A Recalcitrant Wife and Mother Tells All

How to Remove Bad Smells from Carpet and Upholstery

Well apparently it is Bad Smells Month here at The Bearded Iris, because my first two tips of July were all about combating stank on your hands and in your bathrooms.

What’s that you say? It’s August now? And it’s not even Tuesday? Well let’s just pretend I got this done yesterday like I had intended, m’kay?

So anyheee, today’s tip is also about stank. But today, we’re talking about stinky fabrics and carpets. 

Hey, I’ve got three kids and three pets. I know stank.

About a month ago, my sweet big Black Lab Ike had gotten a new collar and unbeknownst to us, he had been brewing a horrible skin infection beneath it. Boyfriend was starting to smell. Bad. I thought maybe he had been rolling in his own poop out in the yard. It was rank, y’all. So I took his collar off to give him a bath and discovered that the poor thing was all irritated and infected up in there. Broke my heart in two, I tell you. He is fine now, just took a reverse mohawk cut, a round of antibiotics, and some special healing salve, but he’s good as new. We’ve gotten rid of that collar too and have switched him to a chest harness instead. Poor baby. I hate to think of him in any pain or discomfort.

But meanwhile, his dog bed and the little area rug I have under it had absorbed the smell of his infection and was super gross.

That’s Gracie the cat. She likes to follow me around and be involved in all my cleaning and organization projects. (If you go back through the archives of The 52 Weeks projects from last year, you will see her in a lot of the pictures.)

So anyway, I didn’t want my beautiful clean dog to have to lie on a stinky bed. But I couldn’t just stick his rug and bed in the washing machine either.

I had to get creative.


The first thing I did was put the little area rug out on my deck.

Sunshine and fresh air always make any cleaning task more pleasant, don’t you agree? Also, some sources I’ve found online say that the ultraviolet rays of the sun help to kill odor-causing bacteria. Good to know! (Just be careful the sun doesn’t fade whatever it is you’re cleaning.)

The next thing I did was liberally spray the rug with a solution I made from one cup of water and 16 drops of Tea Tree Oil.

That’s a recipe for natural air freshener I found on Pinterest and have really been enjoying! I bought my Tea Tree Oil at my local grocery store for about $6 in the beauty products aisle. I love how it smells: clean, crisp, kind of piney/camphor-like. Tea Tree Oil is well known for its many uses in cleaning and treating minor health and skin issues.

This is probably a good time to remind you that I will not be held personally responsible if your sons start developing breasts due to your misuse of Tea Tree Oil. I am a writer, not a medical practitioner.

Once the rug was slightly damp from the Tea Tree Oil infused water spray, I coated it with a generous amount of Borax.

I let the Borax sit on the rug for a few hours.

Then I vacuumed it up and took a big whiff.

The stank was TOTALLY GONE. All I could smell was sunshine and rainbows. (I wasn’t even drunk.)

I have also used a version of this technique on my kids’ pee-stained mattresses (hey mattress pad cover manufacturers, thanks for nothing!) But instead of sprinkling on the dry Borax, I followed the instructions on the back of the Borax box:

  1. dissolve 1/2 cup of Borax in 1 pint of water
  2. sponge on
  3. wait 1/2 hour
  4. rinse well
  5. let dry
  6. vacuum

It’s a little more labor intensive, but it removes the round ring-o-pee stain from the mattress, so it’s worth it.

Did your kid have a pee-pee accident on your upholstered couch? Been there. Unzip the upholstered cover off the cushion insert and treat the cover with the dry Borax like I did with the rug above, then use the wet Borax solution to clean and deodorize the pee stain from the cushion insert (like I did on my kids’ mattresses).

Disclaimer: even though Borax claims to be a “Natural Alternative to ColorSafe Bleach,” you should definitely do a spot test to make sure it won’t discolor your fabric. Please, proceed at your own risk.

And there you have it. Now let’s get out there and destankify our homes safely and naturally! My gift to you.

Have a suggestion for an issue or tip you’d like me to research and share? Please leave it in the comments below.

Sincerely and now with a fresh smelling dog bed,


  1. Becky

    Wow, you have so many great tips! I will be sure to try this out (especially the mattress part!) the next time we end up with some stank at our house.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Thanks Becky! My brain is a cavernous hole of random tips. Now if only I could apply all my knowledge to my own home! But at least my mattresses and carpets don’t stink. So I’ve got that going for me.

  2. Melissa

    Dumb question – I have heard of 20 Mule Team borax a lot but have NEVER seen it in the store. Where do you find it?? (I’m sure I could purchase online, but I’d rather just go grab a box and not have to wait on shipping.) 🙂

    • The Bearded Iris

      No such thing as a dumb question, Melissa. 🙂 I find Borax in the laundry aisle of my grocery store. It is usually near the other cleansing powders like OxiClean and Washing Soda. A big box only costs a couple of dollars. I use it constantly!

