Aroma-rama: Freshening Indoor Air | Seventh Generation
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Aroma-rama: Freshening Indoor Air

Author: the Inkslinger

Open WindowThere's perhaps no month as filled with ritual as October. As we make our annual journey across the weeks between summer and winter, there are gardens to put to bed, leaves to leap in, pumpkins to carve, and homes to ready for the coming cold.

For many of us that means sealing windows, adding weatherstripping to doors, and adopting other strategies that tighten our dwellings to better hold their precious warmth. That's a good thing where energy conservation is concerned, but a well-sealed home traps more than heat ? it can trap odors, stale air, and other olfactory nuisances, too.

To mask the smelliness, we often turn to air fresheners. From aerosols and plug-in units to potpourris and scented candles, fragrance products are a $9 billion a year industry. Yet researchers sniffing out the truth about them have found that such products frequently contain more than a pleasant scent.

According to the Children's Health Environmental Coalition, the fragrance products industry relies on over 3,000 different chemical compounds to create its olfactory wonders. These include flammable propellants like butane and propane; terpenes, xylene, benzene, and other volatile organic compounds; petroleum distillates like naphthalene; and chemicals like phenol, cresol, and paradichlorobenzene. Recently, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation investigation of air fresheners found that nearly a third of the samples tested contained phthalates.

These and other ingredients are combined in air freshener formulas to create products intentionally designed to fill our homes with invisible airborne fumes that linger in the air where they can be repeatedly inhaled. And manufacturers aren't required to tell us exactly what's in the air fresheners we buy. Instead, most hide their ingredients behind generic label terms like "fragrance" and "scent agent." When we use these products, we have no way of knowing what we're really breathing, and in winter's sealed-up homes, our exposure to them can be nearly constant.

For a safer choice, stick to natural air freshening strategies. Here's a list of our favorite ways to deodorize your domicile:

  •     First, track down and eliminate the sources of any persistent bad odors in your home. Since many foul smells are the result of molds or microbial action, spraying or scrubbing trouble spots like trash cans and compost collectors with undiluted 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide will often remove the foul smells. Vinegar is another useful natural antifungal and antibacterial agent.
  •     Use natural mineral borax and/or baking soda to deodorize surfaces and other places in your home. Because baking soda removes acid odors and vinegar takes care of alkaline smells, a combination of the two is often all you'll need to deodorize as you clean. Lemon juice is another great deodorizer.
  •     Open windows and doors for a few moments now and then during winter to replace stale indoor air with a fresh supply from outside.
  •     If odors persist, make your own air freshening spray by combining 5-10 drops of an essential oil like lavender, lemon, peppermint, bergamot, balsam, eucalyptus, tea tree, or sweet orange in a spray bottle with two cups of water.
  •     To scent indoor air, place a drop of your favorite essential oil on a light bulb prior to turning it on or add a dozen drops to a bowl of water placed on a radiator. Fragrant dried herbs, cinnamon sticks, or cloves boiled in a pot of water will also release a fresh smell.
  •     Place a couple of drops of essential oil on your vacuum cleaner's exhaust filter to freshen exiting air. A few drops of lemon juice on your vacuum cleaner bag will do the same trick.
  •     If you burn candles to scent air make sure yours are made from beeswax or other natural waxes like soy rather than petroleum-based paraffin wax. Choose candles with lead-free wicks and naturally-derived scents. And use them sparingly ? natural candles may be safer but they're still filling your air with small amounts of combustion byproducts.
  •     Problem situations can sometimes be helped by an air purifier that contains an activated charcoal filter. Don't use devices that generate ozone, which is a hazardous pollutant.

