25 October 2011

Be careful with air fresheners and "fragrance"

I read a disturbing report the other day about how hazardous chemicals are being emitted when clothing and household linens are dried in dryers. This is from the University of Washington, it's important and I want you to read it by clicking on the link above.

I love the smell of pure soap and freshly laundered sheets and towels that have been washed in homemade laundry liquid and dried in the sun.

This is from MSN Today: "Fragrance may be the most common type of chemical in your house. Used in laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies and disinfectants, air fresheners, deodorizers, shampoos, hair sprays, gels, lotions, sunscreens, soaps, perfumes, powders, and scented candles, fragrances are a class of chemicals that may take you extra time and effort to avoid. But it’s worth it. The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on personal care product labels can be a cover for hundreds of harmful chemicals known to be carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and reproductive toxicants, even at low levels."

And this is from Wikipedia: "Studies show that exposure to polycyclic musks may break down the body’s defenses against other toxic exposures, and these chemicals are linked to increased risk of breast cancer and hormone disruption. Many of these musks were used in large quantities to scent laundry detergents. Levels of these musks in human bodies appear to be associated with the frequency of use of fragranced products, meaning that the more individuals use fragrance, the higher the levels of chemicals like galaxolide and tonalide."

We have to make sure the air inside our homes is healthy and while that's difficult to do, not spraying anything in the air or using synthetic fragrance at home can be a step in the right direction. If you're working in your home most days, it's important that you look after your health and not expose yourself or your children to polluted air. Don't use those plug in air fresheners, or any air fresheners, keep windows open when possible, and if you have to use a dryer, make sure the laundry products you use contain no fragrances.

Fragrance adds nothing to the effectiveness of the products you use. If you want to have added fragrance, make or buy plain laundry products and soap and add essential oils to them. Essential oils are natural compounds. Fragrant oils are a different matter. If you're using fragrant oils, I encourage you to find out what's in the bottle.

Not all of these products contain hazardous chemicals, but many do. If you have of them in your home, please find out what's in them before you use them again. You may find what you're using is safe, you may find it isn't, either way, it is best to know.



  1. Some time ago, I heard Shannon Lush (author of spotless) say that a clean home shouldn't smell like anything, we are conditioned by advertisers to think that a clean home should smell like lavender or lemon or insert scent here. It's what a home doesn't smell like that indicates it's cleanliness eg dusty, musty, stale cooking odours. I think she got it right!

  2. I just made your laundry soap "recipe" last week, and I was commenting yesterday what a great smell it has, all on it's own! It is also very effective!

    Is there a good way to line dry in the winter?

    Thanks for this :)

  3. This is an issue I have been championing for a while Rhonda. Many people read food labels and then blithely consume all sorts of other poisons through cosmetics, laundry, fresheners etc. For me, there is nothing better than a bunch of old fashioned roses to scent the home. Thanks again, Alison

  4. Yes, please! I see the adds and coupons for fabric softeners that smell for 7 days or 10 days and think "They are trying to kill me!" I'm only in my 30's and yet am horribly affected by perfumes and 'air fresheners'. I get headaches, allergy reactions and physically sick from the smells. People just don't get it and tend to get offended. The more who realize these are poisons and that those who are affected now are the canaries in the mine, the better for everyone. rant over :)

  5. Thank you for these very informative articles. I particularly like the care2.com one with the list of alternatives. One thing that I didn't see mentioned, but have found works also, is baking! I find it funny (especially this time of year in the U.S., with all the holidays approaching) that people buy "sugar cookie" and "pumpkin pie" scented candles. Why not just bake those things instead? ;)

  6. Why would a person want a fragrance in their washing powder, softener, cleaners, lotions, house sprays, then perfume. !!! Uck! Add to that bug sprays, etc!!! If you were to use perfume or a hand lotion with fragrance wouldn't the long lasting fragrance of these softeners etc be another smell on top of the first?? !! How does that work??? If you kept your trash bins cleaned out and food put away and home messes cleared and cleaned up you wouldn't have any nasty smells. If you don't have them, you won't have to cover them up! If I have cooking smells lingering in the house I just put a little bowl of vinegar on the counter. Then later use the vinegar for cleaning. I haven't used any softener other than vinegar and the wind in the clothes on the clothes line for years. This has worked fine for us. Thank you for bring this all up and enlightening people. Sarah

  7. I am so glad I have your laundry liquid recipe... it is terrific and I like that 'fresh ' smell so much better than some fake one. I do find now that we have cut back on all these things that I cannot bear to be around someone who has used hairspray ,perfume or deoderant ..... immediate headache.
    I think perhaps other peoples bodies have gotten 'used ' to being poisoned and it is not until you cut back you realise just how much it does affect you.

