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Let’s do an exercise: Walk into the kitchen, inhale, then exhale. Get a whiff of something stale? Even if your cooking area is technically the heart of your home, it’s also usually the primary source of poor indoor air quality thanks to smoke, moisture, and off-gassing released from synthetic materials in cabinets and walls. And we haven’t even gotten to cooking odors yet.
“Strong aromas in the kitchen can permeate softer materials like curtains, furniture, drywall, and carpets,” says Marilee Nelson, an environmental consultant and cofounder of Branch Basics. But wait, there’s more: Flooring, drawers, pantries, and cabinets can also trap food smells. So what can you do to better ventilate your space and get rid of the lingering reek of last night’s scallops or this morning’s onion-friendly omelet? Nelson; Vitruvi founder Sara Panton; and Becky Rapinchuk, the cleaning expert and blogger behind Clean Mama, give us their tips for purifying the air:
Raid Your Pantry for Vodka and Vinegar
There’s a lot you can do with inexpensive, unflavored vodka and a spray bottle. The alcohol naturally kills odor-causing bacteria and doesn’t leave behind a bad scent, says Nelson, who uses it to wipe down food splatters and grease on counters and appliances. The key? Spritz a spill as soon as possible with a mixture of one part vodka and one part water.
Another super-straightforward deodorizing fix is vinegar. Both Nelson and Rapinchuk recommend placing a bowl of white vinegar on the counter overnight; the liquid will dissipate into the air and absorb odors. If the room still doesn’t pass the sniff test, Nelson says to put a saucepan on the stove and fill it with a cup of water and three tablespoons of vinegar. Bring the water to a boil, lower to a simmer, and allow the steam from the uncovered pot to permeate the kitchen.
Fun fact: Chemicals and VOCs latch on to dust. If you are picking up on a particular stench, sprinkle the ground with baking soda, let it sit for 30 minutes, then switch on the vacuum. Nelson suggests doing this once a week.
Keep a Diffuser On Hand
Panton cooks a lot with spices and herbs, which is why she created her new Clean Sweep essential oil blend. The mixture combats post-cooking scents with three fresh ingredients: pine (a natural deodorizer and antimicrobial), lemon (antibacterial), and clove (antiseptic and neutralizing). “It gives your space that instantly clean feeling, and you don’t have to lift a finger,” says Panton. You can also skip the Pine-Sol and other chemicals.
Freshen Up the Refrigerator
After you’re done vacuuming, store the open box of baking soda in the back of the refrigerator. Similar to vinegar, it absorbs smells—not masks them. If you want to make the fridge smell good at the same time, add a few drops of essential oils (Panton recommends using orange, lemon, and peppermint in this space). So long, last night’s leftovers.
Swear by Your Range Hood and Windows
Cross-ventilation is key, especially during the wintertime when indoor air pollution is at its worst. Your exhaust fan is your best friend (and the most efficient way to stop cooking odors from changing the scent of your space). If you don’t have a fan, pop open a window while you cook.
Stock Up on Activated Charcoal Pouches
These natural air purifiers are great for preventing mildew. You can DIY your own by tossing charcoal in a cotton bag or purchase a few (Nelson is a fan of the fragrance-free pouches by Moso). At home, Rapinchuk likes using them in combination with an essential oil diffuser, but their uses go beyond the kitchen: Slip them in a stinky shoe or tuck one in the side door of your car.
Combat Spills With Salt
Did your lasagna bubble over in the oven? Quickly shower some salt over the mess once the dish is out and let it sit a few minutes, then use a spatula to remove it. That way, you’ll avoid burning (and filling your kitchen with smoke) next time you turn on the oven, says Nelson.
Craft Your Own Potpourri
Nelson’s recipe for the perfect air freshener: Simmer a citrus rind (orange, lime, or grapefruit will all do), mint, and sliced lemons in some water on the stove. Almost immediately, your room will seem as good as new.
Deep Clean the Walls
If left to linger too long, greasy meat smells can seep into the walls. Take action by scrubbing down the walls with warm water, dish soap, and a rag. If you don’t notice a difference after that, Nelson suggests a Ladybug Dry Steam Heat Cleaner to accelerate the process. Both are on-the-nose solutions we can really get behind.
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