How to Keep Your Bathroom Smelling Fresh

By: Sara Elliott  | 
Even if your bathroom is spotless, there may be odors lurking beneath the surface.

Key Takeaways

  • To keep your bathroom smelling fresh, address both unavoidable and controllable odors with cleaning and deodorizing strategies.
  • Use matches or point-of-use deodorizers to immediately neutralize odors. Maintain cleanliness to prevent mold, mildew and bacterial growth.
  • Regularly clean and ventilate the bathroom, wash textiles, sanitize sponges, remove hair from drains and deodorize surfaces with baking soda and vinegar to maintain a fresh environment.

Where the bathroom is concerned, the sweet smell of cleaning success -- is no smell at all. That can be a challenge, though. Bathrooms are ground zero for some of the dirtiest and most pungently odiferous activities in your home.

When you think about it, there are actually two basic types of bathroom odors. First, there are the obvious, unavoidable culprits that come from using the facilities for their intended purpose, but there are also some more subtle contenders that can develop in moist and germy places. The solution is to approach bathroom cleaning and deodorizing from two different angles: Minimize the impact of unavoidable odors, and make every effort to keep controllable odors from developing in the first place.


For unavoidable odors, you may already know about the impact of striking a match in a stinky bathroom. It almost completely masks the organic smell -- temporarily, anyway. There's actually some debate about how a match strike can combat odor. It may be the result of the interaction of sulfur dioxide with the human olfactory sense. The organic smell just can't compete. It could also be that the release of activated carbon in the combustion process neutralizes the sulfur in the air. Regardless of the science involved, keep a box of matches and an ashtray in your bathroom to encourage adult family members and visitors to use this old-timey air-freshening tactic. Some folks think it works better than most conventional air fresheners -- and you can't beat it for economy.

If you think striking a match is a bit too antiquated an option for you, odor neutralizing products like Courtesy Flush and Just a Drop are point-of-use personal deodorizers that claim to work as well as matches. If you think your family or friends will use them, keeping a bottle on hand might be a good idea. The principle is pretty simple: Adding a drop of deodorizer to the toilet prior to using the facilities eliminates odor before it has a chance to spread. Point-of-use odor neutralizers are considered personal care products, so carrying a small bottle with you when you're out and about could help you avoid potential embarrassment when you visit a location with poor ventilation, too. Your hostess will thank you for your consideration.


Bathroom Odor Prevention Tips

The unavoidable odors caused by toilet use aren't the only smells that can create problems in the bathroom. Bathrooms are often steamy and usually a little damp -- a great environment for mold, mildew and all manner of bacteria. The best way to the avoid odors and health hazards these threats represent is to keep your bathroom as clean as possible. Your best bet is to adopt a regular bathroom cleaning routine. These tips will help:

  • Use your bathroom's exhaust fan often. In fact, wire it to your light switch so it's always on when the bathroom is in use. It's the best way to vent moisture that can seep into cracks and crevices and become a breeding ground for mold, mildew bacteria and odor.
  • If there's a window in your bathroom, open it periodically to air the room and vent steam.
  • Wash bathroom towels, shower and window curtains, rugs and mats regularly.
  • Sanitize cleaning sponges by moistening them and placing them in your microwave on high for 2 minutes. You can eliminate 98 percent of the bacteria on sponges that way and extend their useful life to a month or more.
  • Remove accumulated hair from your bathroom drains periodically. This will help keep them smelling cleaner and running faster, too.
  • Wipe and dry personal care product bottles and jars that typically sit on your countertops or in your shower stall. Moisture tends to pool under them and create an environment where bacteria can grow.
  • Use trash can liners in your bathroom's wastepaper basket, and pitch bathroom trash at least once a week.
  • Clean the toilet thoroughly. That means the bowl, tank, seat and lid as well as the area at the base and back of the toilet. There are any number of products available that can tackle tough toilet jobs, but whether you go green or opt for traditional cleansers, keep your throne fit for a king.
  • Clean your shower enclosure, tub and glass shower doors regularly. Soap scum doesn't smell terrible, but over time it traps dead skin, oil, dirt, hair and gunk that will begin to smell eventually.
  • Clean the grout and caulk in your bathroom with a mixture of one part chlorine bleach to five parts water. It will kill bacteria, mold and mildew that can produce odor. It will also reduce the appearance of dark spots caused by mildew.
  • Deodorize your drains with baking soda and vinegar. Add a cup of baking soda each to your sink and tub drains, and leave it in place for a couple of hours. Don't turn on the faucets, or you'll wash the soda down the drain. After 2 hours, add a cup of white vinegar to each drain, wait 5 minutes and rinse with hot water. The baking soda eliminates odors, and the bubbling action caused by the addition of vinegar loosens any smelly gunk so the rinse water can wash it away. Repeat the process once a month or so.
  • Refresh the air in your bathroom by adding a couple of drops of essential oil to an existing dish of potpourri or to a few cotton balls assembled in a dish. For a few pennies, your room will smell fresh for hours. Essential oils are available in lots of scents, and a small bottle goes a long way.


Frequently Asked Questions

How can I prevent mold growth in my bathroom?
Keep your bathroom dry and well-ventilated, use an exhaust fan during showers, and open windows periodically to reduce humidity and prevent mold growth.
Are natural remedies effective for bathroom odor control?
Yes, natural remedies like baking soda and vinegar can effectively neutralize bathroom odors and are a safe, eco-friendly alternative to chemical deodorizers.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Agudo, Jessie. "Some Common Household Odors and Tips to Combat Them in Your Home." Knoji. (5/29/12).
  • Campbell, Mel. "The Stupid Question: Why Does Striking A Match Remove Toilet Smells?" The Enthusiast. 8/13/10. (5/29/12).
  • Basenotes Forum. "What do you use to deodorize your bathroom?" 11/17/08. (5/29/12).
  • Bukisa. "10 Household Tips on How to Get Rid of Toilet Smells." 5/12/10. (5/29/12).
  • Emmerson, Kassidy. "Homemade Remedies to Get Rid of Bathroom Odors." Yahoo Voices. (5/29/12).
  • Courtesy Flush. "Stop Toilet Odors Before They Start." (5/29/12).
  • Do It Yourself. "Bathroom Cleaning Tips." (5/29/12).
  • Heloise, "Ask Heloise: What's That Smell?" Good Housekeeping. (5/29/12).
  • Housecleaning Tips. "Eliminate Bathroom Odor Completely." (5/29/12).
  • Just a Drop. "American's Favorite Bathroom Odor Eliminator." (5/29/12).
  • Toiletology. "Toiletology 101." (5/29/12).
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control. "Seven Keys to a Safer Healthier Home." (5/29/12).