How to Make Your Office Smell Nice Without Annoying Your Coworkers

how to make your office smell nice2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on how to make your office smell nice; we’ve also updated links below.

What are your best tips on how to make your office smell nice — without offending any of your coworkers or clients?  Reader P asks a great question about de-smelling tips for her office:

I work at a law firm, and my office is pretty close to the kitchen on my floor. My office inevitably ends up smelling like food during lunch time because of people constantly microwaving their lunch. Do you, or your readers, have any suggestions for an office-appropriate air freshener that won’t smell too floral and isn’t too overpowering, but would take care of the food smells? I hate it when people walk in and my office smells like Lean Cuisine! Thank you!

I’ve advised against office fragrances in the past (in part because I think I made that mistake when I started!), and readers are always against easily-smelled perfume at the office (Pictured.) So here are a few ideas for how to make your office smell nice without any of those artificial fresheners…

a) Get rid of built-up funk.  In addition to cleaning your office, you may want to try leaving a bowl of vinegar out overnight. The vinegar absorbs other odors… and the vinegar smell goes away pretty quickly once you get rid of the vinegar itself.  I’ve used this one many times after cooking experiments have gone poorly, or the extremely rare occasion when we’ve had a friend over and let him or her smoke in the apartment. Ask for the office carpet to be cleaned (or try it yourself with a DIY technique over the weekend). After that, try to open the window(s) and get air circulating at least once a day.

b) Drink mint tea.  Especially before you have a meeting in your office, get a nice big cup of mint tea.  (I love this mint tea especially.) You don’t even have to drink it — just having it on your desk helps mask other smells without being overwhelming. If you’re really not a tea drinker, consider using coffee grounds, perhaps laid out in a bowl somewhere non-obvious in your office.  Of all the “natural air fresheners,” I think this is the one that has the strongest possibility for the office.

c) Get a good office plant.  Palm Trees are supposedly great air purifiers; so are rubber plants and english ivy.

Readers, what are your best tips on how to make your office smell nice? 

how to make your office smell nice (without annoying your coworkers)


  1. Febreeze the air, rugs and upholstered furniture twice a week.

    Worked for me.

  2. Sprinkle some baking soda on the carpets on the days that the cleaning crew comes. The baking soda will absorb some smells and the vacuum will remove it.

    • Commenting mostly so I can get followups e-mailed to me, because I’m obsessive about odors/funk but recognize that my home methods (primarily, keeping things clean! but also things like Bath & Body Works wallflowers) are not really office appropriate.

      But as a follow up for the baking soda – there are some carpet refreshers that are basically baking soda with a bit of scent that I like quite a lot (or you can put a few drops of essential oil in the baking soda). I would think that after being vacuumed up and sitting overnight any scent wouldn’t be overwhelming at all.

      But you have to know when the cleaning crew is coming and trust them to vacuum thoroughly… :-P (not denigrating great cleaners, it’s just not all workplaces have them!).

  3. all these suggestions are good for getting rid of odor once it’s IN your office, but what about just keeping your door mostly closed during the busiest lunch hour?

  4. Fit tips on JCrew #2 pencil skirt? I wear a 4 in most brands but I’m swimming in my size 4 JCrew chinos. I think 2 would work. Should I also get a 2 in the #2 pencil skirt? I’m 5’7″, 125 lbs, 36-28-36. If anyone can comment on how these skirts fit I’d really appreciate it!

    • I’m your height, but I’m 135. I’m a size 6 or 29 in pants, usually. Generally a 4 in skirts and dresses, sometimes a 2. My #2 pencil skirt is a size 4, my usual skirt size.

      Hope that helps.

    • Thanks Phoebe, that does help.

      What’s with JCrew’s size charts BTW? The size charts suggest I order a 6, and I know from experience that isn’t going to work. What’s the point of even publishing them if they are so utterly misleading?

