Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Odor Removal

One of the constants goals of civilization seems to be making bad smells go away. Whether through soap, perfume, or deodorant, we regularly try to make things smell better. This can be a more significant issue with long term storage of fabrics; to this day I can close my eyes and vividly recall the childhood memory of canvas that had been in a box since the previous summer’s camping trip.

While there are a variety of products on the market that claim to remove or cover an odor, many of them don’t work as well as advertised, and their availability depends upon a working supply chain. However, there are still a number of things we can do with relatively simple ingredients to remove or cover smells we don’t want. The critical question is, are you trying to remove an odor or merely mask it with another scent?

Masking Odors
Masking is generally easier, though often temporary, and most essential oil-based sprays and scented candles can do that with varying amounts of success.

Scented Candles
Scented candles are another common method used to cover odors, but not just burning them. Placing a vanilla-scented candle in a tub or container for long term storage will infuse the contents with that scent, while absorbing some offensive smells. The same thing can be done with scented soaps or herbal sachets. In times past it was common to put pieces of cedar in with wool garments and blankets to help keep moths away, the cedar also infused the fabric with its pleasant fragrance.

Essential Oils
 My wife and I use a lavender-based spray when we stay at a hotel or friend’s house as a familiar and comforting scent. You can make your own essential oil spray fairly simply, using this recipe:

  • 2 cups distilled water
  • 2 tablespoons unflavored vodka or rubbing alcohol
  • 15-20 drops preferred essential oil
Mix the ingredients and put in a spray bottle. Increasing the alcohol to water ratio will make a spray that evaporates faster. 

Keep in mind, though, that citrus-based oils can degrade plastic over time, so if you are using that type of oil, consider a glass spray bottle.

When buying essential oils, make sure they’re the real deal. If all the different types are the same price, they probably aren’t all the same quality. Additionally, keep in mind that many essential oils are toxic to pets. From the Animal Medical Center of Deer Valley:
Essential oils harmful to cats
These include, but are not limited to:
  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus
  • Clove
  • Eucalyptus
  • Lavender
  • Oregano
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Sweet birch
  • Tea Tree
  • Thyme
  • Wintergreen
  • Ylang Ylang
Essential oils harmful to dogs
These include, but are not limited to:
  • Anise
  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus
  • Clove
  • Garlic
  • Juniper
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Sweet birch
  • Tea Tree
  • Thyme
  • Yarrow
  • Ylang Ylang
Symptoms of your pet having a reaction
The symptoms of a reaction to essential oils are virtually identical to those seen in animals that have suffered poisoning. These include:
  • Breathing problems
  • Difficulty walking
  • Drooling
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tremors
  • Pawing at the face/mouth
  • Rash that develops on his skin
  • Redness or burns on their lips, tongue, skin or gums
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness / collapse
You may also be able to smell the essence of the essential oil on your pet's coat, skin or breath.
Removing Odors
True odor removal is difficult, time-consuming, and often expensive. Only you can decide whether or not the result is worth the effort. 

Skunk Musk
As anyone who’s ever had to deal with a skunked dog will relate, that’s not an easy smell to remove. There are many different home remedies, and the three most common are:

  • tomato juice (can be pricey)
  • hydrogen peroxide (also pricey and can damage fur)
  • vinegar (I spoke more about vinegar here)

The main benefit of tomato juice and vinegar is the acid helps break down skunk musk. As I had a darker colored dog the last time I dealt with this issue, I didn’t try hydrogen peroxide. In my experience,  tomato juice and vinegar were equally effective, but vinegar was noticeably less expensive and much less messy.

Cigarette Odor
Back when I was involved with WWII living history, I purchased an M1923 cartridge belt for my M1 Garand. The belt was in excellent condition, but it came from the home of a heavy smoker. I washed it several times and couldn’t get rid of the smell. What finally worked was packing it in baking soda and sealing it in a plastic tub for a week. After that, even when it got wet in the rain, there was almost no cigarette smell.

Mold and Mildew
Depending on the material, a 1:10 mixture of bleach to water works well at removing mold and mildew and their related smells. For more delicate fabrics spraying them with 91% or better rubbing alcohol, Everclear, or unflavored vodka (either straight or diluted with water) will destroy the odor causing organisms.

Clothing Odors
Finally, don’t forget about open air and sunlight. Hanging clothing outside on a dry sunny day can help remove odors considerably. However, for those with severe allergies, this is not recommended.

During a disaster, life will stink enough, and hopefully these suggestions will make that stink slightly less literal.

1 comment:

  1. There is a machine called an ozone generator. It converts oxygen to ozone.

    Ozone is toxic to humans, animals, insects and bacteria.

    It kills mildew bacteria, killing the smell as well.

    They are not cheap, but they are not wildly expensive either.

    They cannot be used where animals or people will breathe the ozone, so you have to get creative with cardboard boxes or closets.

    Ozone will kill mice, cockroaches and other pests, BUT it is also harmful to rubber and ither substances.

    Just an option I have used successfully.


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