(If you’d like to head straight for the All-Natural Air Fresheners, please hit the jump to recipe button above!)
Now that I started the ball rolling again on my Eco page, I feel like I should keep that small spark of momentum moving. (At least until another ball gets set into motion, which could be any day now…) But I really do want to share everything with you guys–most especially all of these green recipes and eco-tips that are just rattling around in my head, demanding to be let out. So here I am, back and ready to release another. A couple weeks ago I shared our all natural hair care routine, and today I’m ready to talk more green solutions–specifically our air, and some simple ways to keep it clean (and smelling fresh) without any nasty chemicals added.
It seems like the perfect time to tackle this subject because here we are, in March, at the end of a long New England winter. And even though it was a super mild one, by this point I always imagine that the air in our living and working environments is super foul and likely at its absolute worst. (Maybe matched only by the stifling dog days of summer.)
Out of necessity, we temperature-sensitive humans are forced to create these closed and cozy environments for our winter comfort. Which is fine, except for the unfortunate fact that we’re not only trapping in the heat, but all kinds of nasty air-borne pollutants as well. The lack of fresh and circulating air means that all of those toxins have just been quietly building with nowhere to go, except into our lungs and bodies, which is precisely where we don’t want them.
According to the EPA, people spend an average of 90% of their lives indoors. While that statistic is unsettling all by itself (why aren’t we outside more?), this one is even more so: The indoor air that we take in with each and every breath is 2-5 times more polluted than the air outdoors (sometimes that number runs much higher). Moderately disturbing, right? What with all of the cars and planes and factories being out, how can the air in be so substantially worse? This indoor air pollution comes from a wide variety of sources: cigarette smoke, radon, synthetic building materials, carpets, air fresheners, and household cleaning products, to list just a few.
And as you’d probably guess, this pollution can lead to a host of physical ailments and symptoms. Things like eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, dizziness, fatigue; respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer. All things that we typically prefer to avoid, if and when we can.
Fortunately for you, I never share the depressing facts without also sharing my green solutions to the problem. While some of those pollutants aren’t as avoidable and easily remedied as others, today I’m going to talk about one that is. Because you know those sweet smelling candles? And those air fresheners with their handy and automatic bursts of artificial scent? Dump them. Seriously, dump them. They may be okay at masking the odors, but what they really excel at is polluting the air you breathe in terrific and completely unnecessary ways.
But They Smell Good!
I know, they smell good. They create an atmosphere that’s warm and comfortable. They can even give the illusion of clean if cleaning isn’t really your thing. But is that smell really worth the risk of reproductive abnormalities, asthma, or maybe even cancer? The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) even goes so far as to say that “consumers should avoid using air fresheners.” Avoid. And out of 304 products tested, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) graded 229 of them at a D or below (only 10 of them scored an A). Here are some of the reasons why I suggest they make their way to the trash, based on the ingredients that they typically contain:
- Phthalates: The NRDC states that “[p]hthalates are known to interfere with production of the male hormone, testosterone, and have been associated with reproductive abnormalities.” They go on to add that studies “have linked prenatal exposure to certain phthalates with decreases in testosterone, malformations of the genitalia, and reduced sperm production.” When inhaled, they can also cause allergic reactions and asthma.
- Formaldehyde: According to the EPA, “Formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. High levels of exposure may cause some types of cancers.“
- Naphthalene: The EPA states: “Acute (short term) exposure of humans to naphthalene by inhalation, ingestion, and dermal contact is associated with hemolytic anemia, damage to the liver, and neurological damage. Cataracts have also been reported.” Plus, it’s a possible carcinogen.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Here are the possible health effects, as stated by the EPA: “Eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination and nausea; damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system; Some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.”
And let’s face it, what are those chemical “fresheners” really doing besides covering up the odor? Kind of. The stink is still there, lurking underneath. (My extra sensitive nose can still smell that dirty litter box, btw.) So you haven’t really managed to eliminate the odor problem, but instead exposed yourself to a whole host of physical problems instead. Personally, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
(Sigh.) Why Thanks.
But what if I told you that you can achieve a sweet-smelling home without the use of chemicals? Any chemicals. And not only that, but the alternatives have benefits instead of nasty risks like those listed above. Benefits like reducing stress and anxiety levels, helping to alleviate aches and pains, boosting physical healing, and/or preventing the spread of illness. It’s true, all of it. How do I know this? Because I’ve been using them with great success for years.
