Realtors share 7 secret ways to make your home smell nice – and it's not just baking cookies

We asked realtors to share their trade secrets so you can make your own home smell heavenly

cream living room, yellow room with closet, white kitchen
(Image credit: LAYERED / Katie Nixon / Annie Sloan)

Have you ever been to an open house and wondered how it smells so fresh and fragrant despite people constantly coming and going? If the answer is yes, you're not alone. 

While traditional methods like burning incense or baking cookies are treasured for their cozy scents, the modern approaches to making a home smell nice focus on sustaining a consistently fresh and clean aroma.

We asked realtors what their scenting secrets were so you can steal these ideas for your own space. Sharing is caring, after all!

Realtor secrets for making your home smell nice

'Gone are the days when just spraying a little air freshener will make a space more appealing. People are tired of smelling the same industrial scents while visiting a house they want to buy,' says Greg Forest, senior global real estate advisor for Sotheby's International Realty.

'People often connect smells with an experience, and for potential home buyers, it's important that a house smells pleasant and neutral and stays clear of overwhelming fragrances.'

1. Vanilla extract in lightbulbs

can you fit an island in a galley kitchen, black and wood kitchen with bar stools, graphic style backsplash, black countertops and wall cabinets

(Image credit: Brandon Architects / David Tsay)

Kitchen lightbulbs can be a common source of odors – however, they can also be the key to infusing fragrances throughout the home. When kitchen lighting is turned on, the bulbs generate heat, intensifying and diffusing the scent of any substances present on them. This is why you must clean your kitchen light bulbs for a nice-smelling kitchen so that food and grease odors do not permeate throughout your space.

To make a kitchen smell nice, Mike Qiu, real estate investor and owner of Good As Sold Home Buyers recommends: 'Add a few drops of vanilla extract on lightbulbs around the house (when they're off!). This will emit a subtle vanilla scent when the bulb warms up.' You can do this by putting some drops on a cloth and using this to wipe and cover the bulb with the fragrance.

2. Fabric spray

Modern European style living room

(Image credit: LAYERED)

'The second thing realtors often do to make a home smell nice is to deodorize furniture fabric with DIY fabric spray,' reveals Hannah Jones, a realtor and Founder of New Build Homes. 'Most of the old furniture, like sofas, couches, and cushions can emanate foul smells without you even noticing, so this can make a big difference.

'Use one cup of soda water, one tablespoon of dishwashing liquid, and baking soda mixed in a spray bottle. Spray this mixture over the furniture fabric, vacuum up any baking soda reside after 15-20 minutes, and it will remain fresh smelling!'

You can add a few drops of essential oils with antibacterial properties to this mixture to add a pleasant scent. Choose scents such as lemon, tea tree, or peppermint. Be sure to do a patch test of this mixture on an inconspicuous area of the couch first to ensure the oil doesn't stain it.

Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda, 4 lb | $2.73 at Walmart

Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda, 4 lb | $2.73 at Walmart
Baking soda is a great way to deodorize any space. For example, you can use a simple baking soda hack to refresh your closet and banish odors.

Hula Home Continuous Spray Bottle | Was $14.99, now $7.99 at Amazon

Hula Home Continuous Spray Bottle | Was $14.99, now $7.99 at Amazon 
Use a spray bottle to disperse your DIY fabric spray evenly over surfaces to add a personalized scent to upholstery

3. Peppermint cotton balls in the trash

timeless neutral kitchen with stainless steel appliances and marble countertop

(Image credit: Katie Nixon)

'Another trick I always do is put a little bit of peppermint essential oil on cotton balls and drop those balls in the trash,' explains Nick Hedberg, real estate agent and CEO of As-Is Home Buyer.

'Not only does it keep insects away, but peppermint oil also absorbs foul-smelling odors. So, if you don't have time to take out the trash and clean the bin, this can be a great way to ward off any unpleasant scents'. 

4. Clove sachets for closets

Yellow living room with a painted cabinet

(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

We love creating scented sachets as a natural way to add aromas to any space. They can be placed near air vents, in closets, on dressers or nightstands, beneath pillows in each bedroom, or anywhere else to disperse the aroma throughout the room without it being overpowering. 

While we normally recommend making scented sachets out of dried herbs, flower petals, cinnamon sticks, citrus peels, and cotton balls soaked in essential oils, Nick Hedberg recommends a different approach: 'Place clove oil in uncooked rice and put this in a small pouch. Clove oil is a wonderful product that removes bad odors and keeps mold away from wardrobes!'

You can use these Greenmile muslin bags from Amazon.

5. Coffee grounds in the fridge

Close up of corner of kitchen with large double fridge in alcove, shelving and cabinetry surrounding, kitchen island with sink, brass tap

(Image credit: Humphrey Munson)

There's nothing more unappealing in any home, especially an open house, than a refrigerator that emits unpleasant odors.

'A simple yet effective tactic to remove odors is strategically placing bowls of fresh coffee grounds in the refrigerator to neutralize odors,' says Mike Qiu. 'As air circulates within the refrigerator, it will pass through the coffee grounds, absorbing odorous particles, leaving behind a fresher and more natural scent.'

6. Baked cloves and cinnamon

White kitchen, brick floor, rug

(Image credit: Madeline Harper Photography)

'Freshly made pies and pastries expel delightful aromas that make the house smell good. However, there is no need to prepare the entire recipe to achieve a cozy, homey scent,' says Seth Williams, real estate professional and owner of Selling Boston. 'An easier, tidier, and perhaps even more effective method is to transfer one teaspoon of ground cloves and cinnamon to a baking sheet. 

'Place it in an oven set to 200°F for 30 minutes, leaving the door slightly open. This will fill the house with a lovely spicy fragrance.'

7. Simmer pots

Simmering potpourri

(Image credit: Getty Images)

'If realtors have the time, we bring a portable kettle and boil ingredients for a simmer pot so it can release a pleasant aroma throughout the house,' says Hannah Jones. 'This method is cost-effective and easy to customize based on personal preferences.

'First, you need to boil some water on the stove. I always add one sliced lemon, some rosemary sprigs, vanilla extract, and clove. I usually let the mixture boil, and the delightful aroma spreads through the whole house. This has gotten me tremendous compliments during an open house and is a tried-and-tested way of making sure that your home feels and smells cozy and welcoming!'

Of course, you can choose your own simmer pot recipes for fall and winter or spring simmer pot recipes, depending on the season or your personal preferences. This is a great way to keep a space smelling good for hours and improve indoor air quality by removing odors and adding moisture to the air, without it being overpowering.

Whatever you do, try not to overdo it. Avoid overpowering perfumes, incense, or heavily scented candles, as a subtle home fragrance is more inviting than a strong one. You should also stick to one scent or a few complementary scents throughout the house.

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past six years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including practical household advice, recipe articles, and product reviews, working closely with experts in their fields to cover everything from heating to home organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.