Something in the Air by Gary Marshall

Our sense of smell is the most powerful of all our senses – and that means we’re quick to notice if something doesn’t smell too good. Damp, pets and perfumes can all create unwanted odours in our homes, but the good news is that there are lots of devices that can clear the air.

Damp is one of the most distinctive unwanted odours, and it can be serious: damp can cause respiratory problems, especially in young children and the elderly. It’s usually caused by inadequate ventilation, over-enthusiastic showering or drying clothes indoors, especially in winter, and you can banish it with a dehumidifier. A dehumidifier sucks moisture out of the air and puts it in a tank, and some models can be installed permanently with a drain tube to take the water outside. Don’t waste your time with little gel-pack dehumidifiers: electric ones can cost as little as £50, although for a typical home you’d be better off with one of the very many models costing around £100. Those ones are capable of handling 10 litres of water before it’s time to empty them; smaller, cheaper ones need emptied much more frequently.

If the unwanted odours are from dust, smoke or other small particles, an air purifier such as the Vax HEPA 2 Air Purifier (around £150) can help. The HEPA bit is important: it’s short for high-efficiency particulate air, and it’s an international standard for air cleaning gadgets. If it isn’t HEPA it might not be very good. You’ll also find HEPA-accredited vacuum cleaners from the likes of Vax and Dyson, which are particularly good for houses with pets.

If you’ve seen advertising breaks recently you’ve probably seen ads for devices such as the Air Wick Freshmatic, which regularly release puffs of fragrance to make your room smell nicer. You can pick up Freshmatic bases – the bits that do the puffing – for around £6 for two, and refills are around £6 to £12 for a pack of four.

The problem with air fresheners, of course, is that they mask odours rather than get rid of them. If you’re dealing with stubborn odours, such as the ones left on furniture by wet dogs or from food smeared on the sofa by small children, then a dedicated cleaning gadget might help. There are two kinds to consider: carpet and upholstery cleaners, and steam cleaners.

As you’d expect, carpet and upholstery cleaners are designed to clean fabrics and carpets. Vax’s Rapide (around £129) and Bissell’s Cleanview use jets of water and detergent to clean and then suck the liquid back in again, and the results can be great – provided, that is, that the fabric’s colour doesn’t run. Always try a small area first just in case, and look for anti-allergen detergents. 

The second option, a steam cleaner, can clean almost anything – but the steaming process does leave fabric wet for quite a while afterwards, so it’s best done on a warm day. Steam cleaners are incredibly cheap, with decent ones from as little as £14, and even award-winning models such as the H20 X5 mop and multipurpose cleaner come in at around £80. Such devices are particularly good for people with allergies or people with very young children, as the cleaning is chemical-free, and they can also be used for dull tasks such as removing wallpaper and, in some cases, cleaning the oven too.