Thursday, February 3, 2011

What STINKS?! Junk the funk with homemade, natural air fresheners

Have dried-out, shrivelled citrus fruit? Make air fresheners!
A blend I won't be buying again. Tastes bad, but smells good!

A gorgeous-smelling trinket box from my Mom at Christmas
You can't go wrong with fresh flowers . . . unless you're allergic.
Make an old fashioned pomander, or a quick knock-off like this one

Don't listen to the television commercials about transforming your humdrum house into a spa by plugging in a scented oil diffuser. Refuse to drop a toxic chemical bomb in your bathroom just to give it that artificial floral smell. And run screaming from scented candles, flameless or otherwise!

Harken back to all those crazy fads of yesteryear that we mock for the very reason that these practices endangered lives when they were meant to improve them! It's so easy to look down on your predecessors and think, "Well, at least I'm not that stupid to ______!" (fill in the blank with things like: spraying DDT on your home garden without any protective equipment; wearing make-up that contained lead which was slowly making you insane from heavy metal poisoning; playing with 'quicksilver' (liquid mercury) on your bare hands in science class; taking thalidomide for morning sickness since the mice were fine in clinical trials while the chickens had severe birth defects; using leeches or blood-letting to make yourself well, etc., etc.).

Let's face it - fads come and go, and many of them are quite simply TERRIBLE ideas. Don't get me started on 'cleanses'! Please don't fall for this stupidity!!! I won't rant long on this, but I will refer you to YouTube where you can watch a colonoscopy of a typical adult human. Do you SEE 'toxins' lurking there? No. There is nothing lurking in your guts that needs to be purged!!! Nothing in your blood, either - your kidneys take care of that, so take good care of them by not drinking things to make you ill. Learn your anatomy and basic biology and THEN reassess whether or not you want to give yourself diarrhea. Better read a bit on biochemistry too and learn about the role of electrolytes....!

So speaking of terrible ideas from our era, let's get straight to the air fresheners!

Who’d have thought Martha Stewart would be on the health-conscious, eco-friendly ball? Check out this very interesting and thought-provoking article on scented candles, plug-in diffusers, and other noxious chemicals. And this one, too! Well done, Martha! (Ever noticed that ‘marthastewart’ can be alternatively broken down into mart-haste-wart? Was it just me?).

Many, many, many of the 'natural' and 'pure' labelled air fresheners contain HIGH LEVELS OF PTHALATES. You definitely don't want to be breathing these in! Pthalates have been linked to everything to hormone imbalances and endocrine disruption, birth defects, infertility, and weirdly enough, obesity! It could be that the pthalates disrupting your body's normal balances of hormones and other signalling molecules can screw with your metabolism.

If you're one of those people who avoid drinking out of plastic cups, but has a Glade plug-in at home, you're dangerously close to the 'hypocrite' designation! Get smart - purge your home of these awful chemical stinks.

Furthermore, it's good to point out that air fresheners (and products like Febreeze) are designed to mask odors, or replace them. Does this make your place feel clean to you? No! Go to the source of the stench and get rid of it! Stale air in the house? It could be high in dust particles, low in oxygen, and maybe even have deadly radon gas building up (which is a causative agent of lung cancer).

Time to open all the windows and even turn on the fans! Get some fresh, clean, oxygen-rich air in and push out the stale stuff! Don't even consider adding more aromatic chemicals (and VOC's, many of which cause cancer) in the form of scented sprays or oils - your lungs won't thank you, which means your bloodstream won't, which means your brain and the rest of your organs won't be happy about it, too.

One other quick point - candles aren't always a good idea to use indoors. Not just for fire safety, but mostly for carbon monoxide. I like candles on the dinner table and when I'm entertaining, but I do try to crack a window somewhere to ensure fresh air is coming in as quickly as the flame is burning up the usable oxygen and spewing out carbon monoxide. Keep it in mind - this is the same reason why emergency responders do NOT recommend keeping matches and candles in your car in the case of a winter emergency. You'll asphyxiate before they get to you.

I have a few alternative sources of pleasant scents to spice up your atmosphere. These are REALLY all-natural; they didn't come out of a plastic package, you probably won't find them advertised in flyers, and they work without poisoning you slowly in the process.

Pleasant smell #1: Coffee

Here's an excellent way to use up coffee beans that you don't like! Fill a small bowl or container with coffee beans and set them anywhere - on the table, in the bathroom, or next to your computer. Give it a shake every so often and enjoy the smooth aroma of roasted coffee.

I was given a cute fridge magnet at Christmastime that came in a really sweet little package. It seemed such a waste to just throw it in with my containers, hoping it would make the 'recyclable' cut (which is very unlikely in North America - seems like Europe has us beat in that respect).

So I hung onto it for a few days, and eventually it dawned on me that the mesh container would be great for holding coffee beans. I'm on the look-out for a strong magnet I can glue to the back - then I can keep it on the fridge door. Each time it swings open, I'll diffuse my kitchen with the smell of a coffee shop.

In the meantime, it's sitting next to my partner's computer. He likes it - I might not get to move it to the fridge!

Yet another example of why you should have a 'craft bin' or box for containers that just might prove to be useful later on! Don't forget the 'reuse' part of the 3 R's!

Use your imagination - don't just throw the container away!
Affix a magnet & scent the kitchen when opening the fridge

Pleasant smell #2: Flowers

If you're not plagued by pollen allergies, consider growing fragrant flowers in your home. It's extremely easy to get bulbs like paperwhites (a member of the narcissus family, like daffodils) to flower. All you need is water and a bulb-forcing vase (shaped like an hourglass - the bulb sits on top and the water is below and just touching the bulb and forming roots), or a bowl full of rocks. That's it! Easy, and beautifully fragrant - a good way to bring on spring early in your home.

