How to Eliminate Bad Odors During An Estate Sale Setup

By Pascale Saliba

With thousands of weekly estate sales going on across the country, you’re bound to run into a few that have very bad odors.  An estate sale setup involves much more than staging and pricing. The goal is to make the entire home presentable, clean, and inviting for potential shoppers.

From old musty smells, to mildew, smoke, cigar, pet odors, and urine. It can be ugly depending on the estate, and the estate sale company will have the daunting task to get the home as scent-free as possible.

The methods of eliminating the bad odors during an estate sale setup will obviously vary depending on the type and severity of the smell. Some methods are extremely involved and will require time, our goal is to give you quick and helpful tips that will not delay or hinder your estate sale staging process.

We reached out to a few professionals in the industry to give you some tips that may help you as an estate sale professional if ever faced with a home that simply smells bad. Below are the tips we found most useful.

Common Household Items That Can Help Eliminate Odors

Some useful and commonly found household items can eliminate odors very effectively.

1. Baking Soda

A common item found at any market, baking soda cuts through bad smells by neutralizing the pH levels. It’s safe and effective to sprinkle throughout the house or spread open boxes as early as possible throughout the estate.

2. Vinegar

Probably the safest and most effective method because it neutralizes the bad odors and works as good if not better than baking soda.  Whether it’s left in a bowl or sprayed around the house, it works wonders.

You may shy away from using it because as you spray undiluted vinegar, it has a strong scent, but it quickly disappears along with the bad odors you’re wanting to get rid of.

Missi Haner Palski with Estate Liquidations by Fantastic Finds and a member of our private estate sale company group said “I love older homes, especially old farmhouses, if there’s several generations of items, there’s generally an old kind of odor”  She added “Vinegar removes most odor but there’s a line for me, I cannot do filthy and disgusting”.

3. Coffee Beans

Both whole beans and ground beans work wonders in absorbing bad odors, but it’s much easier to use whole beans unless you’re willing to clean up a possible mess with coffee grounds. All you need is a container with 6 to 7 ounces of coffee beans placed throughout the house, this will help eliminate bad smells.

4. Oats

Thats right, oats can absorb bad smells. During the estate sale setup, if you come across a box of oats in the kitchen, feel free to pour it in multiple bowls and leave it throughout the house, it’s not only a healthy grain for the body but it absorbs bad smells very well.

Recipes that Eliminate Bad Odors

If you’re willing to pull up your sleeves and wipe things down during the estate sale setup, you’ll end up with a clean great smelling estate.  Here are a few very popular odor eliminating recipes.

First, make sure you’re wearing gloves to protect your hands, get a bucket and a rag ready.  Fill the bucket with the following ingredients:

  • Four parts warm water
  • Two parts hydrogen peroxide
  • Two parts white vinegar
  • One-part boric acid

Use the rag to dip and wipe down hard surfaces, porcelain, vinyl etc… Do not spray it on fabric or carpets because it may cause discoloration, but it’s a great cleaning, and bad scent eliminating recipe.

Old House Musty Odors

This is a stubborn and difficult odor to get rid of, but the goal is to make it better during the estate sale. There are numerous reasons why a home can smell musty, but mildew or mold are the most common reasons.

If you hold estate sales in a humid environment, you’ll come across many homes that may have the old musty smell.  Unfortunately, that smell gets into fabric and lingers, you’ll never be able to get rid of it completely but here are a few steps you can take to make it better.

First, try to isolate the smell, once you find the source, if it’s a single area, treat it individually by by drying it out.  If the entire home has a musty odor, here are some steps you can take while setting up the estate sale.

  • Run a humidifier in the house non-stop.
  • Bring fans in while running the humidifier to minimize the moisture.
  • Place activated charcoal in the home, it’s charcoal in pure form but will usually take an entire week to absorb the bad odor but this along with the fan and humidifier should really help.
  • If the home is carpeted, sprinkle baking soda throughout, this will absorb a lot of the moisture.

Depending on the severity of the odor, you may try a few or all the methods at once to attack and eliminate the bad smells quickly.

Right before the estate sale starts you can freshen and deodorize the home to keep the musty odor at bay. I wouldn’t rush out and buy a scented deodorizer, It can make the situation worse. You’ll never get rid of the musty smell completely, and you’ll end up with a flower or vanilla flavored musty smell.

Stick to a fragrance-free air freshener like Lysol disinfectant spray or even Zeolite, a natural mineral that absorbs odor without a masking scent.

Dealing with Smoke or Cigar Smells

Cigar and cigarette smoke odors are notorious. For professional liability purposes, you may want to mention that the estate sale is an ex-smoker’s home.  Make it clear to your client in the estate sale contract that this may affect their estate sale profit, and to the estate sale shoppers while marketing your estate sale, otherwise you may end up with shoppers that get burning eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, hoarseness and shortness of breath during your estate sale. Something you’ll want to avoid all together.

