Can’t stand the odour of artificial air fresheners? You are not alone. Nor are you crazy. The toxic chemicals they contain can cause all sorts of allergic reactions in sensitive people – in addition to cancer, early puberty, autism, birth defects, as well as reduced lung function and increased asthma rates.
Artificial air fresheners contain phthalates, now being phased out in the manufacture of children’s toys in the United States due to these concerns. There are over 350 different chemicals and allergens in these products, including benzene, formaldehyde and the above-mentioned phthalates.
These artificial scents are used in candles, laundry products, too, and more and more often we are seeing these scents being sprayed in hotel rooms and on public transport. I run when I detect these odours, refusing to get into cars that hang the cardboard “fresheners” from their rear view mirrors, and I have also refused to visit homes that use air fresheners or indeed those pernicious laundry products that promise to “stay fresh” for months.
But there is hope. Natural essential oils are not only harmless, they can be helpful in inducing sleep or calming nervousness. They come from a wide range of naturally occurring products, such as flowers, bark, stems, seeds and even the roots of plants. A few drops can perfume a large area, or you can use them in a diffuser – there are many of these for sales now.
But to truly freshen air, you need to absorb odour rather than mask it. There are a number of products that will do this for you, including charcoal, zeolite, baking soda (use it in your fridge, sprinkle it on your carpet or on upholstery before vacuuming – even use it in shoes). White vinegar will also neutralize odours, but one of my favourite products is borax. It’s available in supermarkets in the laundry detergent section, although it is not a detergent but rather a water softener and detergent booster. It helps brighten laundry and remove stains and it makes clothes smell fresh and clean.
Borax is also a natural fungicide that will help get rid of that damp smell due to mould in the home.
I sprinkle borax in the garbage bin – it works wonders to keep the bin odour free. It will also neutralize drain odours. You could use baking soda, too, but borax is cheaper. Sold as 20 Mule Team Borax since 1891, it is still an invaluable product in the home.