indian food

How to Deal with Your Roommate Cooking Indian Food

indian food

Photo by Eddie Welker on Flickr

If your roommate cooks Indian food a lot, you may not enjoy the strong odors that go along with this South Asian cuisine. Having to breathe cooking smells you don’t like might be making you feel annoyed, inconvenienced, or even physically sick.

I have been on both sides of the strong cooking odor issue, once developing a major conflict with a roommate who hated the smell of my fried food.

I also love Indian food, but when I lived with someone who cooked it all the time, I needed to take measures to prevent sensory overload.

So, how can you control Indian food cooking odors and related kitchen problems? Solutions include:

  • Create competing smells
  • Use the right ventilation
  • Keep the kitchen and dishes clean
  • Gain your roommate’s cooperation to reduce the problem
  • Move or ask your roommate to move

Read on for details on 16 ways to handle this problem.

1)  Cutting Indian Cooking Odors with an Air Purifier

air purifier

Photo by on Flickr

An air purifier might seem like an easy solution for controlling the smells of Indian food. However, these appliances vary widely in how good a job they do for eliminating strong odors in the kitchen. High-quality air purifiers also are expensive, often costing $300 or more.

If you do buy an air purifier for controlling unwanted smells from cooking, look for a model specifically designed to eliminate this problem. These types of air purifiers generally use an activated charcoal filter, and charcoal filters in air purifiers need regular maintenance and replacement to work correctly.

You can also purify the kitchen air using a simple and inexpensive method used by many Indian cooks:

After cooking, boil a small pot of water with a few tablespoons of white vinegar mixed in. The steam from this mixture can significantly cut many kitchen odors, including the smell of curry.

2)  Out-Competing Indian Cooking Odors

simmering water counteracting offensive cooking smells

If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, but you do like the scent of spices and herbs, try doing this: Add a tablespoon or so of your favorite herb or spice to a couple of quarts of water and put it on the stove to boil gently.

Leave the lid off the pot and add more water as needed. This simmering brew adds a pleasing aroma to the air, counteracting offensive cooking smells.

Try these spices or another one you like:

  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla beans or extract
  • Lemon slices or orange essence
  • Fresh, dried, or essential oil of lavender
  • Star anise
  • Ginger

If boiling the spices in the kitchen doesn’t do enough to cut the smell in other rooms, try using an electric coffee pot or small burner to simmer herbs and spices elsewhere in the house. You can also brew coffee to create a competing aroma. Be sure to set up the cooker safely, so there are no trip hazards.

Another way of creating a competing odor is an air freshener product or burning a scented candle or incense, if you like those smells, but fresh herbs and spices are often more pleasant, and you can fine-tune the aroma to your liking.

3)  Make Indian Cooking Night Your Night Out

weekly schedule checked

Maybe your roommate is willing to cook curries when you are not home. See if you can work out a schedule with the person for cooking times that cut down on your exposure to unwanted smells.

Perhaps you cook some kind of food your roommate doesn’t like to smell, and you can also agree to cook that dish when they are not home.

4)  The Outdoor Cooking Option

outdoor-cooking gas camping stove

We barbecue outdoors, so why not cook curry out there as well? This solution won’t work if you have neighbors within smelling range who also don’t like the odor of curry. But in some living situations, an outdoor cooking area can be a solution to this problem.

One and two-burner propane camp stoves are inexpensive, easy to set up, and store in a small space when you’re not using them. You can find small, disposable propane fuel tanks at hardware stores, grocery stores, and big-box stores.

If you have a gas grill or barbecue, you may be able to use its tank to fuel a camp stove. Some models of propane camp stove can be hooked to a large, refillable propane tank using an adapter you can buy at a hardware store.

A light-weight, folding table gives you plenty of space to set up a burner, cutting board, and a plastic basin for dirty dishes. Cooking odors can sail away in the wind without accumulating in the house.

A temporary outdoor kitchen can be set up on a deck, patio, backyard lawn, back porch, or even in the garage with a door or window open and a fan going. Cooking in the front yard may not go down well with neighbors, but it depends on where you live.

5)  Keep Your Kitchen Clean to Cut Down Cooking Odors

If you want to keep odors to a minimum, ask your roommate to wash dishes and empty trash cans as soon as possible when they finish cooking. Also be sure someone regularly wipes down countertops, tabletops, floors, and other surfaces using a strong de-greasing solution.

You can clean surfaces and reduce odors using a commercially available de-greasing product, a bucket of detergent and hot water, or one of these homemade cleaning solutions:

  • Mix equal parts of warm water and white vinegar. Add in a few drops of essential oil or lemon juice for a pleasing after-scent.
  • Make a solution with four tablespoons of baking soda for each quart of warm water. Baking soda absorbs odors and cuts grease.

Blinds and curtains on windows and doorways also absorb oils from cooking, contributing to lingering cooking odor problems. Machine wash curtains and wipe down blinds and other window coverings frequently if you are trying to control kitchen odors.

