11 Natural Air Fresheners to Remove Pantry Odors And Smells

Among the many annoyances in daily life, strong odors in various areas of your home can be one of them. Say you just cooked fish in your kitchen – how do you get rid of the smell that lingers for days afterward? This is especially relevant to those who like to spend time in the kitchen, strong odors can become a nuisance extremely quickly.

Luckily, there are a several ways to absorb and reduce strong odors naturally. That’s right – you can put away the Febreze because there are plenty of other options to return areas of your home to their regular, nothing, smell.

DIY pantry shelves with various items stockpiled
DIY pantry shelves with various items stockpiled

One problem area for many people is in the pantry. Because you are storing many different types of food, for longer periods of time, the pantry is one of the number one places where strong and unpleasant odors may linger.

If you’re in a disaster situation, and stuck in the house, you happen to have to go to into the pantry often as most people do. This can quickly become an annoying and unpleasant task.

So, making sure to clean the pantry often and rotating your stock to avoid items that might go bad first, is always a great way to prevent unwanted smells from drifting further. If you happen to have a hidden pantry, then you definitely do not want strong smells alerting people to it.

This is why it is so imperative to know how to get rid of these unpleasant odors in the pantry, and just about anywhere else.

box of baking soda

Baking Soda

The tried and true method for removing unpleasant smells has been, for a very long time, baking soda. Baking soda is often touted as a remedy for curing terrible smells because it does not just mask odors – it absorbs them completely, leaving your pantry, fridge, or any other area of your home, completely smell-free.

So, what is baking soda? First off, baking soda is sodium bicarbonate (sodium hydrogen carbonate). You’ll probably notice that this chemical makeup is reminiscent of regular kitchen salt (sodium chloride); that’s because baking soda technically is a salt.

Though baking soda typically appears as a powder, it is a crystalline like we know most salts to be. As you’ve probably noticed, baking soda is used for a great many things in the household – from cooking, to cleaning, to pest control, and many more.

This is why there are several methods to freshen up your pantry or refrigerator using baking soda:

  • The most commonly cited method is leaving a shallow dish of baking soda uncovered to the air in your pantry. Replace this container as necessary.
  • If you find that your pantry smells because something has spilled or rotted in it, you may discover that you have to clean the surface itself before the smell will truly go away. Do this by mixing a solution of baking soda and hot water (a quarter cup to a half cup of baking soda dissolved in a few cups of hot water) and using this mixture to scrub the surface. Any deeply ingrained smell won’t stand a chance.
  • If you keep your garbage can in your pantry, you can sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda into it to absorb any malodors in the trash as well.


If you’ve ever gone shopping for perfume, you’ll know that coffee grounds are often placed in small containers on shelves to “clear your palette”, so to speak, for smelling different perfumes. Luckily for us, coffee grounds can be used to clear up more than perfume smells.

Similar to baking soda, coffee beans, or coffee grounds, can be used to absorb bad smells in areas of your home (due to their nitrogen content). However, unlike baking soda coffee grounds will be fragrant on their own, so this is a great method if you enjoy the smell of coffee.

coffee grounds on small plate in the fridge
coffee grounds on small plate in the fridge

The best way to use coffee as a deodorizer for your pantry is to place a few grounds, or whole beans, in a shallow dish and leave this dish in your pantry. Replace the grounds (or beans) as needed. You can do the same in your fridge.

Another tip is that if you have some leftover brewed coffee grounds, don’t throw those either. They can be used to scrub shelving, bins and floors that have had rotting garlic, onions, potatoes, or other strong offensive odors that could draw the attention of sensitive noses.

bottle of vinegar next to bottle of apple cider vinegar on kitchen counter


Another miracle worker in the household world is vinegar, which has a variety of uses, from applications in gardening to cooking and cleaning. You can spray a concoction of vinegar and water onto surfaces to clean and disinfect them. So, it makes sense that this versatile acid would have deodorizing properties as well.

The reason for this is that since most smells have a pH level of above 7, which makes them a base. Vinegar is an acid. So, when vinegar molecules come into contact with odor molecules, an acid-base neutralization occurs; thus, eliminating both odors – in this case, your bad smell, and eventually, the smell of vinegar).

