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Stinky Kitchen? 6 Ways to Banish Those Cooking Smells

Odors from pungent dishes can linger

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En español | Fish, curry, bacon, garlic — it turns out some of the best-tasting foods can make your kitchen smell less than fresh.

It's one thing while you're cooking, but when the smell lingers for hours or even days, it can be off-putting. The good news? You don't have to stop making those pungent foods — you just have to adjust your cleaning routine. There are easy ways to tackle those odors, often with items you probably already have around the house.

Here a few cleaning experts and a personal chef share some tips.

1. Vinegar does the trick

Vinegar is the jack-of-all-trades for natural cleaning, and in this case, it can help get rid of any stench.

"If the fishy smell clings to the pan and utensils that you have cooked the fish with, wash them with water and vinegar,” says Leanne Stapf, chief operating officer of The Cleaning Authority, a house-cleaning service.

You can use a mix of vinegar and lemon juice to wipe down surfaces that came in contact with the food you prepared, like most countertops (be sure to spot test first) or stovetops.

Vinegar also neutralizes airborne odors in the air. Lauren Bowen, director of franchise operations at Two Maids & A Mop, suggests putting a pot or saucepan on the stove and filling it with a cup of water and three tablespoons of vinegar. Bring the water to a boil for several minutes, allowing the steam to spread through the kitchen. As it permeates the room, it'll knock out that funky smell.

2. Create an aromatic

Even though it's a neutralizer, vinegar can have a strong smell itself, so if you prefer something a little more aromatic, you've got a few choices.

You can bring a pleasing cinnamon smell to your kitchen by putting a pot containing three cups of vinegar, one cup of water, and a handful of cinnamon sticks on to simmer for a few hours. The vinegar will break up the strong-smelling scents, while the cinnamon will give off its own delightful aroma.

If you use the same pot you used for cooking a strong-scented meal, the tactic will freshen the air and “address any lingering oils and smell on the pot itself,” says Bowen.

Chicago-based personal chef and caterer Mila Furman notes you can also swap out the vinegar for water and other aromatics.

She advises simmering three cups of water, one whole sliced lemon and one cinnamon stick for 30 minutes. “In a pinch you can use some powdered cinnamon and even oranges or limes,” Furman says.

Fresh mint leaves work well, too, if you have them on hand.

In a hurry? Furman says a spritz of essential oils will also clear the air. “A few drops of lemongrass, ginger or citrus will help neutralize,” she says.


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3. Brew a cup of coffee

There's a reason you're given coffee beans to smell in between sniffing perfumes — the smell is thought to help reset your olfactory senses. A similar approached can be applied here. “If you put a bowl full of unbrewed coffee grounds out in the open air of the kitchen, you can neutralize a curry odor,” says Bowen.

If you want to take it a step further, go through the full process of making a cup of coffee, including grinding the beans and brewing them, Bowen says. This should work to mask other smells, too, like bacon and garlic.

4. A hint of vanilla goes a long way

If the culprit is your oven, a little bit of vanilla will do the trick. This is something real estate agents often do to make a house smell delicious during a showing.

"Simply take a cup of water [in an ovenproof cup], add three to four drops of vanilla essence to it, and let it heat slowly in the oven. Within a few minutes, the oven will start smelling clean again,” says Stapf.

You'll want to keep that oven temperature at 300 degrees or less.

5. Let in the fresh air

This tip may seem obvious, but it's not a step everyone thinks of before starting a dish. If the weather isn't prohibitive, open nearby windows before you start cooking a strong-smelling meal. This will circulate the air and let some of the odor escape.

"Even a few small cracks will help air circulate better than if all the windows are tightly closed,” says Stapf.

6. Check beneath your feet

Floor mats or rugs may keep your feet more comfortable while you're cooking, but these fabrics often soak up cooking smells. If your kitchen is still stinky, you may want to look into cleaning your floor mat.

Some mats can go in the laundry or be wiped down. For those that can't, there's a simple fix. “Sprinkle baking soda on the mat and leave it overnight,” Stapf says. “In the morning, vacuum up the baking soda and the mat will no longer smell of last night's dish.”

Samantha Lande is a contributing writer who covers food, health and human interest stories for several national publications. Her work has appeared in Real Simple, Allrecipes, on the Food Network and more.

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