6)  Dealing with Turmeric Stains from Indian Cooking

One problem many people have with Indian cooking has nothing to do with the smell but rather the staining of sinks, pots and pans, dishes, and countertops with the spice turmeric.

People cooking Indian food often use turmeric powder or curry powder, which has turmeric as the main ingredient. This dark-yellow spice has a mild taste and smell and gives some curries their bright-yellow color.

Turmeric is also well-known for powerful healing properties, but it has its problems in the kitchen. Turmeric powder stains surfaces quickly and can be a nightmare to clean up.

To clean up stains from curry and turmeric, use a cleaning powder or spray containing bleach and clean up spills as soon as possible. You can also make a thin paste of baking soda and water and spread it over the stain to help soak it up.

Having a sponge or rag dedicated to turmeric clean-up also helps prevent spreading this spice stain around in the kitchen.

Or, try asking your roommate to spread out a piece of plastic wrap on countertops when using turmeric or curry powder for catching spills and making clean-up easier. If stains on dishes and cookware bother you, keep your cookware and dishes separate and ask your roommate to get their own set.

Turmeric stains do wash out over time. However, it can take multiple trips through the dishwasher or under a sponge to get these stains out without using the right cleaning products and wiping it up promptly.

7) Stopping Your Clothes from Smelling like Indian Food

Another problem you may face living with someone who cooks a lot of Indian or other strong-smelling food is your clothing taking on unpleasant odors. Keeping your closet and room doors closed may not be enough to block cooking odors from smelling up your wardrobe.

Try these tricks for getting rid of the odor of Indian food in fabric:

  • When you do your laundry, add one-half cup baking soda or white vinegar during the rinse cycle.
  • If possible, dry fabrics in the sun for additional airing out and a clean, fresh smell.
  • Put clothing through two wash cycles if needed.
  • Store your clothing in plastic bags or garment bags to keep out odors.

You can also add a pleasant scent to closets and dresser drawers with fragrant cedar shavings or herbal potpourris.

8) Keeping Odors Out of Rugs and Carpets

carpet cleaning to get smell out

Rugs and carpets in your home are other places where cooking odors can settle in. Here are a few solutions:

  • If possible, remove rugs and doormats from the kitchen and adjacent rooms or wash them frequently.
  • Sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over the surface of the fabric and let it stand for at least one hour or even overnight then vacuum it up.
  • Regularly clean carpets with a steam cleaner, adding a half a cup of white vinegar to the cleaning solution water for extra odor elimination. Be sure the fabric is stain-fast first. If you are unsure about this, test a small area of the fabric in an area where no one will notice.
  • My colleague Ian found that shampoo carpet cleaning machines work best. They put shampoo in the carpet and then sucks it out again. You buy Rug Doctor machines which he used and love, or get a service to do it for you.
  • You can rent a carpet shampooing machine, such as the Rug Doctor, at many supermarkets and hardware stores. These are inexpensive for a day rental, and they work great for getting odors and dirt out of rugs.They spray a jet of warm, soapy water into the carpet and have a vacuum attached to the nozzle, which then sucks up the dirty water, grime, and odors.
  • You could also ask your roommate to pay for a professional carpet cleaning service to keep rugs and carpets smelling fresh and clean.

9) Complaining to Authorities about Cooking Odors


Everyone has the legal right to cook and eat at home. However, local municipalities, homeowner associations, and college dormitories do often have policies about nuisance behavior by tenants, and this can include strong odors.

If the situation is bad enough, a landlord, homeowner association, or dorm room administrator may be able to take action.

If you call a landlord or housing manager to help resolve a dispute about cooking odors, they will probably consider several things. They will want to know how often the problem happens, how severe it is, and how many tenants are complaining about the issue.

If you are thinking about making a complaint about a roommate’s cooking odors, you will have a stronger case if you keep records of the problem for a few weeks or longer before making the complaint. Consider keeping a logbook detailing:

  • Dates and times when cooking odors are a nuisance for you
  • Notes on the intensity and duration of the smell on each occasion
  • Records of any attempts you make to resolve the problem on your own
  • Documentation of any health problems you have as a direct result of the odors
  • Letters of support from neighbors or other roommates who are having the same problem with the smells.

Write a letter or ask for an in-person meeting with your landlord or apartment manager to discuss the problem, and then give them a copy of your records and ask if they can help resolve the problem.

Depending on the severity of the odor problem and the nuisance regulations where you live, you may be able to get outside help in resolving this issue if you can’t resolve it by yourself.

10) When Your Roommate Smells Like Indian Food

Sometimes, it’s not just the kitchen that smells like Indian food: The roommate also smells like curry or has an unpleasant odor from the foods they eat.

The foods we eat do affect how we smell, and the scent of the spices used in Indian cooking often come out in a person’s sweat, especially if they consume this food regularly.

