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How to Deal With Bad Dorm Room Odors

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It may come as no surprise that unpleasant odors swarm college dorm rooms. A multitude of fast-tracked young adults living a life of little time, little hygiene, lots of fast food and fermented beverages, tightly domiciled in 8X8 square feet-sized rooms, can cause even the poorest of olfactory senses to be overwhelmed.

What IS an Odor?

When I sat to research this topic, I am ashamed to say that I simply had no idea that odors, bad or good, are actually molecular remnants of a source, evaporated into the air, called volatile material. (Argonne National Laboratory)

So if it is rotting garbage that we smell, the molecules from that garbage are evaporating into a gaseous form, entering into our nose and mouth, and activating our senses.

My conclusion to this gem of information is that “smelling” is in some form “ingesting,” as if we were actually taking a piece of the rotting garbage and biting into it, though, not as dramatic, I suppose, but I wish my point to be clear.

What CAUSES an Odor?

Odors come directly from one or a mixture of many different sources within a home or habitat. In a dorm room setting, odors are most likely to come from grunge and lack of basic care. Unfortunately, because odor molecules float through the air, they are absorbed easily into things like fabrics, carpets, and clothing. Cigarette smoke, mildew, must from insect infestations, decomposing trash, etc., can settle throughout the room and become permanent fixtures in the dorm.

Fabric Sources: Body odor, oils and secretions, dead skin and sweat can attach to bed linens, towels and clothing. Its gross, but you’re wearing it and sleeping in it. Carpets and drapes can also absorb any number of odors from mold to spilt beverages, bodily fluids or insect infestations to dirt and cigarette smoke. Fabrics are the primary odor absorbers. If you are experiencing fetor in your dorm, any “fibrous textiles” laying about can be trapping a combination of contributors.

Wood Sources: Wood can become a source of bad odor if the wood has become old or wet.

Food Sources: It is clear that food left out to fester can be a source of stench, however, odor from food that was prepared and eaten the night before can also saturate the room. Refrigerators and microwaves where food may sit also can become a source.

Sink and Toilet Sources: If you are privileged to have bathroom facilities in your dorm room or if you are living in an apartment, clogged drains and filters can cause a strong, sulfury, rotten-egg like odor. Uncleaned toilets also leave your bathroom smelling ripe.

Pest Sources: Insect infestations in the walls, windows or carpeting, can leave a “mushroomy” stench. Dead mice and their decomposing carcasses, enough said.

Real Odor Solutions

A seemingly easy fix would be to make a quick stop at the convenience store and get a plug-in, scented air freshener. However, masking a mildew odor with “Spring Rain” or “Passion Melon” can either be a very temporary solution or cause for a mildew, melon combo scent. In whatever case, neither are recommended.

Another possible notion, if you want to take it a step further, is to buy an air ionizer; however, if you did your research, you would find that Consumer Reports issued a statement in 2005 that harmful ozone levels were being omitted by these products, raising health concerns.

So what is the solution?

Cleanliness: Clean laundry and bed linens, constant trash removal, and vacuumed rugs is the first step.

Fresh Air: Since odors are in the air, replacing bad for fresh air is incredibly helpful.

Absorption: Odors that are settled into an area need to be absorbed. Charcoal, baking soda or even cat litter works well to absorb odors. Place a container with either substance in and around the source until the odor is gone; then, throw it away. If your room is experiencing mildew problems, these also work effectively in areas with excess moisture.

For carpets or fabrics containing food or fluid spills, a good blend of vinegar and water can absorb scents that regular soap cannot. Blot the surface with pressure. Do not rub in as this will only push down and spread the odor.

Replace: Once the odors have been absorbed, an easy and effective way to replace the scent is to put a couple drops of either mint, vanilla, pine or citrus juice on cotton balls and place in areas where the odor once permeated. Leave for a couple of days to give your room a pleasant, light fragrance.


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Greg Boyle over 5 years ago Greg Boyle


Dorms are perfect environments that trap the source of odors. The sponge like environments of a dorm room coupled with the in and out visits of your room mate(s) and friends cross contaminates constantly. If you smell something in a dorm room it's time to take care of it. The biggest trend over the last couple of years is a quick shock treatment of a very powerful yet environment and people safe products. Simply touch the sealed "pouch" to water, lay down in it's convenient holder and let the vapors penetrate everything. Perfect disinfection! Leave the space unoccupied of people plants and animals for 6 hours and then air out. You will notice the difference. Go to http://odorscience.net to learn more about chlorine dioxide and how we can protect ourselves from dangerous pathogens especially in crowded places.