      • Same Problem. I decided between a 6 and an 8 on that skirt and went with the 6. My mum (same size as me, maybe a bit bigger) liked my skirt when she was visiting, went to J.Crew and bought herself one. When I was visiting her a couple of months later I borrowed hers, was surprised it fit me better than my own and discovered she’d bought a 4. I’d say that skirt runs very large, especially in the cotton and the stiffness of the fabric makes an accurate fit essential. Overall, the skirt has great potential but J.Crew should rethink the fabrics and design.

      • I don’t even read them anymore! If you need specific measurements for a particular item, I would call them instead.

        If you can, I prefer the #2 skirt in wool rather than cotton.

        • Goosebumpy :

          Oh, heck yes. The cotton rides up and wrinkles and bunches and is just not worth the money.

    • Also, PSA, I just noticed that the (new) The Skirt is on sale at Nordstrom in several colors for $24.97. I think it might try it out for that price. Anyone have experience with sizing for that skirt?

      • I’m pretty sure I have that version – it runs pretty true to size for me; maybe a teeny bit small in the waist (though that’s where I carry my extra weight, so YMMV). Unfortunately I don’t have the earlier version to be able to compare it to anything.

      • I wear the same size in the (new) Skirt and the No.2.

      • Could someone post the link for this sale? Googling for the skirt is not helpful, heh.

    • Goosebumpy :

      I’m 5’5″, and my pre-pregnancy self (which I’m hoping to get back to after I have my baby next year) was 34-27-36 and between 125-130 pounds. The #2 pencil skirts in size 2 fit me absolutely perfectly. I would wear them at my natural waist, so they tended to look a little high-waisted on me since I have a short torso and crazy-long legs for my height. They hit me juuuust above the knee. I’ve seen other ladies on here comment that they’re made for more straight-up-and-down/athletic shapes, if that helps.

    • Commenting super late, but I just stumbled on this thread. Whatever size you get, you’ll probably need to get the waist taken in. Those skirts are basically tubes and suffer from wicked bad “skirt spin.”

  5. Tea can work really well- I recently bought an maharaja chai/samurai chai blend from teavana, and several people commented on how nice my office smelled when I made it.

  6. Yankee Candle has these hanging car fresheners that are pretty mild (I got the christmas cookies one) and I hung it on my door handle. I know it isn’t too strong because it doesn’t bother my assistant who has really bad asthma.

  7. There’s scent-free Febreeze, isn’t there?

  8. Turtle Wexler :

    At Bed Bath & Beyond (and other places, I’m sure) you can get these jars of deodorizing gel. The gel itself isn’t smelly but it absorbs odors from the air. Eventually it dries out and needs to be replaced. I used this in my last apartment, which had a funky old-building smell when I moved in, and it seemed to work well. I’d try something like this if you’re worried about adding extra scents to the air (personally, I hate the smell of Fabreze and most other air fresheners, and 95% of the time I would rather just deal with the original smell…so I’m probably biased). Anyway, the odor absorbers are usually in the cleaning supplies section of BB&B.

    • This is what I was going to suggest. They don’t have a scent themselves, but absorb the odors pretty well.

      If you’re in a bind and can’t find one, they also make them for your car, so the auto care section of your Big Box Store of Choice would probably also have something. Toss it under a chair maybe? Or somewhere out of sight but nearer the door.

  9. Depending on your office size/set-up, you could try a trick I use in the kitchen when cooking smelly foods (fish, garlic, etc.) Get a “litttle dipper” size crocpot (1 qt or so) and fill up halfway with water. Add about a cup of baking soda and turn it on. The baking soda in the water will absorb smells without adding any possibly offensive masking scents. You could probably get away with adding a drop or two of essential oil (I’m thinking mint or citrus?) if you wanted an extra boost of freshness. I love this method of smell-control — my SO hates the scent of fish and it really helps us with kitchen smells. You can tell it works because when you eventually pour out the water, it really smells of fish (or whatever!) I think this could work well in an office because you can just turn it on low and ignore it. In a winter-dry office like mine, the added humidity would be a plus too.

  10. I am the expert on ODOUR’s b/c the manageing partner always is busy eating some smelly FISH or SARDEINE’s! FOOEY!!!

    He then leaves the can’s sitting in the office, and when it start’s to smell, I bring out my can of LYSOL and spray it all OVER the can and my offiece. DOUBEL FOOEY!

