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Why Does Your House Have Its Own Smell? Experts Explain "Occupant Odor"

It's difficult—but not impossible—to change it.

Walk into someone's home, and you're bound to notice a scent. Maybe, it smells warm and spicy, like potpourri and freshly baked cookies. Or, it smells fresh and clean, like just-washed sheets and an open window. Unfortunately, things could also swing in the opposite direction. The house could smell dank and dirty, like piled-up laundry and garbage. As you're probably aware, your home has a scent, too—and you might not even notice it.

Ever wonder what causes these scents—especially the ones that build over time, as opposed to the ones that appear after you spray a room air freshener? So did we. Here, home and scent experts tell us the truth about what causes "occupancy odor" and how to change yours for the better.

READ THIS NEXT: The First Things Guests Notice About Your Living Room, According to Experts.

Many factors influence your home's scent

yellow house with green shutters
weerastudio / Shutterstock

Your home's occupancy odor is a confluence of many different scents. "This includes items such as candles, incense, essential oils, and room sprays, as well as scented cleaning products, cooking smells, laundry detergent, and pets," says Lauren Doss, cleaning guru and owner of Nashville Maids. "All of these things can add to the pleasant scent of a home and make it feel inviting and comfortable."

Of course, if you neglect any of these things, you could also wind up with an uninviting occupancy scent. Keep reading to learn the number one thing to ensure yours is positive.

Cleanliness is key.

Closeup top view of unrecognizable home cleaning products with blue bucket and a mop on the side. All products placed on white tiled bathroom floor.

If you guessed cleanliness was most important in maintaining an inviting occupancy odor, you'd be correct. "If you don't tidy up, things can go from fresh to funky in no time," says Ivo Iv, home decor, home improvement, and gardening expert and founder of Decor Home Ideas. "Nobody wants to walk into a place that smells like a locker room or a litter box, right?"

Oft-forgotten places that can harbor the worst scents include trash cans, washing machines, dishwashers, and garbage disposals. They can be a pain to clean, but if they become smelly, the scent can overwhelm the rest of your house, making it impossible for the overall fragrance to be anything resembling nice.

READ THIS NEXT: 6 Items You Should Always Have in Your Kitchen When Guests Come Over.

You and your family have an impact.

young family working in kitchen
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Interestingly enough, the people and pets who actually occupy the home influence its scent. "Humans produce a range of odors through our skin, hair, breath, and bodily functions, and these odors can accumulate in our living spaces over time," says Linda Clark, aromatherapist at Scent Selective.

"For example, a family that cooks with a lot of spices and enjoys strong-smelling foods will have a different scent profile than a family that eats more bland foods. Similarly, a household with smokers will have a different odor than one without," says Clark. Your unique lifestyle choices, such as ventilation (do you prefer to crack a window or turn on a fan?) and cleanliness, also come into play.

So can the home itself.

ivy growing on the outside of home

Even if no one were residing in your home, it would have a natural scent. "The air quality, humidity levels, and even the presence of nearby flora can all contribute to the overall scent of a home," says Clark. "For example, a home near a forest may have a different scent profile than one located in an urban area." This aroma joins with your scent to create an overall occupancy odor.

The home's age also matters. An older home may have a naturally musty smell due to the materials used during its construction and the accumulation of dust over time. Even climate can change the smell. "Homes located in humid areas may have a musty scent due to mold and mildew, while homes in dry areas may have a more neutral scent," says Clark.

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You can change your home's scent.

Open window with sealing
Nick Beer/Shutterstock

While you can't change every aspect of your home's scent, there are a few things you can do to make it smell better. "For starters, consider adding scented items such as candles and essential oils," says Doss. "Switching out cleaning products or adding air fresheners can help create a more pleasant smell in the home."

There are even more natural options. "You can also purchase houseplants that have natural fragrances to freshen up the air," Doss explains. "Open windows and doors regularly to allow fresh air in." By doing so, you'll clear stale smells and create a more pleasant one.

Finally, keep things clean! It'll go a long way in ensuring you have an occupancy odor guests enjoy.

Juliana LaBianca
Juliana is an experienced features editor and writer. Read more
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