5 Neat ThingsJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast “[Ask a Clean Person](https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ask-a-clean-person/id996183661?i=1000382315226&mt=2).” Each week, she’ll round up five essential cleaning products, tools and organizational systems to help you live your tidiest lives.   

It’s summer and things smell! Squalor has been on a smell kick lately—chock full of lots and lots of different odor elimination solutions—and I realized that it would be helpful to put together a primer on the best odor eliminators, and which ones are best for different situations and applications. So that’s what I shall do!

White Vinegar

White vinegar is a strong asid. Most odors are bases. Combine them, and you get a level pH, and (hopefully) no more smell.
Graphic: Shep McAllister

White Vinegar is basically the OG of odor eliminating solutions; it works, essentially, because most odors are basic (as in, on the pH scale), and introducing an acid will level the pH back to neutral. This is also why scrubbing a cutting board with a cut lemon works to remove lingering food smells.


Setting out a bowl or glass full of white vinegar will remove smells from a room, a refrigerator, a cooler, etc. It can also be used with a rag to wipe out cabinets or drawers that have gotten musty smelling. It’s excellent for using in laundry to remove a mildew-y smell from towels, or body odor from gym gear.

Dr. Bronner’s

Dr. Bronner’s can be used for just about anything cleaning-related, but it really excels at getting bad smells out of fabrics.
Photo: Zach Custer

Dr. Bronner’s, I’m fond of telling people, is capital T-capital T The Thing for eliminating especially stubborn odors from clothing and textiles. Splashed gasoline on your pants? Dr. Bronner’s will take that smell out! Spilled the oil from a tin of salmon on your favorite pants? Dr. Bronner’s will make them wearable again! Dumped a to-go container of kimchi in your favorite tote bag? Well stop carrying around purse food you dope, for crying out loud. Also Dr. Bronner’s to the rescue!

Those are all real problems people have asked me about over the years that Dr. Bronner’s has solved. Goddess bless that weird soap!


Ozium is an aerosol that’s perfectly suited for getting rid of airborne smells.
Graphic: Shep McAllister

Sometimes, however, a situation requires an odor eliminating spray is required — either because you need immediate odor relief … like, say when a power outage leaves you with a fridge full of rotted foodstuffs, or someone barfs in your car. Ozium is the best of the spray odor eliminators, though Lysol is also very good since its antibacterial formula will get to the root of what’s causing those smells (bacteria). There are also places, like the car, that simply don’t lend themselves to leaving a bowl of liquid out, so sprays can be very handy indeed.

Active Charcoal

Active charcoal comes in a variety of forms, but at its most basic, you can buy them in small sacks, and just set them in smelly areas.
Photo: Amazon

Another alternative to liquid odor eliminators, which can spill, creating a whole different mess in need of cleaning, is active charcoal. Unlike vinegar and sprays like Ozium, active charcoal is odorless, so it’s a good choice for people who are very sensitive to smells. Active charcoal (it also goes by the name activated charcoal, active carbon or activated carbon) comes in brick or sachet form, or you can buy it loose and decant it into a bowl or pour it into the bottom of a smelly trashcan or cooler. Active charcoal is also the absolute best choice for keeping refrigerator odors at bay.

Bad Air Sponge

Similar to active charcoal, the Bad Air Sponge is a passive odor reducer that you set in a smelly room. Then, just sit back and let it work its magic.
Graphic: Shep McAllister

Canister-style odor eliminators like the Bad Air Sponge work similarly to active charcoal, they’re like the odor neutralizing equivalent of the Ronco — just set it and forget it! In the case of canister-style odor eliminators, you can place them in a room, car, closet, storage unit, etc. and allow them to absorb any funky smells that are permeating the space. The Bad Air Sponge has a slight odor of its own, as do other similar products, but they are not as strong-smelling as sprays like Ozium or Lysol, and so they are a better choice for people who are scent-sensitive.