  3. Ann

    Nothing I love more than a new cleaning tip…except for a big pink drink! Since we have 3 kids, 4 dogs, and foster dogs in and out of here quite often I’m happy to have another idea for removing the funk!

    • The Bearded Iris

      At least you are smart enough to have tiny dogs. That probably helps with the funk-management. But the teenage boy funk? Ay-yi-yi. I’mma pray for you. Cheers!

  4. Cath

    Comments!!!! Weeeeee! Yay! Borax is usually in the laundry aisle, no?! I love the stuff. I use it on floors and bathrooms. I’m ready and armed for carpets now, thanks Iris. Thanks too for taking comments again. I love to listen to myself talk (or my Nana says).

    • The Bearded Iris

      Yeah, I was missing you guys! Blogging (for me) is just more fun with the comments (usually). Thank you Cath for wanting to talk to me!

  5. Jolyse Barnett

    How ever did you know I was in need of this?? You must have smelled our house stank all the way from your house. Off to clean! 🙂

    • The Bearded Iris

      Well, I, uh, yeah…I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that Jolyse. Since you asked, I really didn’t have a stinky dog bed. I just created this scenario as a way to tell you that your house smells. 😉

  6. Anne Alexander

    Great info Leslie- definitely have many uses for this tip!

    • The Bearded Iris

      As if your sweet dog could ever stink! Seriously, if your dog ever ends up missing, just come to my house…I probably kidnapped her. But you do have two sons, so yeah, you’re going to need this tip. XO!

  7. Famous SpokesGoat Pricilla

    The publicist loves Tea Tree Oil. She puts it in my rich soap and it has helped some of my customers with their acne. She says it also takes away her nasty fever blisters from when she stays out in the sun too long with out sun screen on her lips.

    She has never used borax but says it sounds like a miracle cleaner

    • The Bearded Iris

      Yes, Borax ROCKS. It’s cheap and green and does a whole host of things.

      I might have to check out some of your Tea Tree Oil soap when my kids get a little older and pimply! I really like how it smells.

  8. Rachel

    Thanks for the Borax tip! I have a bunch of it left over after making “Flubberworm Mucous” during Potions class at my daughter’s Harry Potter party. Now, maybe, I can do something useful with the Borax instead of making more slime. 🙂

    • The Bearded Iris

      Oooh, that sounds like a fun project! I’ve never made slime before but I bet my kids would LOVE that.

  9. Starr

    Anyone with kids should know that Tea Tree Oil also repels LICE! I put a few drops in my kids shampoo at the beginning of the school year, and have never had a problem!

  10. Lisa Hewitt

    Great tip. Thanks.

    • The Bearded Iris

      You’re welcome Lisa!

  11. Jane

    Oooh I love this tip. There is nothing worse than dirty dog bed smell. I’m so excited to try it!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Yay! Let me know if it works for you or if my directions need any tweaking 🙂

  12. MikeP

    Holy synchronicity, Batman!
    I bought insulating curtains for winter to replace the weak-as-piss Ikea paper ones but they smell like a rat died in the package. No amount of washing with vinegar and sun-blasting has diluted the smell. Meanwhile I’m sitting wrapped in a blanket wearing a beanie. And we live in Australia. And I’m Scottish for feck’s sake (where it regularly drops to −17 in winter). Tea Tree and Borax here I come.
    Thanks, LM.

    • The Bearded Iris

      See? This is why we’re practically kin. Good luck with those curtains Mike! Nothing worse than the smell of dead rat (um, just guessing.)

  13. Lori P

    Thank you so much for this tip! We just took our smallish area rug to the cleaners after my fiancee finally admitted the stench was bad enough to warrant professional intervention. What with the dog butt scooting, dog puke, dog rawhide slime, etc. that permeated the rug. For in between cleanings, I am definitely going to try your method!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Oh Lawdy, the dog butt scooting! YES! All those things you mentioned…dogs are just so nasty, aren’t they? But we do love them so. Good luck with keeping the stank at bay. 🙂

  14. Peg D

    Love the post and I am so glad you are allowing us to comment. My Hubby sometimes gets a smell of B O in the armpits of his undershirts. I have used ammonia with some success but I would love to try the suggestions you made.

    I am curious about the Tea Tree Oil as a head lice repellant. I have not heard that one before. would love to know more about how much to apply and when. I wonder if it would work on the eye Lashisses?

    • Terrie

      Peg ~ (and other girlfriends with stanky laundry problems): I have a very enlightened (okay, divorced) male friend who does all his own laundry and ALWAYS smells like Mama did it with her special recipe. He gardens, works on cars & motorcycles, owns dogs & a cat, AND smokes cigars. When I asked him how he achieved his clean-fresh-smell, his answer was oddly simple: 1. Tide, 2. fabric softener, and 3. a shot glass full of alcohol in the final rinse cycle. He used to use vodka, but his teenaged-daughters quickly depleted his source, so he switched to Costco’s big bottle of 30% rubbing alcohol. B’s machine has the 3 little compartments you prefill; not sure if this would work on older washing machines where you dump product into tub. I have a small front-load, and it gets rid of the moldy smell they’re famous for. Safe for clothes, too! Lemme know if it works for you. 😉

  15. Mrs B

    I’ve heard that regular hair-care products can also repel lice – hair spray, gel, leave-in conditioner… lice prefer clean hair.
    Thanks for the reminder about Borax!