Vinegar smells on its own, but because of the way it eliminates odors, the vinegar smell does go away after some time. There are many ways to utilize vinegar for removing bad smells from your pantry.

Like coffee and baking soda, you can simply leave a shallow container of white vinegar or cider vinegar open in your pantry to neutralize bad odors. You can apply this method to any part of the house where you want to eliminate odors – not just the pantry!

Many people suggest simmering about a cup of white vinegar on your stove for roughly an hour to neutralize odors throughout the whole house. Make sure you leave your pantry door open so that it works in there as well.

For the really ingrained odors, such as rotting food or spilt items on a surface, you can also use a vinegar-water solution to scrub the area and deodorize it. There are many formulations for cleaners involving vinegar; one common ratio is one cup of white vinegar to a gallon of water.

You can do some trial and error to see what ratios work the best for you. However, its recommended that you do some research beforehand to make sure that vinegar works well with the type of surface that you need to clean, as not all surfaces are compatible with vinegar.

Vinegar remains one of the most useful household items due to how diverse its uses are. Deodorizing your pantry is just one of many other uses for the chemical.

Vanilla Extract

Unfortunately, vanilla extract doesn’t have quite as many deodorizing properties as the methods listed above. Nonetheless, it does have its own strong and delightful smell that is excellent at masking malodors anywhere in the home. If you like how vanilla smells, then this might be the perfect tactic for you.

There’s a wide range of methods for using vanilla extract to mask bad odors, and some of these work better for larger areas, such as the entire kitchen or home, rather than just one space, like the pantry. However, if you keep your pantry door open while attempting these, you should see a difference in the smell throughout.

  • Bake a small amount of vanilla extract (two tablespoons) at 300 degrees Fahrenheit in an oven safe container for 20 minutes. Make sure that you place the container on the middle rack of the oven. Don’t forget it’s there, or else it could burn.
  • Similarly, you can also simmer vanilla on your stovetop for 20 minutes, or microwave it on high for a minute. Once the smell of vanilla has propagated to your satisfaction, dump out the extract and enjoy your new and pleasant-smelling home.
  • If your pantry has a lightbulb in it, you can sprinkle a few drops onto it and turn on the lights. The heat from the lightbulb will cause the extract to evaporate, scenting the air with a delicious fragrance. You can also buy rings that go around lightbulbs to disperse the smell.

While this method won’t eliminate the odor quite as thoroughly because it does not absorb or neutralize smell as well as the previous two methods.

Vanilla is a strong enough ingredient to mask odor fairly well, so that your house smells pleasant instead of unpleasant. If you’re aiming for a pantry that smells like nothing, this may not be the best method for you.


One commonly overlooked solution to pantry odors is simple ventilation. pantries are very often enclosed, and sometimes constitute a separate room to themselves, one that rarely gets good air flow. all other things being equal, and with no other problems present, simple stale air can smell bad enough to be highly noticeable.

The solution, happily, is simply to improve the ventilation either by opening the door to allow fresh air to flow into the space and trapped odors to flow out where they will hopefully dissipate, or by mechanically improving ventilation through the use of a fan.

This can be as simple or as complicated as you desire based on your preferred results, budget and lifestyle. Even something as simple as a floor fan blowing past the louvered doors of a pantry could be more than adequate to freshen it.

Alternately, a small electric fan could be installed near the top of the pantry to either evacuate trapped air, in the case of an exhaust fan, or blow the air around and out through crevices in the case of a traditional air mover.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are a popular, all natural method of improving the smell of a space, and many essential oils also have a natural deodorizing quality that will actively eliminate bad odors while replacing them with pleasant smells.

There are as many essential oils on the market used for their fragrance as you can count, and almost as many ways to distribute that fragrance. You can use an electric essential oil warmer or atomizer, or rely on a simpler non-electric option like the use of a vial and reads that slowly but steadily wick the fragrance up and into the air.

Adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the corners of your pantry can mask any light malodors as eucalyptus is antibacterial and antifungal.