    Then there is FRANK, and he eat’s bad food and has DIGESTEIVE issue’s and he has to go alot and b/c their is ONLEY one firm toilet, I must bring the LYSOL with me when I have to use it myself. TRIPEL FOOEY!

    I have alot to think about with the partnereship issue, as my DAD is askeing alot of question’s that I do NOT know the answer’s to. I am very luckey that he is so smart, b/c I did NOT even think of these. He even talked about do diliegience, so I told him I am ALREADY familar with that. But I can’t get into it with the manageing partner yet. TODAY, he is buffeing his head alot. I still can NOT figure out why. I am meeting Myrna at CRUMBS for cookie’s at 3 today! Yay!

  11. emcsquared :

    I will often make a cup of spicy tea around lunch time. I’ve also eaten an orange (or at least peeled one) to block out bad smells – clementines are good for this because they are easy to peel without getting gunk under your fingernails.

  12. brokenhearted :

    Longtime reader, first-time poster…So I was in a relationship for 2 years (long distance for 1.3 of that) and I just got dumped on Saturday, via phone call. I thought he was the one so I am crushed. This is my first broken heart and I am struggling big time with this (trying not to cry in the office is rough). Has anyone gone through something similar? How long did it take for you to “get over” it? I was absolutely sure I was going to move out west to be with him, so I’m having a hard time ‘adapting’ to the idea that I have nothing to look forward to. I read somewhere that if you date for 2 years, it’ll take you 2 years to get over the break up. I really, really hope that isn’t the case!

    Sorry for the thread jack, and thanks in advance!

    • So sorry to hear that! Hugs. It will take some time – distract yourself – make plans with friends, do okay cupid for some casual date nights, sign up for a class etc. Good luck!

    • TO Lawyer :

      Hugs. Sorry to hear that. This is really hard. It just happened so give yourself time to wallow. There was a recommendation yesterday about giving yourself a set time to feel sad. Eat ice cream (as cliche as that may be), cry, watch cheesy movies, eat whatever your definition of comfort food is. I find that giving yourself a limited amount of time to really wallow helps. (Maybe 2 weeks?)

      Then assess your life. Give yourself other things to look forward to. Maybe plans with friends, a class, new shoes. I’m personally a big fan of the post-breakup haircut. Start small and see if there are other things you’ve always wanted to do that you haven’t gotten around to, or big life moves that you were avoiding because you were planning to be with him. Make a list of small and big things you want to do and do them.

      And anytime you’re sad or upset and don’t want to talk to people IRL about it, come here and vent!

    • Hugs and rawrs, babe. It will take you however long it will take you to get over it. There are no formulas for feelings (although I appreciate Lady Enginerd’s graphs very much). We comforted a lady yesterday about her breakup, as well as Lady Enginerd. Maybe look through those posts for some tips to help you get through your day?

      • Lady Enginerd :

        Yeah, apparently it’s breakup season! Clearly this is in preparation for “make out with a stranger at a bar because your house feels lonely and empty” day (otherwise known as New Years). I hear it gets better, but I know for me it barely feels real because we were long distance too and so little about my day-to-day life has changed other than the nightly phone call. I don’t have the perspective yet to give you hope, but I can tell you that keeping busy, trying new things, and journaling to help process the feelings I am not forced to confront due to the distance (after all, it’s not like I’m going to run into him or his friends around town) have helped me a lot.

        • Mrs L. Distance :

          OMG, “the nightly phone call” reminds me of my marriage. DH travels all the time (200+days/yr) and for weeks at at time the only contact we have is “the nightly phone call.” I have often wondered if I would even notice if he were gone, or vice versa. I hate it, but I don’t know what to do about it.

        • brokenhearted :

          Lady, I am right there with you about it not seeming real yet. We sometimes went almost 2 months without seeing each other, and I just saw him over Thanksgiving (although tomorrow will probably be tough since I was supposed to fly out for his company holiday party–I even bought a fancy dress and everything, blah). It is weird not having that phone call or those random texts throughout the day, but I do wonder if it’s going to take me longer to truly process the idea that I won’t be seeing him anytime in the near future.