There are other scented flowering bulbs, too. Martha has more suggestions for you here:
Day 1: last year's Paperwhite bulbs, aquarium rocks from the Thrift Store, and a bowl

Week 1: Doesn't take long!

Week 1.5-2: Already blooming and smelling fantastic!

You don't need to grow flowers from bulbs for a natural floral scent - consider buying regular, inexpensive bouquets of flowers from a local florist. It will really beautify your home, and it'll freshen the air at the same time! Nice smelling choices include tuberose, lilac, freesia, and carnations (cheap and smell wonderfully spicy!).

Dried flowers can also be helpful - try tying together a bunch of lavender and hanging it upside down in a dark (but dry) area. It smells good and you can use the dried lavender again in potpourri or sachets for in your dresser drawers or hanging from hangers in the closet. You can also eat lavender flowers, and lavender-infused salts and honey are delicious. So is lavender with tea (i.e. Lady Grey tea).

Pleasant smell #3: Garlic, Citrus, Spices and Food Smells

Nothing makes your place smell more warm and inviting than the aroma of hot, roasted garlic in your kitchen. Now in my case (I can't eat garlic), I simply enjoy the scent. But for people who aren't cursed with my enzymatic woes, you can spread roasted garlic cloves straight out of the bulb while warm onto crackers and serve them up. Apparently garlic is good for your immune system, so it might be the perfect appie for a mid-winter soiree.

Roasted garlic is also an excellent soup-base additive (or mix it into mashed potatoes!), so get a big pot of soup stock simmering on the stove - this will also make your house smell heavenly! And making your own soup is a very healthy eating option (provided you keep the oil and salt to a minimum! Tempting to load up on those!). For poor suckers like me who can't do garlic, simmering garlic-free soup stock is just as nice to sniff!

One of my favourite scents is lime and other citrus fruits. Whenever I find a hardened, brown lime lurking in the back of my fridge (or in the above and below cases, a very over-ripe grapefruit), I slice it up and just let it sit on the cutting board. The fragrance of the citrus oils naturally diffuses within the apartment.

You can also dry out slices and use them as Christmas tree ornaments or for other decorative purposes. A bowl or basket of dried citrus slices would be a nice contemporary alternative to the old fashioned potpourri.

Old fashioned pomanders are lovely, but a quick and dirty version smells just as nice! All you need is a small orange and whole cloves. Just push in the pointy ends and voila! A stem helps to hang it, but there are other options. Here's a link to a video about making pomanders. If you take the time to make a proper one like Betty did in the video, it makes an excellent and unusual Christmas or hostess gift. Martha, of course, has some great pomanders - here's an overview article, and here's a brief tutorial for pomander-making. (If anyone finds "orris root powder", please let me know! This is the one material I'm never able to find!).

Another use for an overripe citrus fruit? Plug it full of cloves for use as a pomander!

And don't forget the perennial favourite - baking bread! You don't need a bread machine to bake bread. It's a great Sunday afternoon undertaking that will make your kitchen smell heavenly. Here's a link to a recipe for a beginner's loaf - give it a try!

It's still winter (sigh), so it's still hot apple cider season. Simmering apple cider with all the spices (cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries, etc.) on your stovetop is a lovely fragrance, and a good way to get a boost of vitamin C, too! Mulled wine is the same - it will release such a lovely smell and give you something nice and warm to heat you to the core. Try Jamie Oliver's version here. I really enjoyed the gluhwein at the German Christmas Market this year - maybe I'll try my hand at it myself this weekend!

I hope this post has given you a few ideas on natural scents that you can incorporate in your home, and I hope you've been inspired to:
  • quit the commercial scented products habit (and save much $$$ in the process!)
  • try your hand at cooking (roasting garlic is idiot-proof; give it a try tonight!)
  • clean your place and open the windows to flush out any radon gas, carbon monoxide, dust and dander that's built up in your recirculating indoor air
Go natural! You'll be better for it!


  1. i don't think i'll be able to give up oil diffusers... they're just so delightful! wah.

    Also, great ideas! I find that drying out flowers or fruit doesn't keep the yummy smell though. i sometimes spray dried petals with perfume :P

  2. actually yes, please talk about cleanses!!

    love the fruit idea..except in fruit fly season :P

  3. Ahhh! A'son! Say it ain't so! ;D
    How about soy-based or beeswax scented candles instead?!
    Actually, if you're a oil-diffusion person, you can buy those little oil-diffusing lamps! Put pure essential oils in the top and light a soy-based tealight underneath! That'll do the trick and be better for your lungs and blood! :)

    Eva - oh man, don't get me started. This is what happens when you undertake a graduate level education in human pathology - you become a harshly opinionated person who rejects all pseudo-science on the grounds that these things are BAD FOR PEOPLE! :( So upsetting! People so wanting to take good care of themselves are actually doing things that harm them . . !

    And about the fruit flies - yes, you're right! There is a season (or two or three) where dried citrus fruits can be a very bad idea! :D I had an outbreak of flies myself last year - they really loved perching on the bathroom mirror for some reason. It was revolting - there were dozens and dozens of Drosophila melanogaster in my bog. :)


    Forgot about the reed-style ones. Safer than a live flame, and you can load it with the good stuff (i.e. actual natural oils without volatile organic compounds like the carcinogenic benzene in it!!!!) :)