How to Get Rid of a Burnt Popcorn Smell

  • Author: Sue Dorrens
  • Published: August 4, 2022
  • Time to read: 7 min.
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If you were to craft a list of the worst smells that linger forever, burnt popcorn would probably be right near the top. It just never seems to go away. So how do you get rid of a burnt popcorn smell?

Don’t fret! It’s easy to do with some simple household items.

You’ll find a list of 4 simple yet effective methods below to try next time you leave that popcorn bag in the microwave just a little bit too long (or forget about it completely).

Check our article on how to avoid burning your popcorn.

How Do You Mask the Smell of Burnt Popcorn?

You can mask the smell of burnt popcorn by covering it with something that smells stronger, such as vanilla, dryer sheets, or candles (there are step-by-step methods below).

These scents can overpower the burnt smell. That being said…your best bet to rid yourself of the offending smell is to combine some steps below and allow the methods to work together to attack the smell head-on.

​​Why Does a Burnt Popcorn Smell Linger?

Microwave popcorn has quite a distinctive smell thanks to the artificial flavorings and coatings the manufacturers use to create that buttery flavor. Each brand and flavor is unique, but most of them use the same types of basic additives.

When these additives are burnt, it creates a terrible, lingering odor because of those artificial compounds burning, not the popcorn itself.

Are Burnt Popcorn Fumes Harmful?

burnt popcorn

Yes and no. The fumes from burning popcorn are harmful due to their artificial nature. More specifically, a chemical compound called diacetyl creates a ‘buttery’ flavor.

However, the small amounts that most people would inhale in a domestic setting are low enough that they won’t likely cause harm. The only real concern regarding diacetyl inhalation exists for workers in plants, where they inhale large amounts of the compound.

How Do You Get Popcorn Smoke Out of Your House?

The best way to remove smoke from your home is to maximize your airflow. Direct the smoke and fumes towards an open door or window. Once it has dissipated, you can tackle the remaining odor (if any).

As far as the smell, burnt popcorn can be particularly tricky, as it seems to cling to everything and has strong staying power. You’ll find four methods below that get the job done without much effort or hassle.

Method #1: Air Circulation

When in doubt, air it out. This philosophy applies to any unpleasant odor that may assault your kitchen’s air (and your nose). Even the acrid smell of burnt popcorn can be diluted with good airflow.

Here are a few tips:

  • Open your windows (and maybe even a door)
  • Place a fan near the microwave
  • Turn your hood vent(s) on high

That should take care of the smoke and at least a majority of the smell.

Even better, though? Combine this method with another (or all) below to kick that smell to the curb!

Method #2: Clean the Microwave

This may sound obvious, but cleaning the microwave is a good bet when trying to figure out how to get rid of a burnt popcorn smell. You can also mask it, but if you don’t clean it, that odor most likely won’t stay away. Using lemon juice and/or vinegar will be most effective for a smell such as brick-of-charcoal popcorn.

Using Lemon Juice

To use lemon juice to clean your microwave, you should steam it so the smell can cling to the inner surfaces with the most coverage.

Here are the steps to do so:

  • Add one lemon and ½ cup of water to a microwave-safe bowl. You’ll want to squeeze out the lemon juice and place both the juice and the remaining flesh in the bowl together.
  • Microwave on high for three minutes.

Don’t open the door yet! Allow it to sit for five minutes for maximum steam coverage. Remove the bowl from the microwave and use a wet cloth to wipe the inside surfaces. Make sure you remove any stuck-on food, as the popcorn odor can linger there. Wipe the inside surfaces with a dry cloth to remove the moisture.

This method should leave a nice citrus scent in your microwave. You could also use this method with oranges instead of lemons for a different scent.

Using Vinegar

This vinegar cleaning method is quite similar to the lemon juice method, although it won’t leave that sweet citrus aroma. If you’re not keen on the smell of vinegar, you could try this method and follow it up with the lemon one.

