Stage the Invisible


What you can’t see can sell your house. But how do you stage the invisible?

Scent or odor?

The difference is in the nose of the beholder.

Bright or glaring?

It’s all in what someone sees.

That’s what makes staging bathrooms so difficult: Much of what makes these small rooms appealing just can’t be fixed with traditional staging techniques.

Barb Schwarz, veteran stager and owner of, says that the unspoken dynamic of presenting bathrooms is the ‘ick factor.’ A quick swipe of the surfaces and a quick light of a scented candle are exactly the wrong approach, because home buyers will see what you just don’t anymore.

“Most people don’t see their own dirt. It can appear clean, but it isn’t really clean. My sellers and students say ‘Ewww,’ but black lights that show urine on the floor, walls and fixtures,” says Schwarz, who trains new home stagers in the art of presenting homes in their best light.

Untouched dirt in hard-to-reach places might stay in the shadows, but its odor emanates into the room’s atmosphere. Buyers sniff out attempts to cover smells with scented air fresheners and candles and wonder if you’re trying to disguise problems more ominous than an unwiped toilet bowl.

Meanwhile, poor lighting and weak ventilation cast their own pall on bathrooms. Heavy shadows make even sparkling surfaces look dingy. Stale air implies that the air in the room never quite leaves…hardly a selling point.

These tips from Schwarz and Kathy Nielsen, owner of Georgia Interior Solutions, of Marietta, GA, will help you stage your powder and bath rooms to leave an appealing impression on potential buyers.


  • Q-tip-clean: that’s the standard. “It has to look clean and be clean,” says Schwarz.
  • “You can’t assume that people will have the same definition of what clean smells like, but we all know what dirty smells like,’ says Nielsen. “You don’t want to have a lingering scent of heavy cleansers or bleach. Some people like it, some don’t. A clean, fresh, lemony smell is always pleasing.”
  • Scrub the grout with specialized grout cleaner or a magic eraser.


  • Consolidate and clear out the clutter of shampoo, conditioner and toiletries containers that clutter most bathrooms. One idea: put the bottles in a plastic basket with an open-weave bottom. Whisk the basket under the sink in advance of showings.
  • Banish bar soap and switch to soap dispensers. Slimy bars of soap are just too intimate a detail to be on display, says Schwarz.
  • Toss the fuzzy rugs and toilet-lid cover. They look like magnets for dust…and worse.


  • Use an odor eliminator designed to absorb smells in locker rooms or pet areas. Or, use an ozone machine to clear the air.
  • In a vacant home tie the toilet lid with a bow to discourage visitors from using the bathroom.
  • Run the ventilation fans while you tidy up the rest of the house, and turn them off just before you leave. Consider leaving the window open just a crack to ensure a whiff of fresh air.


  • Swap patterned shower curtains for white curtains.
  • Add a touch of green, says Schwarz, possibly in a fern or vase. If you decide to repaint, consider a neutral tone with green trim. Green goes perfectly with white or beige.
  • Dark-colored towels, belted with drapery cords, provide a clean, classic contrast to most color schemes. The decorative ties imply that the towels are untouched and steer visitors’ minds away from the ‘ick’ factor. “When you’re at work, and people are coming through, you don’t want peoples’ hands on your towels. Tie ‘em up so they’re organized and thenpeople won’t use them,” says Schwarz.
  • Plan the view from the doorway. Few buyers will actually step into a bathroom, especially a powder room. Make sure that what they can see from the doorway is bright and appealing – and that includes what is reflected in the mirror.
  • Roll towels and pyramid them in a basket under a console sink.
  • If the corners of an expansive counter are dark, consider installing small lamps with short cords, on either end.
  • Replace the light bulbs with higher-wattage bulbs.
  • Turn on all lights, even in the shower.