photo: glennalicious


beautyandpainter picture
When a match is struck, it produces sulfur dioxide, a "very pungent substance, to which the smell receptors are extremely sensitive." You can smell a minute amount of sulfur dioxide, but when you have done so, you will not smell anything else for a while. So, the match doesn't really get rid of the odor -- it just covers it up. All your smelling is the stronger smell.
janefrances picture
Put drop(s) of essential oil on a bag of lavender that has lost its scent after much dryer use - to reuse over and over just repeat
pshellen picture
I experienced chemical sensitivity some years back and even though I do not experience these symptoms any longer I try to stick with the naturals because they are best. I put drops of cinnamon essential oil in a simmering pot of water and people comment when coming in my home about how good it smells in the house. A bottle of essential oil goes a long way, so it is economically friendly and environmentally friendly. My daughter gave me this recipe for a natural freshener which I enjoy: 3 (4") sticks cinnamon 3 bay leaves 1/4 cup whole cloves 1/2 lemon , halved 1/2 orange, halved 1 quart water Combine in saucepan, bring to boil; reduce heat & simmer as long as desired. check often and add water as needed. Mixture may be stored in refrigerator several days & reused
SarahT picture
Don't forget how important it is to make sure that there is air moving through your house! 30% of the air in your home is supposed to be exchanged per hour...air exchange ventilators for new, tight homes, or a bathroom fan will help, too (but without the energy-efficiency of recovering the heat). It's especially important if your home is fairly new and was not built using environmentally/health-friendly materials. Just as important in paying attention to what you bring into your home, is paying attention to what is already in your home, and how the air moves through your home. Now, if you live in an old leaky farmhouse, you probably don't have anything to worry about...!
Wendy Gantos picture
Wendy Gantos
You can also keep some essential oil in the bathroom and just put some on a cloth or some tissue and then wave through the room when necessary. I use tea tree oil and eucalyptus and they both smell great, use very little, and are effective.
cyberclean picture
I never was big on over doing with air fresheners, perfumes and etc., but since my injury after using a product properly, put me into the hospital, a lot has changed. Perfumes, hairsprays, air fresheners and solvents in general make me react. Breathing and headaches just to name a couple. The coming of winter makes me dread having to close the house up. Having come from the Remodeling industry, I have always known what a "tighter" house actually means on both accounts. So, I use real lemons and boil them and I really do open the house up even when it's winter on occasion for a few minutes at a time. I also make sure that if I shampoo the carpets, I do so without using harmful carpet shampoo. Knowing how to clean your carpets by using plain hot water is much better then using a shampoo and it does pretty good as well. My bathroom fan is now rigged to turn on anytime someone switches on the light switch. There are many new fans that are very quiet but work well with helping keep odors down and moisture control. It also helps with the prevention of mold and all associated odors. If you don't have an exhaust fan in your kitchen that exhausts out side properly (which I strongly suggest) then having that does not with a charcoal filter works good as a second choice. Since I can't handle most cleaning supplies, I save tons of money using vinegar in the places I can! I would love to learn how to make air fresheners as gifts for others so that I could visit them more often. (grin)
coalmiba picture
I mulled cider last week in the crock pot and the house smelled fantastic! You can also buy a certified organic, earth friendly air freshener here. It is made by ONEgroup. If you have not discovered ONEgroup yet, you should check them out!
A. Michaels picture
A. Michaels
I love the smell of mulling spice in the fall and winter months. Buy some organic apple cider and simmer with mulling spices. Not only does it taste great, but your house will smell amazing and the aroma lasts a long time.
Jennifer Hargreave picture
Jennifer Hargreave
If you like a specific smell (like peppermint or lavender) look for eco-friendly air fresheners that use essential oils instead of petrochemical fragrances. A great company that makes these is Earthborne Products. She uses pure essential oils and water in combinations that smell great and offer aromatherapy benefits, too. You can also put essential oils in a special ring that sits on your light bulb. The heat from the light bulb warms the essential oils and makes the air smell soooo good without nasty chemicals! You can find those at most health food stores.
tinkerplink picture
Another way to get your home smelling great is to put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton ball and vacuum it up. Every time you vacuum, you release the scent into the air. Mmmmm, nice!
ebedford4 picture
You want your house to smell like cinnamon and apple pie? Don't buy an an air freshener. Bake a pie and share it with a friend. I love the scent of pies, cookies and roasts in the oven. Beats out any air freshener!
rachaeljoy picture
Lighting a match to rid bathrooms of smells after going to the toilet, is a great, eco-friendly method of air-freshening. If you have a fireplace, you can throw the used match in it so you aren't putting the match into a landfill. Clearly opening the window does the same job but some bathrooms don't have windows and sometimes even in those that do, opening the window does not make sense, e.g. in the winter.