Whether you forgot a pan on the stove, really overcooked a roast in the oven or set the microwave too high for a bag of popcorn, the smell of burnt food can take over your kitchen and sometimes other parts of the house quickly … and then linger for days. And it’s more common than you might think. According to a recent survey, two-thirds of us have burned food in the kitchen and more than half of us have burned a pot or pan — and we’re willing to bet 100% of those surveyed were scrambling to learn how to get the burnt smell out of their house. That’s why we talked to experts for their tips on restoring your home to its former sweet-smelling state after a kitchen mishap. Here’s what you need to do if it happens to you.
How to get burnt smell out of the house
1. Get rid of the source
“The first thing to do is take the burned item out of the house, so it doesn’t keep spreading the bad odor,” advises realtor and home cleaning and organizing pro Stephanie Booth, who’s advised many clients on how to remove odors from homes in her seven years in the real estate business. “Whatever you do, don’t put it in the kitchen garbage pail. That will only cause the odor to continue lingering.” Instead, place the pot, pan or bowl outside to cool before disposing of it in an outdoor trash can. If the pan isn’t ruined, it can be scrubbed out later.
2. Let some air in
Next, you want to get as much of the odor out of your home as fast as possible. “Do this by creating an air exchange,” advises Jason Roberts, the owner of a SERVPRO fire and water cleanup restoration company in Central Pennsylvania. This means opening windows on opposite sides of your home and putting a fan blowing outward into one of them. “You can also create negative pressure by opening just one window, placing a fan inside blowing out, and then sealing any extra window space around the fan,” he says. This blows the smoke and other odors in the air out of the house and fills your home with makeup air.
“Another thing that will help is moving a portable air purifier into the room,” says Booth, who explains that particles in the air are what causes odor. “A purifier will remove at least some of those particles, using a fan to suck them in and then trapping them inside the filter of the machine.” The vent hood above your stove also has a replaceable charcoal filter, and getting that running will circulate the air and help remove the odor as well.
3. Start cleaning
This is the trickier part. How you clean depends on what food got burnt and where.
Burnt popcorn in the microwave? Cleanup may be relatively easy. First, wipe out any burnt debris or loose pieces of food. Then mix a cup of water with a tablespoon of either vinegar or lemon juice and heat in the microwave for 2-5 minutes, say the folks at Whirlpool. Then wipe down the interior of the microwave with paper towels or a sponge. If the smell persists and is severe though, you’ll need to deodorize overnight with a box of baking soda and also change the filter on your microwave. (Consult your owners’ manual for how to do this for your specific model.)
See Booth’s TikTok video on how to clean a microwave:
Burnt toast? Who hasn’t forgotten they left a piece of toast in the toaster only to be reminded by the smoke alarm that it’s overcooked? Once you’ve removed the burnt bread, move the toaster outside for a bit of airing out once you’ve unplugged it (make sure to use pot holders because it will be hot!). Once it’s cool to the touch, you’ll want to remove the crumb tray, scrape off any blackened bits and scrub it with dish detergent. Then wash down the outside of the unplugged toaster with some warm water and dish detergent as well. Because a toaster is typically stainless steel, it shouldn’t absorb the smell of the burnt toast, says Booth.
Burnt meat in the oven or on stovetop? You’ll need to do some deeper cleaning. Even just the smoke from burnt protein coats surfaces in your home with an invisible residue that’s the source of the remaining odor. And the oils in your hands can set that scent into impacted areas. When you’re ready to clean, you’ll first want to use a dry cloth or sponge to wipe down all surfaces in the area. “If you see you’re pulling stuff off, you know you’re going to be doing some additional cleaning,” says Roberts.
Next, you’ll want to re-wipe those same surfaces with a wet sponge and a cleaning agent. Create a cleanser by mixing 2 gallons of warm water with half a cup of Borax and half a teaspoon of dishwashing liquid, and use it to scrub down all surfaces in your kitchen. This includes your cabinets, countertops, walls, floor and appliances. Then rinse all surfaces with clear, warm water and repeat. The mixture will break down any grease and smoke particles stuck to the surfaces in your kitchen.
4. Focus on the rest of your house
Depending on how long the food burned and how far the smoke spread, you may have to address cleaning other areas of your home. “You’ll have to deodorize the clothes you were wearing, and you may also have to do the same for your carpets and furniture,” says Booth. Soak clothes overnight in a bucket using a mixture of warm water, a tablespoon of laundry detergent and a quarter cup of baking soda to remove lingering odor. Or click through here to learn more ways to remove bad smells from clothes.
Carpets, curtains or drapes, and furniture may also need to be cleaned. While drapes may need to be sent out to the dry cleaners, curtains can likely be washed using the same method used for the clothes you were wearing. If the smell isn’t too bad, you may be able to get away with sprinkling furniture and carpets with baking soda and allowing it to sit overnight before vacuuming it away or with using a home carpet and upholstery cleaning machine. If the smell persists, though, you’ll need to hire a professional to come in to shampoo your carpets and furniture with special cleaning agents.
See two of Booth’s methods for freshening your furniture here:
What *not* to do to get the burnt smell out of the house
Whatever you do, don’t try to mask the smell with a chemical-based scented deodorizer spray, advises Booth. “That doesn’t really absorb the burnt smell,” she says. “Instead it attempts to mask the smell and really creates a noxious interaction with the burnt smell, which just makes it worse.” Booth advises creating a citrus simmer pot using water, vanilla, cinnamon sticks and citrus slices.
See her social media post on how to do it here:
Other natural deodorizers and odor absorbers include:
- Baking soda. It’s a base, so it reacts with the acid in volatile organic compounds (what causes the smell) and neutralizes it.
- Coffee grounds. They contain nitrogen, which also helps neutralize odor.
- Charcoal. It works because it’s been heated to become very porous, and as a result, it can absorb odor-causing molecules in the air. That’s why using charcoal bags can also help get rid of the horrible burnt smell.
- Vinegar. The acetic acid in vinegar likes to bond with volatile organic compounds. Because the smell of vinegar only lasts as long as the vinegar is in liquid form, it bonds to the compounds and once it’s dry the smell disappears. Either spritz it around your home or simmer it in a pot on the stove.
To use baking soda or coffee, simply pour one or the other into small bowls and place them around your home.
For more on removing various smells from your house. click through the links below!