smell of burnt popcorn

How to Get Rid of a Burnt Popcorn Smell

Full disclosure: I spent over twenty years running cinemas. Getting rid of a burnt popcorn smell was what I did most days, so I know a trick or two. I had to.

Popcorn divides people into strong pro and anti camps, and the anti camp could get especially feisty if there was the whiff of burnt popcorn in the air. Things could get quite heated, and not just in the popcorn machine.

The problem is that burnt popcorn can really stink a place out, for ages after the deed is done. And this is the case whether you pop in a saucepan, a proper proprietary popper (try saying that after a few drinks) or, as is increasingly common, a microwave. But don’t worry, help is at hand.

Let’s get down to the kernel of the matter. Ladies and gentlemen, please sit back and enjoy our feature presentation.


1. Use a Bit of Care

a bowl of popcorn

The first way is not to burn that popcorn in the first place. With care, attention and agitation, it’s perfectly possible to have perfectly cooked popcorn with not a burnt kernel in sight.

But other things often crop up – they certainly did in the cinema, so it’s not always easy to avoid burning.

And it’s no use telling you not to burn it if you’ve already gone and burnt it. So, let’s move on.


2. Remove the Offending Item

You need to get any popcorn that’s left over out of the house. So, take it out and put it in the food waste. The thing with popcorn is that it’s a delicious treat but only just after it’s cooked.

Leave it for any time and it will not benefit from standing around. So, if you have any popcorn left uneaten it won’t keep well. So, you might as well get rid of it.

Getting it out of the house will get rid of a lot of the smell, but not all. So, we need to move on to the next step.


3. Lemon

putting bowl with lemon in microwave

Cut a lemon into thick slices and place in a large bowl of water. Microwave for three minutes. Leave the door shut for 15 minutes.

This will get rid of those smells not just from the microwave but from the whole kitchen.

Using lemons and lemon juice is a great technique to use no matter how you went and burnt that popcorn in the first place.


4. Bicarbonate of Soda (Baking Soda)

Put four teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking soda) into one cup of water and microwave for three minutes as per the lemon technique. You can also put cups of dry baking soda around the room – it will absorb smells with remarkable power.


5. Essential Oils

The same microwave trick can be performed with a few drops of essential oils in water. Don’t overdo it – those oils are strong and you may find that your burnt aromas have been replaced with a smell just as overpowering.


6. Air Purifier

air purifier

If you’ve got an air purifier, ideally one with an activated charcoal filter like the Silentnight Air Purifier. It will make short work of burnt popcorn smells. Note that a HEPA filter alone will not give quite as good results, as it targets particulate pollutants as opposed to odours.


7. Charcoal Bag

charcoal bag hanging on door knob

Charcoal put in a breathable bag and left hanging up high in the room will help to get rid of that popcorn pong. It might take a little time, but bear with it.


8. White Vinegar

Mix equal quantities of white vinegar and cold water, put in a spray bottle and spray all around wherever you cooked the popcorn. Then wipe up with a dry cloth. The scent of vinegar will cut straight through those burnt smells.


9. Fresh Air

open windows near net curtains

Seems obvious, but it’s amazing how often people don’t do the most logical thing – open the windows.

Try to get a throughflow of air going by opening more than one window. And don’t forget to use your extractor fan too.


10. Wash Fabrics

curtains, apron, tea towel and oven gloves

You may find that after a big burnup a lot of the smoky smells get embedded in any fabrics in the room.

Tea towels, aprons and oven gloves are prime candidates so get them in the washing machine if you can.

If you have any mats in the room that can be washed, you should definitely give them a good cleaning (in the washing machine if possible).

Curtains are a little more of a big deal. Having to take them down and re-hang them is a right pain, and they may well not be happy in the washing machine.

So, use a deodorising spray like Febreze and give them a quick squirting. (Diluted white vinegar’s a good option too.)


11. If All Else Fails, Coffee

coffee powder on table

No, we’re not suggesting you put your feet up and have a quick coffee break. Get a few spoonfuls and sprinkle around the source of the smell. Coffee is a great smell absorber, so will snuff out any remaining whiffs.


A Burning Issue


Popcorn is a delight for the mouth but can be a torment for the nose if it gets burnt. The truth is that a lot of burning smells from all sorts of foods are unbearable and difficult to shift, and you can use the steps we’ve given you here on pretty much all of them.

They should be effective no matter what food’s been burnt.

So, reach for those lemons or the method of your choice. They’ll take care of any smoky sequels. That’s it. Roll credits.