Travel Joy! – Stale, Funky-Smelling Hotel Rooms

Even better-quality hotels can have a stale smell when the air in the room has been bottled up for a couple days without climate control being active.  Hotel management certainly cannot be blamed for saving money by turning off heating and air conditioning when rooms are unoccupied.  After all, that is one of their major expenses, and the more affordable (budget) hotels/motels are most likely to make this a practice.  The heating/air conditioning units themselves are often the biggest culprit of those stale and musty odors, but most folks who travel often, whether for business or leisure, will eventually need to stay in a budget-friendly room, whether out of monetary necessity or lack of other choices.  A stale-smelling hotel room can make the idea of saving money on a budget accommodation choice seem not-so-sensible, but there are solutions for both stale air and lingering odors.

Not only can the air in a hotel room become stale, it can get downright “funky” when odors of past occupants’ food, toiletries, etc. lingers.  A hotel room is filled with “soft” items which can trap odors including carpets, bedding, upholstery, and draperies.  When one opens the door, hoping for a good night’s sleep, and is accosted by stale air and/or foul smells, it is disheartening.  Most travelers just want to settle in, get comfy, and snooze the night away.  So, what does one do when faced with smells that might ruin a night’s stay?


This helpful article is not intended to deal with the smell of cigarette smoke.  If you requested a non-smoking room upon check-in at your hotel of choice, and you smell smoke, stale or otherwise, when you get to your room, then your best option is to return to the front desk and request a different room.  Many hotels these days are 100% smoke free, at least indoors, but even those with smoking rooms usually portion all of these type rooms off to a single wing or an upper floor.  Upon check-in, ask if the hotel has a smoking floor and ask to be placed BELOW that floor because the smoke filters upward.


Get Rid of that Stale, Funky Hotel Room Smell

Basic Supplies needed for freshening a stale, funky-smelling hotel room
Basic Supplies needed for freshening a stale, funky-smelling hotel room

Gather the supplies listed below for your Hotel Room Freshening Kit.  Two items are must haves, while three others are optional.  It is worth making a stop to buy the must have items when flying into a location where you will stay in a hotel.  If travelling by auto, all supplies can be carried with you.

Must have supplies – use name brands listed – no substitutions:
Bounce dryer sheets in scent of choice
(This item does Double Duty in your Laundry Travel Duffle!)
Febreze Air Effects (heavy duty recommended) in scent of choice

Optional Supplies:
Febreze Fabric Refresher Spray in scent of choice (other brand acceptable)
(This item does Double Duty in your Laundry Travel Duffle!)
Automatic, timed air freshener sprayer in scent of choice (such as Air Wick Freshmatic)
Small fan

Steps for Freshening a Room

Let Fresh Air IN
Open window(s) – weather permitting and if the window is operable and screened
Place the optional small fan on window sill to help draw fresh air into the room.

Refresh Recirculating Air
(not for central climate control type systems – only for single-room, wall-installed units)

Bounce dryer sheets

FIGURE A slide-out filters on front of climate control unit
FIGURE A
slide-out filters on front of climate control unit

METHOD 1 – Most single-room, wall-installed units have two pull out filters at the front edge on the top of the unit.
See photo Figure A.
Use these filters as “clamps” to hold the dryer sheets in place by tucking one edge of sheet under rear lip of slide-out filter and carefully lowering the filter back into its slot.  Ensure the dryer sheet is secured and hangs over the front of the unit. See photo Figure B.

FIGURE B dryer sheets secured under edge of pull-out filters and hanging over front of unit
FIGURE B
dryer sheets secured under edge of pull-out filters and hanging over front of unit

These type of climate control units draw air in through the front grate and blow it (hot or cold) out the top vents.  If the dryer sheets are installed correctly, the air being drawn in will pull them flat against the front of the unit.  Since the sheets are air-permeable, this will not interfere with the unit’s operation.

METHOD 2 – For use if Method 1 is unable to be implemented and/or if the need for extra freshening of the recirculating air is needed.  Use no more than three dryer sheets for Method 2.

FIGURE C dryer sheet
FIGURE C
dryer sheet “funnel flower”

Grasp the center of a dryer sheet with the fingertips on one hand and gather the edges of the sheet together with the other hand, pulling upward to form a funnel-shaped “flower” of sorts.
See photo Figure C.
Place the funnel end of the “flower” securely between louvers of top vent on unit. DO NOT stuff it down into the unit where it will get lost in it.  Only place it far enough into the louvers to stay in place without blowing away.
See photo Figure D.

FIGURE D dryer sheet
FIGURE D
dryer sheet “funnel flowers” secured between louvers

NOTE:  The Bounce Dryer Sheets will help freshen the air recirculating through the climate control unit when the unit is on air conditioning, but it works even BETTER on heat.  It is recommended to turn on heat while out for dinner in the evening and readjust the unit for a comfortable ambient temperature upon returning to the room.

Refresh Stale Air and Soft Surfaces
Timed, Auto-Spray Air Freshener – set up this optional item on the setting which sprays air freshener most often, usually a 30 minute setting.  The small fan can be placed near the auto-sprayer, once it is no longer used in the open window, which helps to disperse the air freshener throughout the room.
Febreze Air Effects spray – use as per instructions on product packaging.  If optional fabric refresher is not on hand, use the Air Effects for next step also.
Fabric Refresher – spray all soft items in the room including, drapery, bedding, upholstery, shower curtain, and carpet.

Now is a good time to close the window, securing the lock on it, and go out for dinner.  The room should be much fresher smelling upon your return.  Adjust the climate control unit temperature as needed.

Keeping the Hotel Room Fresh During Your Stay

  • Replace dryer sheets as needed during your stay to retain a fresh smell in the room.
  • Also, use the fabric refresher as often as needed.
  • Open windows for fresh air as often as possible.
  • REMEMBER TO REMOVE AND DISCARD DRYER SHEETS FROM UNIT BEFORE YOU CHECK OUT!!!

The internet is a wonderful place where we can share information, ideas, and experiences. The above post is Bayou Mama’s recommendations for freshening stale, funky smelling hotel rooms based upon experiences gained while travelling with LouisianaMan.  We are in no way responsible or liable for any damages or ill-effects from the advice above.  Use these methods at your own risk!  Use good sense!


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