Here are the steps to clean your microwave with vinegar:

  • Add equal parts white vinegar and regular water to a microwave-safe bowl (you don’t need a lot; try 1 cup each).
  • Microwave on high for three minutes.
  • Allow it to sit without opening the door for five minutes to allow the steam to settle.
  • Remove the bowl from the microwave.
  • Pour ½ teaspoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of baking soda on a damp sponge. Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds.
  • Scrub the inside surfaces of the microwave with the sponge, taking care to remove any stuck-on food or stains.
  • Use a dry cloth to wipe the moisture away.

Vinegar is an effective cleaning agent and deodorizer, so this should send that charred popcorn smell packing.

That being said, you may be left with a vinegar scent. If it doesn’t bother you, it should dissipate within a couple of days. As mentioned above, you could follow this with the lemon cleaning method to leave your microwave with a pleasant lemony scent.

Method #3: Absorb the Smell

If cleaning isn’t cutting it, you can try absorbing the smell. Like when dealing with stains, sometimes absorbing bad smells can lead to easier cleaning and quicker dissipation.

Using Baking Soda

Baking soda is a magnificent odor absorber and a handy tool for dealing with lingering odors. Even if you’ve used other methods and the smell isn’t too bad anymore, this is so easy it’s a no-brainer.

Here’s what to do:

  • Open a box of baking soda (any container; a bag works fine too). If you have a partial box that’s already open, that will work just fine.
  • Leave it in the microwave overnight.

That’s it. Easy, right?

This method can and should be used for any odors you need to deal with. It can even prevent odors too. Try sticking an open container of baking soda in your fridge to prevent odors from getting out of control there.

Using Coffee

When it comes to strong scents, coffee is high on the list. Coffee grounds also are highly absorbent, so this method can be effective when trying to mask burnt popcorn.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Combine ½ cup of water and 2 tablespoons of ground coffee in a microwave-safe bowl.
  • Microwave on high for three minutes.
  • Let it sit for two minutes.
  • Remove the bowl from the microwave.

That’s it. The smell should be gone at this point, although you can combine this with other methods to increase the effectiveness even higher if you’ve got a particularly obscene odor (like burnt popcorn).

Method #4: Mask the Smell

If you’ve tried everything and the smell won’t quit, try masking the odor with something more pleasant, such as vanilla or a scented candle.

Over time, the burnt popcorn smell will dissipate, but this will buy you some time, so you don’t have to smell it as strongly every day until it’s gone.

Vanilla

This is more of a method to help the smell of your entire kitchen, not necessarily just your microwave, but it’s effective nonetheless.

Here’s how:

  • Add 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract to a microwave-safe bowl or mug.
  • Bake the vanilla in the oven at 300 degrees F for 1 hour.

Alternatively, you could use the stove:

  • Add ½ cup water and 1 tablespoon of vanilla to a small saucepan.
  • Simmer on low as long as needed (watch for evaporation, though).

This is another one of those methods that can be used for any (and all) odors. It’s a very effective way to mask odors without much time and effort.

Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets are not just great for preventing static cling but also effective deodorizers! Simply tape dryer sheets over your microwave vents when it’s not in use to pull odors out of the hard-to-reach areas.

Be sure to remove them when you use the microwave and replace them when you’re done.
Keep at it for a few days; that lingering smell should be on its way out.

Candles

Like vanilla, this is a method for scenting your entire kitchen, not just your microwave. Simply choose a smell that you enjoy and keep it lit when you’re in (or near) the kitchen. That aroma should mask any lingering popcorn odor until it fully dissipates.

Yes, You Can Get Rid of a Burnt Popcorn Smell!

What if the odor you’re dealing with is particularly pungent? Your best bet is to use a combination of methods. For example, you could clean with vinegar, then lemon, set up some air circulation, and leave a box of baking soda overnight while scenting the kitchen with vanilla.

Grab one (or a few) of the methods above and run with it. Try a couple of them and see which you prefer best. That lingering popcorn smell doesn’t stand a chance with just a few simple steps.

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