Garlic, onions, certain spices, and vegetables in the cabbage family like cauliflower all contain sulfur, and all these ingredients frequently appear in Indian cuisine. Sulfur is a needed nutrient, but it also has a strong smell, which can lead to unpleasant body odor when eaten in large amounts.

So what do you do if your roommate smells bad due to their diet?

If you can, talk to the person about the issue in the kindest way possible. If the person bathes and changes clothing frequently and still smells, suggest stronger deodorant, perfume, or aftershave. Maybe bring it up by sharing some of yours.

Some young people who emigrate from India have grown up with servants at home who did laundry and housecleaning for their family. The person may genuinely be unfamiliar with how to properly do laundry or clean up after themselves, contributing to a body odor or clothing odor problem.

While this is a sensitive subject, keep in mind that you are possibly doing the person a favor in the long-run by bringing up the issue and helping them overcome it.

They may be unaware of how their diet or personal habits are affecting people around them and their own life. After getting over any embarrassment, the person may appreciate finding out about this problem and having a chance to make changes.

11) Close Doors to Block Cooking Smells

An obvious solution to minimizing cooking smells is to ask your roommate to close doors between the kitchen and other rooms in the house before cooking strong-smelling food or to do this yourself.

If there is no door between the kitchen and the rest of the house, consider hanging a heavy curtain to pull closed when someone is cooking.

If kitchen smells still come into your room when the door is closed, try putting a draft stopper at the bottom of the door. You can buy a draft stopper or roll up an old towel and put it against the bottom of the door to seal the space between the door and floor.

You can also install a door sweep: a piece of rubber you attach to the bottom of the door to block drafts. Look for door sweeps at any hardware store. You can usually install one with nothing more than a screwdriver.

12) Smart Ways to Improve Kitchen Ventilation

You may already have kitchen exhaust fan above the stove or oven, but, maybe your roommate isn’t using it, or it’s broken. If your exhaust fan doesn’t work, get it fixed or replace it, and make sure your roommate turns it on as soon as they start cooking.

Kitchen exhaust fans also have grease filters, and regularly washing out the screen can cut down on smells.

You may want to use extra fans along with the built-in exhaust fan in your kitchen. Try setting up one or more portable electric fans to get fumes out of the kitchen and keep them out of your room and the rest of the house. Large fans move more air. Small personal fans may not be big enough for the job.

To maximize ventilation, open a kitchen window or door to the outside and put the fan near the opening. Set the fan up, so it’s blowing toward the outside. The fan will then pull air from inside the house and direct it out the window or door, similar to what an exhaust fan does.

You can also close the door to your room and place a fan blowing toward the closed door. This air pressure can keep fumes from seeping in around the door frame, and a small personal fan may be big enough to do the trick in this situation.

You can also place a towel or a draft stopper at the bottom of the door to block unwanted cooking odors.

13) Two Fans are Better than One for Cooking Odors

If you really want to get the air circulating inside your house or apartment, open two windows on opposite sides of the building and have two fans going at the same time. Two fans create a maximum airflow, bringing in fresh air and expelling cooking odors and fumes as quickly as possible.

When you use two fans to ventilate, you want one fan to draw air into the room from an area with fresh air and the other to blow foul air out of the kitchen window or door.

If your house is large, you may also be able to create a cross-breeze by opening one window in the kitchen and also a nearby door going to another part of the house where there’s fresh air.

Set the fans up so the cords are not a trip hazard and the fan can’t fall out of the window.

14) Start Eating More Indian Food Yourself

If you really don’t like Indian food, forget about this one, but if you do sometimes like curry and you start cooking and eating it more, you may find that the odors become aromas and take on new meaning for you.

Our noses have a habit of not noticing smells we are around every day. If you live around the smell for some time, you are likely to get more used to it and may even come to enjoy it.

15) Communicate about Kitchen Issues and Odors

If at all possible, make this your first line of defense when dealing with a roommate about cooking odors. Changing other people’s behavior is not always possible, but it’s still worth trying to talk directly to the person and get their cooperation when a conflict happens.

Wait for a relaxed and friendly moment to talk, and be clear about what you want to say before you start.

People can be easily offended by hearing that the smells of their favorite foods are offensive to someone else. I know I was when my roommate stomped around, opened windows, and slammed doors instead of talking to me nicely.

Politely let your roommate know all the things about them that you appreciate. Tell them how you want them to cook the foods they enjoy but also to limit the odors or clean-up for your comfort. Ask for their cooperation.

Hopefully, your roommate will understand and work with you to minimize cooking problems using some of the suggestions here. If the person is not cooperative, take action by yourself to protect your comfort level.

16) Consider a New Living Arraignment

Cooking and eating are a significant part of what most people do at home, and feeling comfortable about these activities is crucial for a happy living arraignment for everyone.

If your roommate’s Indian food or other cooking habits are too much for you, you may simply be incompatible as roommates. You can still be friends, but not being roommates might be the best solution.

Writer: Mary Innes

mary innes


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