand, are products I believe in. But not to eliminate odors, no no. Those are the things you should use to make your home smell a way you like after strong and offensive odors are taken away. Otherwise, you'll just end up with a fish-and-lavender-smelling kitchen, and that's not a thing most people are likely to want. (There are probably a few pervs out there who do want that, but let's act like we don't know them.)

Alright, here it comes.

White vinegar.

I put this one first so those of you who enjoy flying into a "SHE'S A SHILL FOR BIG VINEGAR" rage whenever it comes up can scroll quickly down to the comments to get your anger on. The rest of you, stick with me.


I can't even remember if I told you this or not, but I recently found out why white vinegar works to eliminate odors. It is not, as I'd chosen to believe, because of magic. [THROWS A FEW POTS AND PANS AND CAULDRONS ABOUT IN A FIT OF TEMPER] [picks them all up and sets them back in their proper place].

Instead, the white vinegar—which should be poured into a small bowl or cup or mug or some such, and set out to do its thing—works to zap odors because, according to Good Housekeeping at least, "Vinegar is acidic and odors are alkaline, so the former will neutralize the latter." I mean, that makes some sense! (I still prefer "magic" as an explanation.) By that logic, doing things like boiling citrus peels should also serve to kill that smoke smell—JUST DON'T FORGET THAT THE CITRUS PEELS ARE BOILING, AHEM. I offer that suggestion for those of you who cannot abide the vinegar. Speaking of those of you who cannot abide the vinegar! Let us now move on to your not-vinegar options.


The Bad Air Sponge

I have an unnatural affection for The Bad Air Sponge because I love the name and the packaging oh so very, very much. And then, also, because it works. I've recommended it to a lot of actual real-life people who exist in my real life and who were dealing with everything from rank hockey gear to funky-smelling closets. Every one of them has come back with rave reviews. So! The Bad Air Sponge, there's another option for you.


But wait, there's more!

Crystal odor-eliminators

There are a number of crystal odor-eliminating products on the market, and you will probably be fine with any of them. If you need a particular brand-name to look out for, Fresh Wave is one. But really, if you dip into any hardware store or big-box home-improvement joint, you're likely to find several options in various scents, and you should feel confident grabbing whichever one most appeals to you.



The final product I want to mention before tossing it out to the crowd to ask for your best-loved odor-eliminating tricks and tips (I know you have them!) is OdoBan. I mention it for a few reasons: First, it's possible that your kitchen surfaces, including the cabinetry, are retaining a smoky smell, and the spray product can be used to wipe all that mess down. Also, that same product can be used to treat any lingering smells in upholstered furniture. I know our LW said he got the smell out of his furniture and clothes, but—and I'm sorry, because I don't mean to be mean about things—I kinda don't believe him. I think the furniture and stuff still smells of smoke, and I think that's part of the problem, and so, there, I've given you a way of dealing with it. Done and done.


Jolie Kerr is the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume); more of her cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.


Image by Sam Woolley.

Adequate Man is Deadspin's new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.

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