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Safer Scents: Air freshener alternatives

Fragrances can be made from thousands of chemicals, some which can lead to headaches, allergies, asthma -- or even cancer and hormone disruption. Candles and incense also pollute the air. Here are some healthier alternatives.

What is a "fragrance," exactly?

Cookies and ciderGinger snaps and cider are warm and cozy scents in the winter; but while the real thing is a treat, the same aromas in candle-form can cause air quality problems. Here's a trade secret: the "scent" of a candle, air freshener or potpourri may contain oils, fixatives, preservatives and solvents. There are 2000 chemicals used to make fragrance, and manufacturers are not obligated to reveal which combination they are using.
Unfortunately, these ingredients can also trigger allergies, asthma, headaches -- or, in the long run, they may be linked to cancer and hormone disruption. In addition, burning candles and incense (even the all-natural kind) can create soot and other pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde. You could bake apples or bread to warm the home; or consider our other ideas for creating warm holiday aromas that won’t harm your household air quality.


PomanderPomanders – oranges studded with cloves – have been used since medieval times as natural air fresheners. Use a skewer or fine knitting needle to make holes in the skin of an orange, and insert cloves. Place in a paper bag in a cool, dry spot for 4-6 weeks, or cure it in an oven on low hear for one hour. Display as a centerpiece or hang from a ribbon.

Simmering pot: Simmer pots are manufactured with plug-in heating elements or for stove tops in order to warm up fragrant ingredients. A saucepan or double boiler set to low will also do the job; just be sure to set the timer so that you don’t forget to turn it off! Skip the wax and oils; safer ingredients for simmer pots include cinnamon sticks, apple peels, orange rinds, cloves, apple juice, vanilla, anise, nutmeg and other spices. You can re-use your simmer recipe; the ingredients will last a week stored in the refrigerator.  

Geranium by sandycovetrail.blogspot.com

Houseplants: Geranium, gardenia, jasmine and other fragrant plants are great alternatives to artificial scents. Scented geraniums carry their scent in their foliage, so they have a mild fragrance all year. Some plants are also particularly good at absorbing air pollutants: heartleaf philodendron, English ivy, spider plant, peace lily, snake plant, gerbera daisies, pot mums and bamboo palm.

Herb wreaths:Wreath Fresh or dried herbs woven in a wreath are a festive and fragrant decoration that can also be used for cooking. Some florists sell culinary wreaths made with rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, chili peppers and other fragrant tastes. Or, make a wreath from your own garden herbs with instructions from Mountain Valley Growers. About essential oil: A few drops are a good scent alternative to artificial fragrance, nut even pure oils can have strong properties.  Lavender and tea tree, for example, have been linked to breast development in boys. Even if essential oils are evaporated rather than burned, they can cause air quality problems. Avoid skin contact when handling, and never use more than a few drops.

Potpourri: Commercial potpourri may be enhanced with chemical fragrances; make your own mixture, and you’ll be sure to know all the ingredients! Mix ingredients to display in a dish, sew into a sachet or store in a mason jar with a mesh fabric covering. In Oregon, bulk herbs, spices and dried flowers are often available from local sources.Dried lavender and rosebuds are good base flowers. Dried chamomile, yarrow, marigold, elder flowers, larkspur, delphinium and peony are fine additions. Eucalyptus, sage, rosemary, bay leaves, lemon verbena, citrus peel, star anise, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans and cloves are fragrant, too. Other ingredients: cedar chips and pine cones add fragrance; interesting twigs and bark may add to color and texture, and Orris root helps preserve the fragrance without artificial fixatives. Powder can be found sold with other bulk herbs, and liquid is among other herbal supplements.
Natural odor absorbers: If it isn’t an aroma you’re after, but Baking sodasomething to freshen the air, there’s no substitute for opening the windows or turning on ventilation fans. See more about ventilation. However, you can use baking soda and vinegar as odor absorbers. Baking soda can be sprinkled in garbage cans, on carpets before vacuuming, or an open box left in the refrigerator and freezer to absorb odors. Vinegar can remove odors when used as a surface cleaner or in a spray bottle. See more green cleaning recipes.

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