    • I’ve been there. It sucks. You never get over it, you learn from it. Give yourself a *brief* “mourning period” (a week or 2 max) to hide and bawl and mope and eat chocolate, and then…

      Do something exciting that you could never do with him. Take a pottery class, sky dive, listen to music he hated, eat raw onions, wear purple, have wild hot monkey s3x in a club bathroom with a complete stranger… something that makes your heart race and reminds you how *fanfreakintastic* you are, and how great your life is, with or without him.

      • brokenhearted :

        Thank you, Winnie. I like the 2 week deadline. A week would be better, but today is already day 4 and I am still processing (aka randomly sobbing/trying not to sob). I will give myself until next Saturday to have a pity party, then I will move forward and find what makes *me* happy.

    • brokenhearted :

      Thank you everyone for your kind words and encouragement. This community is so supportive so I knew there would be some helpful people here. Lady Enginerd, so sorry you are going through the same thing. The long distance aspect of the breakup is a blessing and a curse–part of me feels like I need to see him to get closure, but the other part of me knows it’s so much easier to move on when I don’t have to worry about seeing him around town.

      • I know I am late.. but I haven’t been on here in so long and just read this. I went through this last year, except it was an 8 year relationship. I was dumped out of the blue and we were living together for 4 years. It was awful b/c I had to live with him for the next 3 months until our lease was up. Well fast forward 15 months and I am not “over him” but I do know that I am much more focused on myself now. I am in much better shape, eating healthier and more focused on my career goals. I say take some time to be sad and let yourself go. Go to the spa and do something that you would normally feel guilty paying for. Then focus 110% on becoming the new you!

        I got a new apartment that I love. I bought all new furniture and decorated how I wanted. I got a trainer and started going to the gym 4-6 times per week. I have to say that I went a little overboard and probably spent way more $ than I should have. Looking back I do not regret it at all :)

        • brokenhearted :

          Thank you, Latina. My heart hurts hearing what you had to go through, but I am glad to hear you are doing better. I know what I need to do is find some hobbies outside work and put mysef out there and finally make some friends in this new city (I moved here fall 2011 after grad school but always thought it would be temporary because I’d move out west to be with boyfriend). I made this relationship the center of my existence, which is fine to a degree, but I neglected to build myself a strong support system like I had in law school. Frankly, I think that was part of the problem–he was feeling suffocated, like I was overly dependent on him, and he was worried it would be like that if I moved out there.

          I keep going through and wondering what/if I could have done to change this. I am still grasping to hope that he changes his mind, but I need to accept that it’s probably over for good. I can’t even imagine putting myself out there in the dating world. I’m worried this is going to harden me and prevent me from finding love again. If you don’t mind me asking, how long was it before you felt comfortable dating? I’m not ready yet, but I hope I am at some point. I know my ex is probably back “out there” already, which is really hard to think about, ugh.

          • LadyEnginerd :

            Okay, this is probably much too late for you to see this but… I could totally have written this. So while it sucks…at least it’s normal?

          • I’m not going to say that I didn’t make a fool of myself LOL. There were times that we hooked up in those 3 months. The breakup just happens all over again .. I do not suggest it, very painful. I stalked him on facebook and asked people about what he was doing. I would peek out of the blinds to see who he was going out with. I was pathetic. I didn’t like who I was becoming and once he moved out it was easier.

            I was in the same position as you. I moved my current city with him for Grad school. He ended up leaving school during the first semester for a job here. I don’t have any real friends here. I honestly just started hanging out with random people (girl who cuts my hair, girl down the hall, etc). It got lonely after 2 months so I decided to just start making friends and invite them for coffee, drinks, spinning class, etc. I still cannot be at the same place as him. I start wondering “who are those people he’s with? how come he made friends so quickly? what do they have that I don’t?, etc”.

            I have not dated anyone yet. I just don’t think I am ready. I don’t want to screw up my next relationship with anger from my last. I know that sounds so bad. I am still working on myself.

            By any chance are you in PA?

