Posted: Jul 11, 2013 8:00 AM
Think your home needs to smell like perfume to smell clean? Think again. We asked an expert to explain why air fresheners and chemical candles do more harm than good.

From a young age, you've probably been taught that smells like bleach and detergent are clean. The truth is, chemical smells are anything but clean. Find out why your favorite air freshener may be polluting your home and how you can achieve clean smells naturally.

Air fresheners can pollute your home with toxic chemicals

Alexandra Zissu is Editorial Director for Healthy Child, Healthy World, a California nonprofit dedicated to creating safer environments for kids. “Conventional air fresheners actually add toxic chemicals to indoor air making it worse not better,” says Zissu. “It's impossible to say which chemicals are being added to the air as cleaning product formulas are currently government protected as trade secrets. There are no ingredient lists. But typical fragrance chemicals have been linked to asthma and allergies.”

Not every scented candle is the same

Anytime you burn something, you're polluting the air.

“Anytime you burn something, you're polluting the air. If you really want to use a candle, keep this in mind,” says Zissu. She recommends paying attention to what the candle is made of if you're married to the idea of burning candles in your home. Stick to beeswax or GM-free soy candles. Find out if your favorite candles are scented with natural essential oils or chemical fragrances. What's the difference? “The word fragrance is a placeholder for a proprietary blend that is government protected as a trade secret,” explains Zissu. “A natural fragrance is derived from essential oils.”

How to make your home smell great naturally

chopped lemon"Making your own essential oil air freshener is an easy way to bring your favorite aromas into the room while avoiding the potentially concerning effects from the chemicals in commercial air fresheners," says certified aromatherapist and educator Andrea Butje. Pure essential oils can be diffused in a number of ways, from high tech diffusers that vaporize water to electric warmers that gently warm and disperse the oils. If you're unfamiliar with essential oils, look directly to your groceries and garden. A slice of lemon in your dish disposal disperses a bright lemon scent in your kitchen. A simmering pot of cinnamon and herbs gives your home a comforting scent. Give yourself time to become accustomed to clean, natural scents. It may take a while to retrain your nose from the “clean” smells you're used to, such as bleach or perfume.

For the best results, eliminate the source of bad smells

If you want your home to smell nice, try eliminating the causes of bad odors. If your home is clean, you won't need to mask bad smells.

  • Avoid leaving food and trash out, and attack bacteria with natural disinfectants like vinegar and lemon.
  • If you have pets in the house, clean up after them diligently and keep them clean.
  • Clean cat litter frequently and consider switching to a natural litter alternative.
  • Simply open the windows. “The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the air outside, even in big polluted cities, is ‘fresher' than indoor air,” says Zissu.
  • Learn more about how the EPA suggests you improve your indoor air quality.

More on cleaning your home

Cleaning tips for crafty kids
Green your cleaning routine
Create a plastic-free kitchen