Everyone wants their home to smell clean, fresh, and well…homey. Commercial air fresheners, deodorizing sprays, scented candles, and incense distribute fragrances like “pumpkin spice,” “morning breeze,” “ocean air,” or “oatmeal cookie”: and more and more are being invented every day. But since these products are prevalent in places where you eat, sleep, and look after your children, it's particularly important to understand what is being added to your home and the environment along with the pleasant aroma.
Fragrances contain alcohols, aldehydes (like formaldehyde, a common indoor air pollutant and known carcinogen), and aromatic hydrocarbons. In addition to irritating the eyes and respiratory system, fragrances can also release hormone-disrupting chemicals known as phthalates, as well as ethyl alcohol, limonene, and camphor, which are additional irritants. These ingredients put human health at risk, yes, but they can also disrupt the reproductive systems of fish and frogs if they get loose in rivers and streams.
Aerosol spray air fresheners are particularly bad because they produce tiny droplets that are easily inhaled and absorbed into the body. In addition, their propellants are usually butane and propane, which are flammable and toxic to the nerves at high levels. Aerosol air fresheners have also been linked to documented cases of headaches, ear infections, even diarrhea. Another worry is that small children might be tempted to taste air fresheners that smell like fruit or candy.
Candles are generally made from paraffin, which is a non-renewable petroleum product that causes pollution in its production. The indoor air pollution caused by lit candles can also trigger allergies and asthma: you breathe what you burn.
NATURAL HOME FRAGRANCE OPTIONS
- You don't have to buy this tried-and-true home air freshener but if you could, it would go by the name “Open Window.” That's right, opening windows and doors for a short period of time can do more for your home's indoor air quality than a host of commercial fragrances.
- To remove unpleasant cooking odors, place a few half-full dishes of vinegar or baking soda around the kitchen.
- Inhibit odor-causing mold and bacteria growth by sprinkling one-half cup of borax in the bottom of your garbage and/or diaper pail. [NOTE: keep children and pets away from borax, and don't use if you are pregnant!]
- If you like spray scents, look for pure essential oil mists instead. They are distilled from flowers (lavender, jasmine), woods (sandalwood, cedar), leaves (basil, eucalyptus), and resins (frankincense, myrrh). You can find essential oils at most independent drug stores, or visit Amazon.com. [NOTE: essential oils are highly concentrated, flammable, and can exacerbate allergies and asthma, so they should be used with caution.]
- Instead of traditional paraffin candles, look for soy or beeswax candles scented with essential oils. Visit CaterpillarsCandles.com and BeesWaxCandles.com to find the perfect scent.
- Boil cinnamon and cloves in a pan of water to add a spicy, why-yes-I-have-just-been-baking aroma to your home.
- Wooden cedar blocks and sachets of natural dried flowers or herbs also add fragrance. To get started making your own, visit TipNut.com for more than 40 free patterns.