The idea of making your house smell welcoming dates back to ancient times when incense was all the rage. But do all those seemingly comforting scents come at a cost?
Today, we have scented candles, air freshener aerosols and plug-ins–all of which make the air smell good. But be mindful of some of the heavily manufactured varieties. You don’t want to spread warmth and cheer while also spreading potentially irritating chemicals.
Let’s start with those air fresheners. Most are like incense –they mask odors. However, with the use of sophisticated chemicals it’s a different story. Modern chemistry uses chemical agents that, when sent into the air and inhaled, block our smell receptors. Many air fresheners coat our nasal passages with an oily film, and then there are those that simply cover up the original odor with better-smelling scents.If this has you feeling concerned, you should be. A regular air freshener will probably contain at least one of the following chemicals, many of which will not be listed on the label:
- Phthalates – Unfortunately, phthalates have been linked to early puberty, obesity and birth defects. You won't see "phthalate" on a label, but you can dig deeper into what is included when it says simply "fragrance" or perhaps "parfum.”
- PEG-40 – The Environmental Working Group considers this polymer to be of low to moderate concern to human health.
- 1,4-dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB) – This chemical is considered to have the properties of a human carcinogen, and has been shown to cause kidney and testicular problems in rats. It has also been shown to reduce lung function and increase asthma rates in humans.
Also be aware of air fresheners that include benzene, formaldehyde or styrene. Spray bottles (aerosol) may cause additional health risks due to ingredients used as propellants, such as butane and propane.
So what about those lovely candles that make the room smell so cozy? Most commonly, candles are made of paraffin wax, a by-product of the petroleum industry. These tend to release harmful amounts of chemicals such as toluene and benzene.
Despite all the concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not advised against buying air fresheners or candles, but notes that people should exercise care with air freshener usage, due to the volatile organic compounds they release. This counsel is especially true if you are using these products in a bathroom or other tight space. Make sure you at least have ventilation to disperse the chemical concentration.
Also, if you have an asthma sufferer in your house, you’ll want to be especially vigilant. Make sure your home is free of allergen-causing materials.
For everyone, here are some more natural alternatives:
Who doesn't love the smell of coffee? It’s a great smell in itself, but it also cuts through many unpleasant odors. You can use fresh or used grounds, but if going with used, let them dry out a bit first. Place them in a bowl wherever you need an odor removed, or wrap them up in a coffee filter or other material and hang them in a closet or from a shelf.
Yes, the hard stuff is also good for freshening the air! That’s because it contains ethyl alcohol — the main ingredient in store-bought fresheners. And, when it dries it leaves no odor. If you’re not into the straight booze, try enhancing the smell with about 25 drops of an essential oil.
Lemon and Oranges
Bring a pot of orange or lemon rinds and peels to a boil. Add in a few cinnamon sticks and/or cloves, and breathe in the scent of fall. You can also bottle it and use your lovely scent for later.
Buy the Good Stuff
If you’re obsessed with scented candles, those made from beeswax and soy candles tend to have less harmful ingredients, although they are more expensive.
Ultimately, there’s no reason you have to live with bad household odors. Just be careful what you’re using to clear the air.