Feb 28

The Indian food smell problem

If you live in an American home and are fond of Indian cooking, you are sure to have faced this problem. Not only does the house start smelling of the food, your clothes and hair also absorb and retain the smell. This translates to you carrying the smell wherever you go-be it work, the grocery store or the movies. What is even worse than this is that you often don’t realize it since you get used to the smell. Only those around you can smell it on you-and it can be quite embarrassing to have people cringe their noses when they see you coming.

This happens because American homes are not meant for Indian cooking. Since most American meals are cold meals, and even when cooked, do not use as many spices as Indian food does, the home is ill equipped to handle it. Even if you cook something as simple as roti, your clothes can catch the smell. American homes lack the ventilation necessary to clear out the air. And since kitchens are open, the smell travels to other rooms as well.

I have a few tips that can help keep the house and you- stay fresh. If you follow these tips, you should be able to avoid the ‘Indian food smell problem’.

To protect your hair from absorbing the smell of the food, wear a cap. Any cap will work-even a shower cap. If you are conscious of appearance, you can wear a nicer looking cap. But keep this designated for the kitchen, since it will have absorbed the smell of whatever it is that you are cooking.

Keep your clothes smelling fresh by designating a separate set of clothes for the kitchen. If you cook, and wear the same clothes out of the house, you will most likely be carrying the smell on you, without even realizing it. The only way to freshen your cooking clothes is to wash them. Perfume will have the same effect as if you were to use it after gyming. It will create a potent mix of smells that may not be pleasant.

For your house, close the bedroom doors and closets before you begin cooking. If your house has a carpet, it will most likely be absorbing the smell. It is not possible to avoid this. The best you can do is to open the windows and allow fresh air to ventilate the room. This minimizes the smell absorbed and helps keep the room as fresh as possible. Most likely, your house will have a chimney-but these don’t work very well for the kind of masala Indian food has. So opening the doors and windows for fresh air is important and really helpful.

If it is too cold, open the outside doors and windows as soon as you are done cooking, and head to another room. Keep it open for a couple of hours to make sure the room has fresh air. Then close the doors and windows and turn on the heating.

Remember to keep the heating off while cooking-the heating helps the fabric in the room absorb the smell.

Frying is the worst-the smell lasts way longer and just sits in the house. For this reason, you should avoid frying during winter, since you cannot open the doors and windows to ventilate the house.

Another thing to remember is that you should keep all your clothes and coats in the closet with the door closed, so that they don’t have a chance to get in touch with the food smell.

This often also happens when you visit an Indian or Chinese restaurant. The restaurant will have a lingering smell that your coats and clothes can easily absorb. Avoid taking your coat into the restaurant-prefer to leave it in the car. And launder your clothes from the restaurant before you wear them again.


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  1. Vishal


    I faced the same problem in Germany and trust me, it was hard for us to find a solution initially.

    Then we asked our landlord, what can be done. He was a sweet guy and said, as much as I love the indian food, i would request you guys to buy some scented candles.

    We headed to IKEA one weekend and got us TINDRA candles of all flavours, rose, green apple and what not.

    Trust me, it works.

  2. MrT

    Thanks for the post Saumya. I have the same problem too, but like you metioned carpets and lack of ventilation make it bad. Keeping the bedroom and closet doors, and doors of all other rooms closed help. I have realized that showering after my cooking is the best way to get rid of the smell.

    Funny thing is after having lived here this long, I went to India, my mother cooked Indian food several times, not even a slightest smell inside the home. Could be because there were no odor absorbing materials there?

    By the way, I feel that Indian food is not the only one that has this issue.The western food makes me uncomfortable too, even when they warm up meat or fish inside the microwave oven at work. That could be because I am a veg.

  3. Crystal

    I have a wonderful Indian friend who comes to work with these unfortunate scents on her. These scents were bothering several of her co-workers so she tried to make it better by wearing more perfume. Now that is an issue too. She has done nothing wrong, and I am the one trying to make things better at work for her and these other co-workers. They were rude to her, but I want to help her. The scents don’t bother me, but I’m stuck in the middle of all this rudeness. Thoughts?

  4. Candy

    Hi crystal
    It’s nice of you that you are trying to help out. These are things you can tell your friend to do to avoid the smells on her clothes and hair- most of them are mentioned above –
    Wearing a cap while cooking
    Wearing diff clothes for cooking and not use them for going out or for work
    Taking a shower after cooking
    Cooking in the evenings after work and take a shower ( we had some one who use to cook in the morning , which is really nice for her family and kids but it leaves all the spice smells on )
    Using dry shampoo for hair
    Lighting candles during and after cooking
    Boiling a little bit of vinegar with water , during and after cooking … One of my coworkers told me it helps to take the smell out of sofas and curtains etc

    I believe that most people don’t realize that these smells stick to the clothes and hair and are very uncomfortable for other people . i try to tell people if I know them well . It’s not easy to talk about this since people might get offended but it’s very important to pay attention to these things .

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