10 Ways To Get Rid Of Cooking Smells In A Small Apartment

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Food is one of my most significant sources of joy in life, whether it be eating it, making it, or sharing it with others. 

Naturally, cooking is one of my favorite past-times. 

Now, I love all types of cuisines, but my comfort meals are foods that create flavor bombs in my mouth (bonus points if it’s spicy). I presume that this is because being of Indonesian descent, many of the foods I grew up (and love) can be pretty pungent. 

I remembered the first time I made sambal terasi—a traditional Indonesian chili paste composed of shrimp paste, oil, shallots, tomatoes, garlic, onion, and palm sugar. The final result is spicy deliciousness that I eat with basically everything, but the smell left on my kitchen was…well, not very pleasant, to say the least.

Or all the other times I’ve made rich curries, from laksa to dal makhani. Again, foods that bring so much comfort to my soul but leave a lingering smell the next day.

Strong cooking smells aren’t ideal anywhere, but it’s even trickier when you live in a small space, especially a studio. You literally go to sleep smelling like whatever you just cooked that night, and when you wake up the smell is still there and as strong as ever.

But there are things you can do to minimize it from lingering. You don’t have to do ALL the below, but in my experience a combination of what I’ve listed in this article tends to do the trick. 

1. Open your windows 

Okay, I’m going to start with the obvious, but the best thing you can do to eliminate the cooking smell is to open your windows. Ideally, before, during, and after you cook. 

I get that this can sometimes not be the most comfortable thing, maybe because the weather outside isn’t ideal, or you don’t want your neighbors overhearing your conversations. 

But you can’t expect the smell not to linger if it has no way of getting out. You don’t have to open it super wide (although it will get the smell out faster if you do), but just enough for fresh air to come through and the smell to get out. 

2. Turn on your range hood and fans 

Yes, I know this is another obvious one, but turning out your range food and exhaust fans during and (and even a little after) cooking can also help clear out any lingering smells.

If you have a cooling fan of some sort, then it’s also a good idea to turn those on simultaneously. You don’t have to keep it on all night, but having them while you’re cooking and a little bit after can weaken the smell in your studio apartment. 

3. Light a scented candle 

There was a time when I thought of scented candles as gifts that people got when they couldn’t think of anything else, and they would sit unused and untouched in some storage box under my bed or in my closet.

Now, they’re one of my favorite gifts to receive. So much so that one of my best friends sent me a whole box of them (from New York to Auckland, New Zealand) for my birthday. 

And before you ask, yes, we do have scented candles in New Zealand, but it’s very difficult to find the dessert-flavored candles that TJ Maxx and Marshall’s seem to have constant surplus of (you know, like Maple Pumpkin Spice, Bourbon Buttercream, Pecan Pie & Cream) 

They are a godsend in small apartments, because they can replace unpleasant smell to extremely pleasant in a short amount of time. And small spaces=potent scent, which means you really get to smell whatever scent your candle is emanating, even after you’ve blown it out. 

You might like: How to seperate your kitchen and your living room in a small apartment

4. Have baking soda nearby when you’re cooking 

If you’ve ever had any difficulty getting grime, mold, or stains from anything, you’ve probably resorted to baking soda and discovered its miraculous qualities. 

If you haven’t tried it as a way to neutralize strong smells (which tend to be acidic), now’s the time to start. You can have a bowl (or cup) of it nearby when you’re cooking, then once you’re finished with it, sprinkle some of it in areas where the cooking smell is the strongest (think next to the stove, the trash can, and the sink). 

5. Deep clean your kitchen 

Now, I know what you’re thinking, do I really have to?

Assuming you’re like me, cleaning days fill you with dread. I wish that I was one of those people who find cleaning to be therapeutic, but I’m just not. I have to psych myself up mentally, and I need a riveting podcast or an entertaining audiobook to get me through.

But I can’t deny the impact that a deep clean can have. I admit, I often just do enough on a week-by-week basis, but on days where I really get in there and do a full-on deep clean (like washing your trash can kind of clean), I’m always glad I put in the effort because it looks amazing, and gets rid of whatever lingering smell is in there. 

Related: What to do if your apartment smells like sewage.

6. Spray surfaces with vinegar 

Vinegar is another one of those multi-purpose miracle cleaning product. Yes, the smell is rather strong, but it will cancel out any pungent smell you’re trying to eliminate. 

I personally prefer to double duty and use it as a surface cleaner. If you really hate the smell, you can dilute it with water and pour a solution in a spray water bottle, and spritz it over your kitchen surfaces. 

7. Leave out coffee grounds 

I don’t know about you, but the smell of coffee—especially full-bodied dark roasted ones from Sumatra—always elicits a feeling of comfort and coziness. 

It turns out that coffee can also fight nasty smells and act as an odor deodorizer. The best news is that you can even use damp ones. So before you get rid of those coffee grounds from your morning espresso, put them in some empty containers and scatter them around your kitchen. 

8. Bake a sweet treat 

In case you can’t already tell, I love the smell of baked goods (hence my obsession with cake-flavored candles). 

I don’t even have that much of a sweet tooth, but there is something about the smell of freshly baked cookies or sweet bread that makes me so happy. 

This step is a little bit involved, but if you’re someone who finds baking relaxing and therapeutic, this is a fantastic way of turning a nasty odor into a delicious one. I discovered this when I baked bourbon pecan shortbread cookies right after frying shrimp paste, and the baking smell completely overpowered it (in the best way possible).

Warm, golden brown, chocolate chip cookies cooling on a rack. Shallow depth of field.

9. Install an air purifier

Now, I personally think an air purifier is a must if you live in a small apartment, specifically if that small apartment is located in the middle of a bustling polluted city. Indoor air pollution is a real thing, and being regularly exposed to it can cause a slew of health issues. 

Your health aside, having an air purifier can also help remove strong odors by getting rid of the particles that cause it in the first place. Combined with good ventilation (a.k.a opening your windows) should help you stave away any lingering cooking smells. 

10. Strategically put plants in your kitchen 

This is more of a preventative and supplementary measure, but having plants can help you stave off unpleasant smells, as this YouTuber who lives in a studio in Arizona can attest:

The myth that they act like air purifiers or stave off indoor pollution has been debunked, but because they emit their own odors, it can mask your lingering cooking smell. Like most of these tips, you will need to combine this with ventilation to eliminate the smell, but it can help make it less intense in the first place. 

You don’t need to put up with bad smells or limit your cooking repertoire just because you live in a small space. By implementing some of the things in this article, you can cook that rich, full of strong spices food you love and enjoy the byproduct without worrying about the scent that it will leave when you wake up tomorrow. 

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