Here are some steps you can take to eliminate bad odors such as cigar smoke during the estate sale setup:

  • Remove any ashtrays and put them in the backyard or outdoor area.
  • Bring fans along and place them throughout the house.
  • Leave all windows and doors open the entire time you’re staging the estate sale.
  • Sprinkle baking soda on the carpets throughout the house.
  • If time allows it and the furniture is fabric, air it out in the backyard.
  • Vinegar and coffee beans are natural and affordable. Place a bowl of vinegar or coffee beans in every room.

Burn incense only when you’re there and use a fragrance-free air freshener the day before the sale starts or early in the morning before you open the doors.

Donna Galvin Dumas with Estate Sales by Team Louie said in order to add a lovely odor to the home “I bake pies…the whole house smells good!”

Baking a pie is one of the more creative (and delicious!) ways to mask bad odors.

That’s going above and beyond, but it’s a very inviting and tasty idea!

Removing Bad Urine Odors

I don’t think there’s anything worse! You know exactly what I’m talking about. A urine scent in the home is an automatic turn off to potential estate sale shoppers.

Experienced estate sale companies know this, but if you’re just starting in the estate sale business, you’ll run into this situation soon enough.

Bad odors due to urine are usually isolated to a certain area, or at least you hope they are unless it’s pet urine throughout the house. Urine odor is much easier to get rid of when it’s fresh, unfortunately for you as an estate sale professional, you’ll have no idea how old it is, and all you can do is your best to temporarily eliminate or minimize the smell.

Here are some things you can do to deal with this bad odor efficiently and without sacrificing too much on labor.

Michael Kaplan owner of ECC Carpet Cleaning said “Besides pulling up the carpet and getting rid of the padding underneath, there’s no way to get rid of the scent completely, but there are a few options that will help”

Kaplan explained “The best you can do is go throughout house or the affected area and neutralize the urine which is an alkaline base with an acid-base product like vinegar. Once you’ve done this, you can spray a heavy duty disinfectant to treat the odor”.

This is a great way to temporarily eliminate or minimize the urine related bad odors from the carpet, but you can still follow other methods mentioned above to treat the overall environment.

  • Place a bowl of vinegar in every room.
  • Air out the home the entire time you’re staging the sale.
  • Leave windows and doors open the entire time you’re working.
  • Put fans throughout the house to air it out.
  • Use a fragrance-free disinfectant throughout the house including the treated carpets

Removing Bad Odors from Furniture

If the furniture at the estate sale has an unpleasant smell, try moving it to the outdoors to air out if possible. If it’s a strong odor or when the situation doesn’t allow you to move the furniture, try these methods.

Sprinkle baking soda on the furniture the first day and vacuum it up the next day, this may be time consuming and will not cover the entire furniture like the back side but will work well on fabric covered benches or chairs with fabric in the seating area only.

A couch sprinkled with baking soda. It will be vacuumed up the following day.

Spray the furniture with two parts water, one part vinegar on the first day and the next day wipe it down with dryer sheets or use Febreeze.

Another product that’s affordable and works well on furniture is OdoBan. One gallon can make 32 gallons of usable product. Using a spray bottle, fill it 3 parts water, one-part OdoBan.

Once you spray the furniture, make sure the surface is nice and wet. Allow the furniture to dry indoor or outdoor. This product doesn’t mask the smell but gets rid of it completely.

Professional Odor Removal Services

When you simply cannot deal with the bad odors, and the common methods mentioned above aren’t enough to eliminate the unpleasant scents, it may be time to rely on a professional.

Assessing the estate sale early is extremely important, if you need to rely on a professional cleaning service, an odor removal company, or professional carpet cleaner, it can cost a hefty penny.

Make the appropriate adjustments in your contract to cover those additional estate sale fees and protect you from any misunderstandings or problems with your client.

Always try to eliminate or minimize the bad smell, then follow up with deodorizing and adding a pleasant smell to the environment the night before or day of the sale before you open the doors.

Regina Skeens Randall, owner of Pennies in Your Pocket Estate and Appraisal Services said “We air out and spray lysol on everything”.

Whether you choose to follow these helpful tips or use your own creative ways such as popping a bag of popcorn in the microwave, or baking some pies in the oven, the goal is to always make the estate sale as inviting as possible for shoppers and a success for your client.

If you have more tips on how to eliminate odors in a home, we’de love to hear them! Share them with us in the comments box below. And if you’re not already a member, join our Facebook group for professional estate sale companies for more tips and tricks. is a leading venue for shoppers to find estate sales near them as well as online estate auctions . Our company blog, the University, is among the largest online resources for information relating to the estate sale industry. If you’re an estate sale company looking to get more leads and visibility for your sales, get listed on our site which is viewed by over 500,000 visitors a month.