        • brokenhearted :

          Also, you are such a strong person for living with him for 3 months after he ended it! I honestly don’t think I could have done it. I would constantly be wondering how I could change his mind and probably would make a fool of myself on more than one occasion by begging for another chance. Yikes, that’s really embarrassing. I feel like in this relationship I became just like the girls I judged in high school for being overly dependent on their boyfriend.

          • brokenhearted :

            Replying to 1:59 pm comment by Latina (it won’t let me reply directly for some reason):

            Yea, if I lived with ex post-breakup it would be a bad situation. either 1) we hook up and then have to re-break up, or 2) he refuses to hook up and that would break my heart all over again, having to deal with that distance in close proximity. At least I’m many miles away from him, so I can have space to breathe.

            But I am terrified of the thought of him dating again. It doesn’t help that right before we broke up, his new coworker who he has been hanging out with a lot in small groups (whom I haven’t met) ended her engagement with her fiance. And of course I stalked her in linked in and damn it, she is really pretty. and they work in a super small office. So my mind is running wild with thoughts of them starting a relationship, getting married, and living happily ever after. Yikes. I am definitely nowhere near ready to begin dating. I just hope that at some point I will get past this anger/devastation and accompanying feelings of insecurity.

            And nope, not in PA (IL here).

  13. SV in House :

    TJ — I was rear ended by another car while stopped at a red light. Is there any advantage to filing the claim with his insurance v. mine? TIA!

    • Call your insurance company and let them know there was an accident just to give them notice. Your policy probably requries that you do so anyways. In a similar situation, my agent advised me to first pursue the claim through the other person’s insurance. If it was taking too long or they were giving me a run around, I could then file the claim against my own insurance and pay my deductible. The insurance companies would then deal amongst themselves for the cost and try to recover my deductible in the process. Hopefully you can get it resolved easily.

    • Round Two... :

      Do it with yours, and they will chase down his insurance company for you – much easier than hounding them yourself. It will not affect your rates.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Always notify your insurance. You have obligations to do so lest you waive coverage. Your insurance may then notify his – mine did when I got rear-ended.

  14. I second the tea suggestion, I use it all the time. Almost any flavored or herbal tea works, like Constant Comment or Sleepytime. Sometimes, when I don’t have the time to make a cup of tea, I just rip open the tea bag and sprinkle it in my trash can — works almost as well!

  15. I apply scented handlotion when I need to deodorize my office. The lotion warming up on my hands leaves a light fragrance in the air (and on me). I haven’t had any complaints about the scent, even from the office perfume gestapo.

    • WorkingMom :

      Same here. I have a small tube of vanilla hand lotion, I notice I don’t even need to put it on necessarily, just open the tube and set it on my desk can help combat the cafe smells – I too, and right around the corner from the cafe. For me, the worst is popcorn! The stench of popcorn makes me want to toss my cookies.

  16. At home, I’ve had good luck with a HEPA air filter. I put it right next to the cat box, and you can’t smell a thing. It has 4 speed settings, so I leave it on low 24/7, but can turn it up high when needed.

  17. SoCalAtty :

    Plants help a LOT! I have a gardenia, an orchid, and a bromeliad. The partners laugh at my plants, but it keeps my office air clean.

    I also have one of those oil scent diffusers that you put the bamboo sticks in…but so the scent isn’t overwhelming, I only put 3 of the sticks in instead of the whole bundle.

    I also always have tea going in my office, and it sits on a warmer (I can never drink it fast enough) and that makes it smell good.

  18. I have a jar of Fresh Wave gel on my office window sill. I share a large office with five guys, some of whom bike to work (and sometimes leave stinky clothes lying around). The stuff really helps with food and body odors. I have two dogs at home, and like to cook with garlic, and it works wonders on that, too. I’ve bought it from the Container Store, Amazon, and the neighborhood hardware store. They also make a spray that I sometimes use in the cupboard that stores our trash and recycling cans. I know I sound like an infomercial, but the stuff is worth its rather high price.

    I can’t stand most air fresheners, particularly the aerosols; they make me gag. This smells fresh and slightly citrusy.