Our home is our refuge–a place we should be able to kick back and relax and enjoy the company of our family, human or otherwise, and friends. We want our houses to smell good, especially on special occasions like holidays or when we are entertaining. Unfortunately, just about everything we do leaves an odor behind. We are surrounded by scents from cooking, dirty laundry, pets, diapers, stuffy air, and more. To put it simply: Life stinks. Automatic air fresheners quickly replace those offensive odors with almost any fragrance we can imagine.
According to a recent market research report from Grand View Research, the use of air fresheners in the home is growing at a healthy rate. Consumers are willing to pay a premium price in order to make their homes smell good. Unfortunately, in many cases, money is not the only thing we sacrifice. We are also compromising our health. In this article, I will discuss the types of air fresheners that are available, the hazards involved in using them, and safer alternatives.
Air Fresheners – The Quick Fix
The easiest remedy for a smelly house is to purchase automatic air fresheners that can be placed throughout the home where they will periodically squirt a pleasant odor of your choice into the room. These are my least favorite of all choices because I do not appreciate being squirted no matter how pleasant the scent is and I don’t think my guests would enjoy it much, either. I also don’t like how my body responds to fragrances, but evidently many people do not seem to be bothered by them.
There are a plethora of alternatives to automatic air fresheners for your home, including plug-in air fresheners, gel-based air fresheners, candles, and sprays. All of these work the same way: they replace the offensive odors with pleasant ones. They do not, however, make the unpleasant odors go away.
The Dangers of Air Fresheners
About a quarter of the chemicals in air fresheners are toxic. The Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates these and similar products and they do not require manufacturers to list all the ingredients in their products. A single scent can contain over 100 chemicals, including many that are known to be toxic and others that have not been tested for safety.
Air fresheners emit a bouquet of VOCs – volatile organic compounds that easily become vapors or gas at ordinary room temperature. VOCs are known to cause health problems in pregnant women and to their unborn babies and young children. They have been known to cause diarrhea, headaches, asthma and even depression.
Limonene, often used in citrus-scented fresheners and pinene which is used for pine-scent, are both known to react with ozone, commonly found in homes, to create formaldehyde and other toxins which continue to linger long after the scent has vanished. These have been proven to cause respiratory conditions.
These and other chemicals commonly found in air fresheners cause a variety of health concerns such as cold or flu-like symptoms, headaches, dizziness, throat irritation, or fatigue. Even though some people may not show immediate symptoms, they are at risk for cancer, heart disease or respiratory diseases.
Possible Fire Hazard
There is also some concern over the possibility that plug-in air fresheners can pose a fire hazard. Several years ago, Social Media blew up with stories of home fires that were caused by air fresheners followed by stories that debunked those stories. Since I had a close friend who lost her home to a fire that started at an outlet where she had an air freshener plugged in, I tend to lean toward distrusting them.
Candles pose a fire hazard when they are left unattended, especially near flammable items such as curtains or hand towels. Aerosol sprays are flammable and should be kept away from cooking areas, fireplaces, or other sources of heat such as a lighted match.
Odor Eliminators – Another Option
Another option for dealing with offensive odors is to eliminate them instead of covering them up. Baking soda is also a natural odor eliminator. Many people are aware that when placed in a refrigerator, it will absorb odors. It works in other places, too. Try sprinkling it on carpet or furniture and leave for a few minutes before vacuuming.
Activated bamboo charcoal is an environmentally safe option that absorbs moisture, helping to prevent mold and mildew. Usually sold in hangable air-purifying bags, these odor eliminators last up to two years. It is recommended to lay them in the sun for a couple of hours each month which allows them to dry out and rejuvenate.
There are products that change the molecules that cause bad odors and they take pride in being non-toxic, biodegradable, VOC-Free, and free of artificial fragrances.
Yet others change the nose’s receptor sites so that they find it harder to detect the scents. (That sounds scary to me.)
The EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency) has an interactive tour that illustrates some common causes of poor indoor air quality and what you can do about them. The picture below is a link to their page.
Causes of Offensive Odors
Damp air is often the cause of offensive odors. In areas with moisture such as kitchens and bathrooms, exhaust fans will help. In basements, cover any cracks and use a dehumidifier to keep the humidity below 50.
Bacteria is another source of unpleasant odors. In that case, we need to be diligent to clean bathrooms, trash cans, and litter boxes. Cooking scents can often be alleviated by opening a window for a few minutes and allowing fresh outdoor air to flow inside.
Many cleaning products contain harmful chemicals and often add to the air pollution in our homes. We can avoid them by cleaning with alternative products such as baking soda, Borax, lemon or vinegar. Hydrogen peroxide can often be sprayed in areas where odors are caused by microbial action, like trash cans.
High-quality microfiber, such as that which is made by E-cloth, will remove 99% of odor-causing bacteria and mold, using just water. The fibers grab the contaminants and hold them until they are rinsed away in warm water.
An air purifier with a HEPA filter will work wonders to freshen up your home and an air cleaner is useful to help capture allergens that float around in the air.
Plants are useful for purifying indoor air. Spider plants, snake plants, and peace lilies are common household plants that can help to remove VOCs.
“Clean” does not have a scent. The best way to eliminate odors is to locate the cause and remove it. Although automatic and other types of air fresheners create a multitude of health issues, there are many safer alternatives.
The Internet is a wonderful resource for finding recipes for natural homemade cleaning solutions.
Essential oils will add a pleasant scent to your home if that is important to you. You can place a drop of oil on a light bulb, make them into sprays, or diffuse them.
As an affiliate, I receive a small compensation for sales generated through product links at no additional cost to you.
This article was originally published on Saturday, February 23, 2019, on my deleted ChemFree Cleaning website.