  8. I can't understand how people stand walking around in clothes that smell so strongly of washing powder. I often have to wash hand-me-downs or op shop clothes several times before I can get rid of the washing powder fragrance.

  9. The only fragrances I use at home are Essential Oils - if you want the house to smell delightful get hold of some lavender, lime and frankincense - it can help the kids chill out as well :)

  10. Here in Cape Town, South Africa we are able to line dry year-round. On rainy Cape winter days, we use wooden drying racks & hangers over the shower inside (and in front of the fireplace overnight that has a safety screen).

    My American aunt said she used to line dry her clothes with snow on the ground if the winter's day was not too cold and had some sun.

    It may take a bit longer in winter to air dry clothes, but it can be done.

    An electric Dri-buddy is advertised here where clothes are hung on hangers around a pole and a cover is zipped around them, then hot air blown inside (electric). I prefer to just haul out the drying racks from underneath my bed and hang the clothes. If it's a drizzly day with intermittent showers, then the rack can be set next to a window that can be opened when the rain's stopped.

    I own a tumble dryer and grew up as an American who just shoved everything in the dryer with dryer sheets to prevent static cling, but now it just sits idly by and is used more as a storage area on the top and to sort darks from lights before putting clothes in the washing machine.

  11. This is such a timely post for me Rhonda...thank you so much for the links. We recently found out that the reason for the big red welts on one of my twins skin was the fragrance in washing powder....it was the only change i could think of as we had run out of the homemade laundry liquid and i thought i would just use up a box of detergent (it had dded fabric softener i read later).
    No one could tell me what was wrong with her, i felt so bad because she was getting more and more angry welts....in the end i went back to the washing liquid and they cleared in a few days, i had to rewash everything.
    I don't know that many people believe me and i also have a cupboard full of baby lotions and bathwash that i will never use due to the fragances etc in them that just aren't great for babies but the companies do such a good job of telling new parents that we need them.
    Anyway, i don't want to prattle on...just a topic that is close to my heart and one i think i will explore more on my blog as i still feel so guilty when i think of those red welts and find it amazing that so many medical professionals dismissed my suggestion as the cause.
    Thank you again Rhonda...such a wealth of information and so important.
    Jode x

  12. I'm almost relieved our drier died last year now! I'm not a fan of most fragrance in any case, since I'm hypersensitive to smells, but this report puts the tin hat on it so. It's a small risk that's easily avoided, so we'll have a perfume free home.

  13. I totally agree Rhonda with this post. we have consciously avoided all scents for more than a decade, and now we find we are very desensitised and sensitive, even a strong whiff of lavender oil is too much for me now, and I often develop headache if I am around some one wearing commercial perfume, not that I would ever go back!!!

  14. This is a very important issue! My daughter and I are very sensitive to chemical scents. Neither one of us can even walk down the laundry/cleaner aisle in the grocery store without getting a headache (let alone actually use the products!). The old fashioned methods of using homemade soap and cleaners is far safer, healthier and much more pleasant to the senses. I am so grateful to have learned from you (and others) natural ways to clean our home and care for our clothing.

    Thank you for raising awareness about this issue :)

  15. Let me get excited about the wonders of bi-carb soda... A few months ago my 2 yr old had a big vomit on our couch. Of course, it's one of those couches where you can't take the covers off to wash them, and it STUNK. I did some research and found that people recommended using bi carb to get rid of the smell. I decided to give it a go even though I was quite skeptical (did I mention that it really stunk?), and sprayed the offending patches with water until they were quite wet then rubbed a stack of bi carb into it until it formed a thick coating. I let it dry for about 24 hours then vaccuumed it off. The vaccuuming took ages and was hard work, but once it was clean the smell was completely gone. Not even a hint of it remained! I admit I was very surprised, but I have been telling people every time I get the chance! Way better than masking it with Febreeze or some such, where you always get a hint of the original stink for the next few months. After reading your post I'm even happier I chose the bi carb option, and will continue my bi carb evangelism with even more enthusiasm!!


