8 Teacher-Tested Ways To Improve a Stinky Classroom

Leave the stench behind.

Paired image of activated charcoal bags and plants

Have you ever been packed in a classroom full of teenagers who just came back from gym? I have. It’s like a rotting onion patch. (No disrespect to my students. I, too, would smell like an onion patch if I had to do do burpees on black asphalt under the Texas sun.)

Here’s the problem: Covering up the stink with fragrances—wall plug-ins, wax warmers, scented sprays—is a no-no in most schools. And it should be. Many students are sensitive or allergic to scents, and certain fragrances can induce migraines or even allergic reactions in kids. We don’t want that.

What we do want is a classroom that smells like … nothing. Blissful, breathable nothing. Where students aren’t distracted by fragrances, and you are not distracted by their fragrances. Here are seven ways to help get you to the land of neutrality.

1. Charcoal bags

Activated charcoal bags to fix a stinky classroom

These activated charcoal bags absorb odors without masking them with an additional fragrance. With rave reviews of how they’ve helped eliminate odors from dogs and cigarette smoke in people’s houses, they can certainly take on school smells. Stick them on your windowsill, on top of file cabinets, or other less-used surfaces, and breathe easier.

On a Reddit thread about stinky classrooms, this user shared a similar odor-absorbing trick. Might be worth some beta testing (especially if you already have cat litter on hand):

byu/MSSCIGuy from discussion

Buy it: Charcoal bags on Amazon

2. Fragrance-free air-neutralizing spray

ZorbX odor absorbing spray to fix a stinky classroom

ZorbX was created by a nurse who saw a need for an unscented odor-removing spray. It’s truly all-purpose and can be sprayed over carpets, tile, desks, upholstery, and any other surface you can think of in a classroom. If it’s good enough for a nurse and hospital-grade, it’s good enough for me.

Buy it: ZorbX Odor Remover Spray on Amazon

3. Hygiene education and kits

Depending on your students’ ages and if/when health courses are offered in your area, some students might have gaps in their hygiene knowledge. Additionally, some students might not have access to products or services (e.g., accessible and reliable laundry). If that’s the case, ask your school nurse for help in finding hygiene kits, and look into organizations that offer free laundry services like LaundryCares or Laundry Love.

4. Fragrance-free odor-absorbing tubs

Arm & Hammer odor eliminating tubs to fix a stinky classroom

Strategically plant a few of these around your classroom and you’ll be breathing easier in no time.

Buy it: Arm & Hammer Odor Eliminator on Amazon

5. Add plants

Teacher and students observing odor absorbing plant

Did you need an excuse to get more plants? Here’s a list of indoor plants that help absorb and neutralize odors. Added bonus: This study indicates that interacting with indoor plants may reduce stress in young adults.

6. Air purifier

Air purifier to fix a stinky classroom

Before making the investment in an air purifier for your classroom, first make sure you’ve exhausted other options for which you don’t have to foot the bill. Even if your school won’t or can’t approve your order, there are many ways to get a functional item like this without buying it yourself. Consider seeking a local corporate donation or looking into grants your school district might offer or crowd-funded online programs.

This model is one of the few that’s actually classroom-sized (many that say “for large rooms” cover about a quarter of a standard classroom).

Buy it: Air purifier on Amazon

7. Make a Corsi-Rosenthal box—a DIY air purifier!

Check out what this Reddit user had to say about Corsi-Rosenthal boxes:

byu/MSSCIGuy from discussion

Interested in making your own? Here’s the link to the video.

8. Keep air moving

Classroom fan

Odors can seem worse when the air is stagnant. Help increase circulation by opening your classroom door to the hallway, using a fan, or choosing one student to fan everyone with a large piece of poster board for the rest of the year. Check your school’s rules on that last one, though.

Buy it: 3-Speed Fan on Amazon

What other fixes do you have for a stinky classroom? Let us know in the comments.

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Need to fix a stinky classroom? We're here to help. We have solutions—all fragrance-free—that'll get you breathing easier in no time.