But since you often can’t smell your own smell (I just discovered this actually has a name: olfactory adaptation), maybe I’m just fooling myself. Maybe I’m simply impervious to the stench of my own home, right? But one of the highest (and completely unsolicited) compliments that I’ve ever received was when I was told (on multiple occasions) that my house smells like a health food store. And while this might not be everyone’s ideal scent, it thrilled me to no end. The fresh, earthy, herby, natural, and clean smell of our local health food should be patented and sold to the masses. Chemical-free, of course.
So how do I achieve that smell of freshness since I burn no candles, nor do I use artificial air fresheners (or artificial anything else, for that matter)? My arsenal is much more gentle, yet I believe much more effective, than any chemical concoction you can buy in the store. It even worked during the height of my “animal days,” when I had four dogs, four cats, guinea pigs, rats, hamsters, mice, and who knows what else, all calling this place home. The animals far outnumbered the humans, but I still managed to keep my house smelling fresh. And clean. Without malformations of the genitalia.
I’ll get to my air freshener recipes a little further on, but let’s start with some general things you can do to ensure a cleaner and less polluted indoor environment. We’ll get to the pretty smells next.
First and foremost, open those windows! Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate! I’m a huge advocate of fresh air, whenever you can get it. While I’m aware this isn’t always feasible (I live in New England, remember?), I still manage it in small increments. Even during the winter months I crack the windows at least once a week to force out the stale air and let in some fresh. I also sleep with my bedroom window cracked year-round (yes, my husband says I’m crazy). Not only does it help me to sleep better, but for eight hours out of the twenty-four I know I’m not just breathing in the same recycled air that’s been hanging around for four months. While you’re at it, open the blinds, too. Sunshine works wonders at freshening things up.
Plants, plants, and then more plants. Plants everywhere. They’re scattered throughout virtually every room of my house. They not only bring the outdoors in (consequently elevating my mood), but they silently and constantly work to clean the air we breathe–reducing the air pollution by over 80%. In fact, there are so many benefits to having plants in your living and working environment that I feel like I could write a whole post on them. (Maybe I will…) Things like boosting the immune system, increasing productivity, and adding much needed humidity back into our air.
The only word of caution I have here is to find plants that suit your environment. Otherwise, all you’ll end up with is a lot of dead greens (and equal amounts of disappointment). Some plants thrive in low light, while others quickly wither in the same conditions. Ditto on the high light. Do a little research (I often just carefully read the tags on the plants in Lowes gardening section before deciding which ones are for me) and purchase wisely. If you do, those plants will be fabulous (and helpful) living companions for many years to come.
If I could write one entire post on the benefits of plants, then I could write two on the benefits of essential oils. If you hate to clean, kill every plant you so much as look at, and steadfastly refuse to open the windows? Then diffuse essential oils. Not only do they smell delicious, but they carry countless mental, physical, and emotional benefits in those concentrated drops. As I type this post, my husband is down and out with a nasty cold. For days on end I’ve had multiple diffusers running, day and night, filling the air with lavender and eucalyptus.
Not only have they kept the smell of sickness at bay, but they’re potent little helpers. Eucalyptus has antiseptic properties, is great for cleansing and purifying the air, aids in respiratory issues, and it can even help with treating fevers. (Interesting side note: We have a guinea pig prone to respiratory problems, and at the first signs of congestion we run eucalyptus in the diffuser. Within 24 hours, her breathing has returned to normal.)
And lavender? I can’t praise it enough; I’m not sure there’s anything it can’t do. Recently, Riley Mae told me that during the time of the Bubonic plague there were some towns where no one caught or died from the plague. Why? The credit goes to fields of lavender. But plague-busting benefits aside, here we simply use it for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Plus, it reduces stress and helps you to sleep like a baby.
But maybe you’re not interested in buying a diffuser and building an arsenal of essential oils like I am. (Although it must be noted that those bottles, dispensed only in couple drop increments, last for a very long time.) How about this super simple air freshener instead? Fill a saucepan with water, sprinkle in a ½ – 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and simmer gently. Even better, if you heat with a woodstove, simmer the pan on top of the woodstove–it not only smells delicious, but it humidifies the air at the same time. The smell is warm, cozy, and inviting–no chemical intervention necessary.
