Naturally Fresh

There are simple ways to renew indoor air without resorting to chemicals.

By Beverly Burmeier

February 2015


Using scented air fresheners and candles may sound like a good way to keep your home smelling sweet and inviting. However these products often trigger runny noses and sneezing, even asthma, in sensitive people.

“Air fresheners don’t clean, they just add another smell,” says James Sublett, MD, spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Plug-in fresheners emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ozone, which affect air quality.

Most of these products are irritants rather than true allergens. However, Sublett says if you have breathing difficulties, headaches or other health problems when exposed to certain smells, it’s important to keep your home free of offending odors—as opposed to masking them.

Chemical Bouquet

A study led by the University of Washington discovered that 25 commonly used scented products emit an average of 17 chemicals each. Consumers have a hard time knowing what is in these products because manufacturers are not required to disclose potentially harmful substances on labels.

Even though scented items have become so pervasive that almost every household product from laundry detergent to toilet cleaner has fragrance added, there are natural ways to freshen your home that are not only good for people but also better for the environment.

Clean and Pleasant

Start by making indoor air as clean as possible. The simplest way to eliminate odors and toxins is to open a window. Even if you’re allergic to pollens floating in outside air, Sublett recommends cracking windows enough to let fresh air in, if only for a half-
hour daily.

Avoid using aerosols, especially in the bathroom and kitchen. Check vents to make sure odors and moisture are directed outside and not into an interior wall space.

Ban cigarette smoking indoors. Groom pets outdoors and clean bedding and toys regularly. Clothing may harbor irritating smells if you’re applying chemicals outside, so change clothes immediately when you go in.

There are nontoxic ways to freshen indoor air. “It’s easy to convert to natural products, since many are available today,” says Beth Carpenter, ND, of Austin, Texas.

Vinegar and baking soda are excellent for absorbing odors. Keep open boxes of baking soda in refrigerator, cabinets and closets to clear away smells. A shaker jar with holes in the lid allows baking soda to be used as a carpet freshener; sprinkle on rugs and vacuum as usual—or add baking soda in the vacuum bag.

Place a shallow bowl of white vinegar in a room overnight to absorb offensive odors. Carpenter recommends adding a cup of white vinegar to a washer load to freshen laundry.

Give your fridge a fresh citrus scent by placing a sponge dabbed with lemon juice inside. Sanitize and deodorize cutting boards by rubbing with the cut side of half a lemon. Clean drains and garbage disposals by grinding up orange, grapefruit or lemon peel.

Pure essential oils provide healthy sources of scent. Put a few drops into a spray bottle filled with water, then spritz on cardboard tubes of paper toweling or toilet paper. Dip cotton balls into eucalyptus or lavender essential oils to create a relaxing bathroom spa environment. In hotel rooms, Carpenter puts a few drops on a tissue that she places near the air intake to eliminate cleaning smells.

Sublett suggests placing fragrant plants such as basil, lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, lemongrass, thyme or rose near an open window or vent to diffuse scents throughout a room. Create potpourri by drying leaves of these plants to set out in bowls or bags.

Create a festive mood for special occasions by putting orange peels, vanilla or almond extract and a stick or tablespoon of ground cinnamon or other spices into a pot of simmering water to infuse the house with an enticing scent and add moisture to dry interior air.

With so many choices, keeping your home smelling fresh is easy.

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