  16. Snappy

    Glad Ike is okay and the rug no longer smells! I wish I would have known this for carpet my cat decided to use as a litter box a few years ago – instead we just ripped it out and put in new carpet. Ugh.

    Where’s a pic of Ike?!

  17. Michelle

    Thank you Iris! You are one of the very few people who can make a post on advice heeeelarious! Useful and funny. I like it.

  18. Woodsy Mama

    I cannot live without Borax, or Tea Tree Oil, millions of uses and finding new ones every day. Just ran out and discovered Publix does not carry Borax!? I was shocked, guess it’s back to Dollar General!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Ooooh, please do tell! What is your most unique or favorite use for Borax and/or Tea Tree Oil?! Also, my Publix does carry Borax. It is such a common product, I bet if you asked the GM to carry it again, he/she would do it. I find their customer service to be outstanding.

  19. Bri

    Can you do this on your regular indoor carpet? We have a potty training 2 year old and a new puppy, needless to say my carpet now smells funky!!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Hi Bri – yes, I do believe you should be able to do this on regular wall-to-wall carpet too. You might want to spot-test it though to make sure it doesn’t bleach or stain your carpet. Potty training kids and puppies make for super-stank carpets, FO SHO! Good luck!

  20. Nola

    Thanks for the tips, I never realized borax could be used outside of laundry…

    A word of caution though: tea tree oil is generally highly toxic to dogs. A whiff of it can cause a serious reaction in most dogs. A drop or two actually on them can be fatal to a small dog. Please be careful with this!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Oh gosh – I did not know this! I’ve been spraying my dog’s bed with a tea tree oil air freshener! YIKES!! Thank you so much for the warning.

  21. Stormi

    What if I can’t take the cover off my couch? Do I treat it like a mattress! It’s the microfiber that looks like leather. Me and my son fell asleep in the recliner couch one night, woke up, and later on discovered he had an accident. By then it smelled horrible! I sprayed 409 on it and scrubbed but I can still smell it! Help! I also tried my leather Scentsy spray.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Hi Stormi,

      Well if 409 didn’t stain it, I would think you could use some Borax. I would make a solution of Borax in some warm water (probably 1/2 cup Borax to 2 quarts of water…but check the side of the box), and just to be safe – test first on the back of the couch or on a place that won’t show – and then sponge it on the area that was peed upon until it is completely damp. Borax is THE BEST natural stank remover I know of. I use it for any and all stinky stains! Good luck!

  22. Michelle McCallister

    Great blog and tips Leslie! Thank you! Have you heard of a product called Freshana Organic Solutions? Just started using it and loving it. Thought I’d pass it along to you. Your readers might like it too.

  23. Eileen

    Does it have to be tea tree oil, or can you use some other type of essential oil? I have a lemon-eucalyptus currently and I’m desperate to try this NOW. We bought two used office chairs a week ago and I’ve tried everything (except the borax) to get the smell out. They smell like a mix of tobacco smoke and funk. One is fabric, the other is leather. They’d be great chairs if they didn’t smell so bad that they stink up the room.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Hi Eileen! The Borax is the most important ingredient for removing the bad smells. The tea tree oil does have an anti-bacterial property, which is probably more important for bio-related smells. But for smoke, I would think the Borax would do it. Once you get the funk out, the lemon-eucalyptus oil (just a few drops in a spray bottle with water) should help give the chairs a new, much improved smell. Good luck!

      • Eileen

        Thank you! I went ahead and used water with essential oil in it, then coated it with dry Borax. It made a huge difference! Now to get all of the dried Borax off the chair. I don’t care how it looks, I just can’t sit in something that smells that bad.

  24. dawn moody

    Hi,I’ve had a dog pee on my carpet and and due to a urine infection it smells really awful.I have used toilet paper to absorb the wee then disinfectent dabbed up,carpet cleaner scrubbeanddabbed,then dried now on my second round of bicarbonate of soda sprinkled then vacuumed up and still stinks please help x.

  25. Syl

    Do you have any helpful hints for treating upholstered furniture with a heavy odor from cigarette smoke?

    • The Bearded Iris

      Can you put it outside in the sun for a day? Sunshine and fresh air do wonders (although the sun might fade the upholstery, so you need to be careful of that.) Also, the same technique described here for carpets would work on upholstery as well. Just test first somewhere safe like the underside of the cushion just in case it stains/bleaches. Good luck!

  26. Mike Larry

    I have no children but came upon your site looking for an answer to a problem that places the elderly also. Appreciate your helpful advice on removing pet odors from carpets and upholstery.

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