With your house or apartment closed up tight against Old Man Winter, you may be noticing more of the "aromas" of family life--stinky sneakers, dog smell, onions and fish, and that sweaty teen smell. It's understandable that you might be desperate for something to lessen or mask offensive odors and so find yourself drawn to air fresheners promising "Tropical Bliss" or "Lavender & Chamomile." Sounds enticing and relaxing, right?
Think again. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that the four main ingredients of air fresheners are formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p-dichlorobenzene, and aerosol propellants. Yuck. Some companies have done away with the aerosol propellant piece of the equation but that still leaves the rest of those nasty ingredients, which can be irritating to the eyes, skin and throat, as well as being possible carcinogens.
So are you doomed to an odor-rich environment this winter? Of course not! There are plenty of natural ways to eliminate odors or sweeten up the air.
First try removing the odors instead of masking them. No, I do not mean that you should ban all teenage boys from your home for the winter. But for the cooking smells, make sure your kitchen exhaust fan is on when you cook and take out your kitchen garbage with the onion, fish and other cooking detritus in it (or compost!) often. And how about using the age-old product baking soda; just leave an open box of baking soda in the frig or elsewhere near offensive smells. White vinegar is also effective at removing odors.
Love plants? Great, because some indoor plants can reduce carbon dioxide and other toxins in the air. Check out this very cool Wiki article about a NASA study on air-filtering plants.
If you love to fill your home with pleasant aromas, try natural alternatives to air fresheners. Simmer cinnamon and cloves, fresh ginger, or herbs in water on the stove, or burn scented soy candles. You can also make your own spray freshener by diluting essential oils in water. Essential oils are not actually oils but liquids generally distilled from plants; examples are lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus and citrus. You can combine essential oils, like lemon (an especially effective air deodorizer) and cedar, or you can simply add oils to a bowl of water, which also adds moisture to dry air during winter months. If you are not a DIY kind of person, Summit stores Lord Ivy (336 Springfield Ave.) and Summit Sampler offer an appealing variety of essential oil diffusers and soy candles.
So keep your teens at home and your house fresh this winter by experimenting with natural odor reducers and natural alternatives to air fresheners. Your nose and lungs will thank you.
By Beth Lovejoy on behalf of the Summit Environmental Commission