Any or all of these are worth a try, but it is worth noting that the fragrances could affect produce, particularly ones that are delicate.

Also, if using any of the more aggressive options like an atomizer, understand that repeated applications will slowly but surely build up a thin but detectable film on all the surfaces or the oil particles come to rest.

Dried Mustard, Sage, Mints, or Other Herbs

Add a half-cup of dried mustard into 1.5 gallons of water. Wet a sponge, paper towel, or old rag with this solution and wipe down walls, shelves, and flooring to remove the smells. You can also pour this up into a spray bottle to make applying easier.

table salt


Ordinary table salt absorbs odors, and makes a nice scrubbing agent.

  • Sprinkle the salt on any spills or areas where jars of canned food items have gone bad and exploded in the pantry. You just need to add a little bit of water to make a paste. Softly scrub the area to remove the cause of the odor.

Lemons, and Other Acidic Fruits

Many people have heard of using lemons, and the successes of it. The ascorbic acid in many citrus fruits will eliminate rank odors.

  • Cut the lemon or citrus fruit in half and place it with the cut side up in a bowl of water. Leave this in the corners of the pantry and allow it to work its magic.
  • Another way to use citrus fruits is to make a pomander. These are extremely simple to make. Just stick cloves into the fruit until the surface is completely covered. Tie a string or twine around it and hang it up in your pantry. This will keep things smelling fresh for several years.
  • You can also mix lemon juice and water for another cleaning solution to get rid of ingrained odors on surfaces.

Dryer Sheets

Placing a dryer sheet in your pantry, or anywhere else, where you want to deodorize – even the inside of a musty book. A dryer sheet left overnight will deodorize it.

Simmered Spices Mix

You can simmer a mixture of spices on your stove to get rid of bad odors throughout your home and make your home smell like autumn. Achieve this by simmering lemon or orange peels, cinnamon sticks, and cloves in water for as long as it takes to smell better, or to the scent of your liking.

Make sure to leave your pantry door open or place the steaming pot of spices on a towel in the middle of your pantry. Close the door to trap the aroma inside.

After a little time, you can remove the pot from the pantry after it has cooled and the scent has died down. You can also reheat this mixture to use in another room.

Common Causes for Bad Pantry Odors

freshening up your pantry is one thing, but if you don’t tackle the root cause of the odor you’ll just be trying to layer something that smells good over something that smells bad, potentially really bad, leading to that “flowers at the morgue” sort of a mixture that is somehow worse than a bad smell alone.

But not to worry, most pantry odors result from just one of a few causes and all of them are pretty easy and quick to sort out. once you nip the problem in the bud, you can move on to airing it out and freshening.

Rotting, spoiled or bad food

Far and away the most common cause of nasty odors emanating from your pantry is also the most obvious. The pantry is where you keep your food and food that spoils typically smells pretty bad, and can smell downright nauseating.

Any organic matter that is allowed to rot, spoil, go bad or otherwise turn rancid can turn your otherwise happy pantry into a charnel house of nasty smells.

Any food that is properly sealed inside an airtight container is less likely to smell terrible even when it does go bad because the gases and bacterial byproducts of decomposition are kept out of the open air.

So, when starting your search for the perpetrator, start with things like fruits and vegetables, particularly potatoes, onions, yams and turnips but also other dry goods that are rarely kept in airtight containers such as beans, grains, rice and similar fare.

Get some light in there and really look closely, as anything that is obviously discolored or is sitting in a sticky or glossy patch on the shelf could very well be the culprit.

Once you have eliminated the most likely suspects, move on to boxed, sealed and other processed foods. go gingerly and let your nose lead the way, and use maximal caution if you decide to crack open anything that looks suspicious because you could release a green cloud of stink that will make the mummies curse look tame by comparison.

Mold, mildew or fungus

Anytime you have damp, still air there’s a high probability that blooms of microbiological life could take up residence, particularly mold, mildew and fungus. Warmer regions and wet seasons make this geometrically more likely to occur then dry, cold times and places.

Your pantry is an ideal location since it is naturally enclosed and rarely well ventilated, and the presence of additional biomatter further increases the probability of an outbreak.

