A Breath Of Fresh Air

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Air fresheners load the air with scent--and other things you may not want in your home. Tips on other things to do to freshen your air if you're sensitive.

Ever have a problem smell and find the cure is worse?  We’ve recently had an adventure and found out some things I’d like to share about air fresheners and home scents.

Once upon a time…

It all began with spinning night at my friend’s house.  My husband came along to keep her husband company while we had a hen party with fiber arts.  They sat in the family room watching baseball and happily talking about machines while we gathered in the living room and did our crafty things.

When we went home, my husband complained there was a horrible smell in the air at their house.  I’d noticed a nice scent from a diffuser; he said it gave him a headache.  I sympathized because women’s perfumes make me sick, but thought no more of the matter, even though I used a floral diffuser in my wool room.

Now, the wool room is just upwind of my husband’s computer in the living room.  (Yes, we have them in the living room.  He’s a gearhead.)  For years I’ve used floral scent diffusers, mainly lavender, in my wool room.  I did it to cover any smell of wool, for him and to discourage bugs that might meander through.  Plus I liked it for my spinning time in there.  He didn’t complain a bit, all that time.

So Memorial Day weekend I decided to dye some wool on the deck.  But due to rain danger I had to dry it in the wool room on a sweater drying rack, and the diffuser sticks were dry, so I turned them upside down and put my slightly smelly wet wool in there to dry.

Suddenly the scent was making him sick.  He said nothing for three days, and on the fourth I found my diffuser on the deck.  And then I heard about it. At length.

Death comes to the wool room.

Meanwhile, a mousetrap I’d hidden in the wool room killed a mouse.  The trap was one of the round kind that the mouse goes into to die, so you don’t see it.  But you can smell it.  As the lavender scent waned, dead mouse tried to take over.  I found and removed that, but the small room smelled so bad I had to air it out with a fan.

That worked OK but then I was worried about attracting moths to the stash, so I looked around at the store and found an allegedly fresh (and reasonably neutral) smelling air freshener for small spaces.  OK, thought I, and took the thing home to set up in the wool room.

Within a day I could not be in there.  My eyes streamed, my nose ran, I got a headache.  What’s more, my husband complained of the same things.  So out it went to the studio, 16′ x 32′, where it promptly stank that up.  And the symptoms continued.  We put it in two plastic zipper bags, threw it out, and since it was cool that day, blew the house out with fans.

Discussion ensued.  He doesn’t do well with scented candles, either, but he out of the blue suggested incense.  I find it cloying and besides, I can’t very well leave things burning in that room unsupervised.  I’d been using something that was passive and present whether I was or not, and it had worked.

Sachets don’t seem to bother him so I’m looking for a giant sachet.  As I air out my wool room again.

So what is the problem with air fresheners?

With most air fresheners you’re not taking smells out of the air, just putting more in.  Somehow the scent has to be pushed into the air and helped to disperse evenly.

Looking at labels on various products, you can see the kinds of multisyllabic chemical horrors that are going into the air you breathe.  Take sprays.  They are flammable, contain stuff that irritates your eyes, and spread the scent in droplets.  Some settle on your surfaces, others, the smaller droplets, float in the air temporarily.  They’re less dangerous and more popular than solids.

Solid air fresheners, in addition to having very strong scents, have volatile organic compounds that grab scent molecules and propel them into the air. The VOCs, as they’re called, can increase risk of asthma in children, challenge older people’s respiratory tracts, and even may cause cancer.  This is what I innocently bought and had to double-bag to get rid of.

And the diffusers? Reed diffusers are made with a carrier oil and essential oil for the scent.  They are diffused by traveling up rattan sticks and evaporating into the air.  They are pretty harmless; my husband may have gotten irritated by the scent.  Some people get eye irritation too.  And since it’s oil, be careful of it around fires.  Don’t let the grandkids drink it either.

How about wax melts and candles?  Get wax that isn’t paraffin.  Paraffin comes from petroleum products; the smoke is related to car exhaust and isn’t good to breathe.  But with proper supervision you could burn soy candles or beeswax candles with scents in.  You also want to supervise wax melts because you don’t want the heater to overheat.  If you use votives to heat the wax, again, use non-paraffin candles.

Do-it-yourself scents for home.

The best air freshener by far is fresh air.   Just air the house out whenever possible.  We tend to seal our houses up and then control the temperature, but there are days when that’s not a priority.  So throw open some windows, get a couple of fans, and go to it!

Use baking soda on smelly things.  Sprinkle it on carpets, wait a bit, and vacuum.  That will really freshen the room.  Put some in the garbage can if that smells.  Baking soda doesn’t perfume, it absorbs odors instead, without adding anything to the air.

Boil some sweet-smelling spices like cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg in a bit of water to scent your house.  This is a great staging device when selling, too.  The only downside is that you get hungry smelling it!

I just learned that essential oils don’t have to be in diffusers to be used for room scents.  Put a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil on a cotton ball and set it in a small dish.  If you have potpourri still, you can set that out till the scent fades and then recharge it with essential oil.

I believe I have found my room sachet.  Will be trying lavender essential oil in the wool room to see if I can get away with it.  It’s direct, minimal, and hopefully low impact on our eyes and noses.  Now to go turn the fan off!

Have you had air quality challenges from home air fresheners and scents?  Share in the comments below!


Air fresheners load the air with scent--and other things you may not want in your home. Tips on other things to do to freshen your air if you're sensitive.Air fresheners load the air with scent--and other things you may not want in your home. Tips on other things to do to freshen your air if you're sensitive.Air fresheners load the air with scent--and other things you may not want in your home. Tips on other things to do to freshen your air if you're sensitive.


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