It Smells Better
I saved this one for last because no one really wants to hear it, but let’s face it: clean houses smell better. They just do. When dogs ran the show around here, I intentionally made their beds a pile of blankets that could be easily washed on a weekly basis. (Rarely cleaned pet bedding smells especially pungent, as do rarely cleaned pets.) Vacuuming up the pet hair and dander not only helps to lower the indoor air pollution, but it keeps the smell down considerably. Piles of dirty laundry stink. Ditto on the dishes. Cleaner homes smell fresher and somehow seem brighter and more cheerful–less musty and dusty. You don’t need to be a fanatic about it, but reducing the clutter and mopping the floor once in a blue moon makes a huge difference. For your physical and your mental environment.
Last But Not Least
And now, it’s finally time to get to the recipes! A simple, effective, DIY air freshener with a scent for every season. And chemical-free, as promised (as always). I use these in the bathrooms, in the car, on pillows…anywhere that could use a freshening up gets a spritz!
4 oz glass bottle with spritzer
essential oils (will vary with recipe)
Air Freshener Base:
¼ cup hydrogen peroxide
¼ cup distilled water
Directions: Add the hydrogen peroxide and distilled water to the bottle. Drop in the essential oils of choice. Shake well. Spray as needed. (Not intended for internal consumption!)
Scrumptious Vanilla Air Freshener (spring)
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 drops sweet orange essential oil
4 drops lemon essential oil
3 drops grapefruit essential oil
Lavender Mist Air Freshener (summer)
5 drops lavender essential oil
2 drops ylang ylang essential oil
Cinnamon Stick Air Freshener (autumn)
3 drops cinnamon essential oil
3 drops clove essential oil
1 drop patchouli essential oil
Minty Dreams Air Freshener (winter)
6 drops peppermint essential oil
3 drops rosemary essential oil
1 drop eucalyptus essential oil
My Typical Disclaimer
So before I leave you all for today, I’m going to add one word of caution. If you read along regularly, you’ve heard it before (and you’ll definitely hear it again). But while the health benefits are often unparalleled, these are super potent little bottles of oil and should be used intelligently. Dilute them accordingly; test first if you’re unsure because they can cause skin reactions in sensitive individuals; keep them away from your eyes; do not ingest (there is some controversy here, but several are definitely toxic); and if pregnant or nursing you’ll want to check with your doctor first. Also, always exercise extra caution with small children. But if used carefully and mindfully, their benefits are incredible. Also, be sure you’re buying 100% pure essential oils because those bottles of fragrance oils are just one more dangerous contributor to that indoor air pollution!
And that is all I have for you this week. Hope that your weekend has been a beautiful one. Maybe you can even head outside and soak up some of that fresh air and sunshine that we’re all apparently missing… Much love~ Melinda
An easy and effective alternative to those dangerous chemical air fresheners. I've provided a scent for every season!
- ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide
- ¼ cup distilled water
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 drops sweet orange essential oil
- 4 drops lemon essential oil
- 3 drops grapefruit essential oil
- ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide
- ¼ cup distilled water
- 5 drops lavender essential oil
- 2 drop ylang ylang essential oil
- ¼ cup distilled water
- ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide
- 3 drops cinnamon essential oil
- 3 drops clove essential oil
- 1 drop patchouli essential oil
- ¼ cup distilled water
- ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide
- 6 drops peppermint essential oil
- 3 drops rosemary essential oil
- 1 drop eucalyptus oil
Add all ingredients to a 4 ounce bottle and shake well. Spray as needed. (Not intended for internal consumption! Keep away from eyes and mouth.)
Please read carefully: While the health benefits are often unparalleled, essential oils are super potent little bottles of oil and should be used intelligently. Dilute them accordingly; test first because some can cause skin reactions in sensitive individuals; keep them away from your eyes and ears; do not ingest (there is some controversy here, but several are definitely toxic); and if pregnant or nursing always check with your doctor first. Also, exercise extra care with children and check the dilution ratios. Always be sure you’re using 100% pure essential oils because those bottles of fragrance oils carry none of the same health benefits.