8 Ways to Freshen the Air Naturally

Sometimes life stinks, doesn't it? There's the cat box, your son's gym socks, last night's spilled clam chowder—all begging to be deodorized. No wonder air-fresheners now come in so many varieties: sprays, candles, sticks, even plug-in units.

Lemon scent - MasterfileAppealing as these products may be, they often contain a hefty helping of chemicals, such as formaldehyde, says Laureen Burton, M.P.H., a chemist and toxicologist for the Environmental Protection Agency's Indoor Environments Division. "Some people don't react to the chemicals at all," she says. "Others may experience headaches, respiratory symptoms, heart palpitations, stomach upset or other symptoms." Exposure can also trigger asthma and allergic reactions.

Reading product labels won't necessarily help. Manufacturers often list "fragrance" on the label but aren't required to spell out the specific chemicals used to achieve that scent.

Want to try more natural options? These simple, green ideas can help:

Stop smells at the source. Most air fresheners simply mask odors. It's a better idea to keep them from ever occurring. Empty garbage cans regularly and clean spills right away so they don't seep into fabrics and cause a sour odor. Pollutants in the air can cling to house dust, so vacuum at least once a week, preferably using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which traps even very fine particles in the air.

Neutralize naturally. Several pantry products are naturals at eliminating odors. Sprinkle baking soda on carpets before vacuuming and wipe down countertops and refrigerator shelves with a clean rag or paper towel dipped in a 50-50 solution of water and white distilled vinegar. A small bowl of baking soda placed in the bathroom or a closet will also absorb icky smells, says green-living expert Annie Bond, author of Better Basics for the Home (Clarkson Potter, 1999).

Clear the air with…air. Crack a window or open it wide for a few seconds—even in winter—to help let fresh air in and stale, stuffy air out. For even more freshening power, switch on a stove fan when you cook, a vented ceiling fan after using the bathroom and an attic fan to pull air up and out.

Harness the power of the sun. Rid cushions, pet beds, litter boxes and car seats of unpleasant odors by placing them outside for a few hours on a sunny day. "The sun removes moisture, which breeds mold and mildew, and UV rays break down bad smells," says Nena Baker, author of The Body Toxic (North Point Press, 2008).

Pick up a few plants. Plants produce oxygen, and research suggests they may also help clean the air. Try areca and lady palms, rubber plants, Janet Craig dracaena and English ivy, says environmental scientist Robert Wolverton, Ph.D., who led NASA studies on how to keep air clean in contained spaces and wrote How to Grow Fresh Air, Penguin,1997).

DIY Scents

1. Cut three lemons into quarters. Place in an uncovered saucepan and add enough water to cover the slices. Simmer for 30 minutes for a citrusy aroma.

2. Create a scented home spray by mixing a teaspoon of essential oil—such as lavender oil from a health food store—with two cups of water in a spray bottle.

3. Make a quick and easy potpourri with fresh supermarket herbs and flowers. Dried lavender, rose petals, sage and thyme all work well—together or separately—when crumbled and placed in a bowl in the bathroom.

From our sister publication, Remedy's Healthy Living Winter 2010

November 30, 2010

Publication Review By:

Published: 24 Jun 2011

Last Modified: 26 Jun 2012