When you open your pantry if you notice that all together two common musty smell that reminds you of someone’s basement or attic, you very likely have mold, mildew or fungus to blame. you might even catch just a whiff of it, just a tinge, not enough to even convince you that it is present and upon inspection you might find nothing.

However, don’t be thrown off the track so easily because the outbreak could actually be behind the walls of your pantry.

also note that mold, mildew and fungus sensitivities are quite common in many people, so if you have someone in your house that is already a known sufferer from allergies to any of the above and they seem particularly wigged out by the pantry or just can’t shake the sniffles and runny nose inside the house, this might well be the problem because the pantry is a high traffic area.

Insect infestation

An infestation of insects in the pantry is emergency enough, but when undetected long enough it can make the whole pantry smell positively rank.

Weevils, beetles, mites and more can thoroughly contaminate your food supply by gorging themselves on it and even though they happily roam to and fro over your food they don’t have manners enough to relieve themselves elsewhere, and will deposit liquid and solid waste wherever they go. 

Between the eating and the aftermath this can easily turn your food, particularly produce and dry goods, into a nasty mass of highly odorific goop. A tangy, peppery or slightly sour odor is a clue along with the obvious tip off of the physical presence of insects.

Your first order of business is to locate, remove and destroy the infested foodstuffs and then expand your search to make sure you have located and eliminated the source of the infestation along with any eggs that might be left behind.

Once that is done, clear the pantry, every shelf, and thoroughly clean and disinfect before allowing it to air out and that should take care of it.

Rodent infestation

Another pest that is a perennial presence in the average pantry is the order of rodents, most particularly mice and rats.

You might think they are fuzzy and cute or scuttling and horrifying, but whatever your assessment of their aesthetic qualities you can be completely assured that all of them are nasty, breaking into your food no matter how hard you try to secure it with their razor sharp teeth, and then pooping and peeing all over the place as they feast.

This is a significant health hazard, but also nasty smelling, and combined with the odor of the oils that lubricate their furs you’ll know when it rodents have been around for a while by the characteristic musty and slightly spicy odor. 

Eliminating the odor left by their passage and by their leavings is simple enough, but this will do you no good if they are allowed to remain and come and go as they please.

Locate their usual routes and either track them or get rid of them them prior to disposing of them or else you’ll still be suffering with ruined food and a terrible odor in your pantry.

Dead rodent

Sadly, the nastiest, most noticeable and most pervasive cause of pantry odors is also one of the most common, and might very well result from your efforts to eliminate the aforementioned rodent investigation.

Expanding on this further, rodents, particularly small field and house mice, usually commute through your home and to their feeding grounds, that’s your pantry, via the spaces are behind the walls.

Regrettably, there are many hazards behind these Walls including inescapable voids and Chambers between the studs that mice are notorious for getting caught in and either starving to death or dying of dehydration.

Even if they just die from old age somewhere behind the Walls of your pantry, they will begin to decompose and then stink furiously and anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days after death.

The unmistakable odor of dead rodent will grow, and grow, and grow, intensifying into an unbearable stink that will drive some family members right out of the home.

Your only option is to hone in on the location where the smell seems to be strongest and then cut open the wall or otherwise access the space to remove the rodent carcass.

If you are unwilling or unable to do this, you’ll have to endure for a couple of weeks until the smell completely vanishes. With the body gone you can spot clean the site with bleach or strong antibacterial cleaner to help eliminate the remnant.


As you can see, there are a range of methods available for deodorizing your pantry and various areas of your home.

The best part about many of these solutions is that these items are generally easily found in your home. Almost everyone has access to at least one of these solutions – even if you find yourself in a disaster situation and you’re stuck in your home.

These methods, through some easily accessible materials, you can be comfortable within a pleasant-smelling home.

2 thoughts on “11 Natural Air Fresheners to Remove Pantry Odors And Smells”

  1. Vanilla extract would be an expensive choice for a deodorizer. I would stick with baking soda – cheap & effective.

  2. It seems thee are very good options for hard surfaces. What would you suggest for sour liquid which has seeped into particle board a bad smell (It cannot be moved outside into the sun)?

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