Time to dispense with chemical deodorizers in public places

By Dorothy Dobbie
By Dorothy Dobbie

There are chemical scents in the air. I can taste them, even before I can smell them. My eyes are red and burning. Now I am beginning to wheeze and cough. My eyes hurt so much. I go to the bathroom and bathe them in cold water. It helps but when I go back into the room, it starts all over again.

I am in a hotel room in Britain. What is happening to me? Has there been some major breakdown in the hotel’s air exchange system? The chemical smell is getting more pervasive.

I am in a bus. It is first class, clean and well cared for. But my eyes are burning. I keep them closed, but they continue to water and run and now I am sneezing uncontrollably.

I am staying at a private home. I am wheezing and coughing. I can smell chemicals – smells a bit like insecticides. My eyes start to burn.

Now I am on a flight at home. I can taste chemicals and the scent of an insecticide surrounds me.

I am in a hotel room in Boissevain. I am overcome by a powerful floral scent that wakes me up and clogs my lungs. I open the window to the freezing January night air.

In all of these cases it turns out that a scent product was used in the air, in the laundry, on a body. Hotels are spraying rooms after cleaning them, so did the bus driver. The private family used these products to dispel the odour of their cat. They also used heavily scented laundry products. On the plane, it was the British couple behind me who were sharing their chemical scents. I checked with the flight attendant who had the same reaction as I did. Some people also use nail polish on flights, she says, and the fumes are suffocating.

It is not all scents – high quality perfumes can be irritating when overused, but they don’t burn the eyes, clog up the lungs, cause wheezing or coughing in me. What does me in is a kind of chemical base contained in air fresheners and some laundry products. Indeed, one of my staff took to using a dryer sheet that was so overpowering just being in the same room with him caused others to pick up the scent. When I pointed out the problem, he stopped using the product but the odour persisted in his clothing for months afterwards. Nor could I visit his home which was steeped in this scent.

Like the canary in the mine, I have always been sensitive to odours. I love the smell of unpollinated flowers in my spring garden. The smell of a baby, of line-dried clothes, of freshly mowed clover, all send me into ecstasies. I enjoy certain perfumes lightly applied. On the other hand, unpleasant odours make me feel ill.

So what to do about this sensitivity? There are many people just like me who are trying to cope in a heavily scented world.

In your own home, you can avoid using these products in two simple ways: open the window whenever you can and keep everything very clean, because it is bacteria poop that causes the odour in the first place.

“Surely not,” you say. “My house is very clean.” But is it? Just because it doesn’t look dirty doesn’t mean it is clean. Have you noticed how your vacuum cleaner fills up even though the carpets look perfectly spotless? You can certainly see the dust and debris that collects on furniture even when there is nobody home.

We shed about 1.5 pounds of dead skin per year— doesn’t sound like much but that’s about 600,000 particles of skin every hour. It builds up all over your home and sticks to surfaces, providing the staff of life to bacteria which create their own smelly feces. Dust from outdoors comes in the house on shoes and wisps of wind, bringing with it all kinds of interesting and potentially smelly stuff. Your best defence against all this is simply to clean your house.

That goes for hotels!!! Next time you book a hotel, ask before making the deal whether they use deodorants in their rooms or halls. If they say yes, look for another place, not because you might be allergic to the scent like I am, but because you can be pretty sure the deodorizer is there to mask other problems caused by sloppy housekeeping, even smoking in the room.

Meanwhile, if any hotelier is reading this, think about what you are doing to your guests. I am willing to bet you have lost more than one customer over the use of these scented aerosols in your property.

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