Ewww! How can I get rid of that smell?

Hopefully you’ve read our first post about smell, “Why does that smell make me happy? Or sad”  because it gives some background about how our sense of smell affects the rest of our body.  I mentioned some good smells like peppermint and eucalyptus oil, but of course there are smells that really turn us off, and that’s what I want to discuss here.  Maybe they are not even coming from your space, but from a neighbor!  In that case you can also reference our post “How do I improve air quality in my home when the people around me don’t care?”

It’s okay to admit that our spaces just sometimes stink.  Our cars, our homes, our office… it happens.  I still kick myself for forgetting that grocery bag of raw chicken in the car for three days!  Sometimes I visit friends with babies and there is the lingering smell of sour milk. And then there are pets, teen’s rooms, and stinky habits of others we can’t control. 

Of course, you can buy an aerosol can of deodorizer or Febreeze to mask or “neutralize” the scent.  Spray and voila!, your space smells like vanilla or fresh linen or coconuts.  Although Febreze.com actually has a page listing the ingredients and claiming the safety of their products, it does not list all of the ingredients, especially the potentially hazardous ones like phthalates (hormone interruption especially for children), 1,4- Dichlorobenzene (deadens sense of smell).  The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization dedicated to testing consumer products and educating consumers to make more informed choices about healthy living, tested the “Linen and Sky” version of this freshener two times, once in 2012 and once in 2017, for its two different versions.  The first version rated a grade of “D” on a scale of A-F; the second version in 2012 rated a score of “C”.  The same scent (second version) in the Fabric Refresher product also rated a “C”, however within that rating several ingredients are rated “D”, causing skin allergies, respiratory and endocrine effects, among others.  Now, the reason Febreze Air Effects could have an overall rating of “C” yet have more dangerous “D” chemicals in it, is due to the fact that it does have a few good, harmless ingredients like water, nitrogen, ethanol, sodium citrate and citric acid.  That’s what we need more of.

The EWG recognizes that this type of air freshener only covers up the odors…they are still there, we are still breathing them but they are cocooned in chemicals that don’t benefit us.  Their recommendation on both the Air Effects and Fabric Refresher products: search for a better air freshener/fabric refresher!  And this group delivers: check out their Air Freshener pages for a slew of A and B rated products (Febreze’s Pet Odor Eliminator, surprisingly, was rated a B, as was many Mrs. Meyer’s products). But at the top of the list?  Good old baking soda!  Here is where you can get great effects from a cheaper product (generic baking soda sold at less than $1 per box, is the same as brand name baking soda and still way less expensive than a can of air freshener). 

Many cleaning experts agree–natural products do work!  Remove the source of stink if you can (take out the trash, clean the litter box, ventilate the bathroom, etc.) and then place one of these in your space (with a fan and/or fresh air ventilation from an open window if possible to accelerate the process). All of the following remove the bad scents while adding little to no scent of their own (even vinegar in a corner of the room does not have a lot of smell):

  • Activated charcoal: Charcoal will not add a scent to the air but it will absorb malodors.  We have high-MERV HVAC filters with activated charcoal, and cut-to-size activated charcoal media to remove odors throughout the home.
  • Vinegar: placing an open bowl of apple cider or distilled white vinegar in a corner will help trap cooking and cigarette smoke odors.
  • Baking soda: Just as baking soda works to absorb odors in your refrigerator, a bowl placed in a room will also absorb odors.  Adding some baking soda to your vacuum bag will also overcome the musty scents that linger there, too.
  • Lemon water: Water absorbs odors and adding slices of fresh lemon will provide a clean citrus scent.
  • Coffee grounds: Fresh coffee grounds add a scent to the air but also absorb odors when placed in an open bowl.

(Source: The Spruce)

We have one more recommendation for a natural deodorizer: HypoAir's new cleaner TotalClean.  Formulated with iodine, this non-toxic product not only cleans many surfaces around the house, you can spray it into the air around stinky places--trashcans, litter boxes and the like--to effectively deodorize!  

If you want to have a more permanent deodorizer with fan, HypoAir has recently introduced charcoal filters for the Germ Defender.  This little plug-in is powerful!  While it is sending out positive and negative ions to kill the source of the stink (moldy surfaces, bacteria, etc.), the charcoal filters are actively filtering and deodorizing the air.  This is a low-maintenance deodorizing and sanitizing unit you can place strategically in the stinkiest areas of your home (bathroom, laundry room, pet areas, teenager’s room, etc.)  

Now that the bad scents are removed, if you want to add good fragrance back in, here are some safe options for those who prefer their home to be lightly scented.  This list is sourced from livesimply.me

  • Beeswax candles: unlike regular scented candles, most of which are made from paraffin wax and give off hydrocarbon byproducts, beeswax candles do not pollute the air.   For a light scent, use beeswax candles scented with essential oils.
  • Diffusers: Did you know that you can get a scent similar to your favorite Yankee Candle (made from paraffin and harmful fragrances), by mixing essential oils in diffuser?  You can hack a “pumpkin spice” scent!  There are seven types of diffusers, some of which add more humidity to your space than others. 
  • Simmer pots will allow you to replicate more of those comfy scents, but with more humidity, since the medium for simmering is water.  If you have a high humidity problem in your home, it’s best to limit simmer pots for dry seasons like winter, and never leave them unattended. 
  • Vodka air fresheners:  Many commercial fresheners use various types of alcohols as “carriers” which emulsify fragrances and dry quickly, leaving only the scent behind.  Vodka is a very pure type of alcohol, and witch hazel is another safe “carrier” (but it does not evaporate as quickly as vodka). Higher proof vodkas mean higher alcohol content, but you’ll want a non-flavored one and cheap brands work just as well as more expensive ones.  Here are some recipes for popular holiday scents. 
  • Vanilla or peppermint extract: Saturate a few cotton balls with cooking extracts and place them on small saucers around the room. They also work great when placed in a vacuum bag or dust cup to add a bit of scent as you clean. (Source: The Spruce
  • This list of brand-name air fresheners from the EWG contains many safe options (grade A or B).  Aura-Cacia and Eco-Me brands have appeared on other expert lists as well.

The downside to essential oils is that they do contain VOCs; it’s what makes them so wonderfully fragrant.  Knowing this, it's smart to increase ventilation and limit the time of use.  However, by adding your own essential oils to any of these appliances, you know what is going into the air and you can control the intensity so that it does not overpower like some commercial air fresheners. Smells naturally delicious to me!