  16. The last time I used a commercial air freshener was quite a number of years ago. A friend's child had an 'accident' on our dining room floor and to mask the smell, the air freshener was sprayed around. I didn't think about my son's fish in the tank. Yes, the next morning they were all dead. That was enough to convince me to stop buying the stuff. I'm not sure if life was meant to be unscented or we would have no need for our noses! The manufacturers try to replicate nature in very unnatural ways and fail miserably. Their 'orange' scents are often sickly sweet whereas the real scent of orange is just sweet. This is one of the scents I do like in the air - the orange blossom on the trees in spring is heaven to me. I have an orange tree not too far from the house, when the breeze blows and the doors are open the sweet scent wafts into the house. I love having pots of fragrant herbs on the bench and at the kitchen door - just a rub of a leaf and the scent is released. The other aromas I enjoy in the home are baking bread, freshly ground coffee and chai tea simmering on the stove.

  17. I couldn't agree with you more.
    I've known the evils of fragranced products since I was a small child.
    I'm terribly allergic to anything with fragrance in it.
    And I LOVE perfume - but none for me.
    I've learnt to replace just about everything around the house and my person with non-fragrant alternatives.
    I've seen what fragranced products can do to my skin, imagine what it could do to my innards!

  18. I used to love all those scented laundry products. But after making my own laundry powder for the past few years, I cannot stand the smell of the laundry aisle in the supermarket. It is overpowering and sickly to me now.
    As a teenager I loved those cheap body fragrance sprays, but I would not go anywhere near them now. Interesting that it not only affects your body, but also the air quality within a house, so thus all the occupants.

  19. Another thing that bothers me too is we have several department stores. You cannot get to the back or back to front unless you walk through the fragrance and makeup areas. We hold our noses and walk as fast as we can. Thankfully we are only in those stores maybe once or twice a year. The stores are designed so you Have to walk through and that is not right! Sarah

  20. Hi Rhonda,
    I read a while back that women who use the most chemical cleaners in the home have higher rates of breast cancer - makes sense.
    I love the updated photos at the top of your blog, and your inspiring words :)
    Enjoy the spring sunshine,

  21. Forgot to add that probably the most popular inside drying method is the basic rope stretched across a basement or garage and clothes pegged along it. Or the nifty pull-out line across the bath (attached to shower wall in a special way). There's even a travel version to put up in hotel showers.

  22. Just a word of warning on 'unscented' or 'perfume free'. These products often contain a fragrance masking agent, to stop you smelling the real smell of all those chemical compounds in the product. However, they dont have to call it out as its not adding a specific fragrance to the end product. This is particularly the case in household products where manufacturers are not legislated to declare all the ingredients in the product
    Buy all natural, where all ingredients are voluntarily declared, including their origin, or of course, make your own!

  23. Couldn't agree more! I use vinegar, water, borax, baking soda and Dr Bronners castile soap for all my cleaning and laundry. Love the smell of Dr Bronners and vinegar leaves everything smelling fresh.

  24. Another place to be wary is candles. Rarely do I ever see candles that advertise how they are scented unless they are pure beeswax or use only essential oils. So in order to avoid the harmful synthetic fragrances I ended up only using pure beeswax candles. And now I can't use scented candles because even if it is essential oils the scent is too strong for me; I've grown to love the mild sweet scent of beeswax!

  25. I agree with anonymous (Sarah) about the wind as a fabric softener. When my daughter was here on a visit, she asked what fabric softener I used to get the towels so soft. I told her I use the best one there is - the wind. I even upend my towels on the line when they have dried out a little bit so that the top area where the pegs are gets its share of blowing in the wind.

    And Deanne, I also have to rewash and line dry op shop clothes to remove the revolting "clean" smell.

    Thanks Rhonda, for this eye-opening post. I haven't used any fragranced things for years. Don't even go to the hairdresser any more - one of the worst places for smells. I just cut my own hair with a bit of help from my husband.
    Lyn in Northern New South Wales

  26. I love my house, clothes and everything to smell of nothing but fresh air. I'm not a fan of fragrances at all and try to buy frangrance free or make my own. I don't even like smelly deoderants or perfumes. Who wants to breath that in all day. A little dab of essential oil is enough.
    When I do use my clothes dryer it is for 5 minutes to take the dampness out of the clothes before they are put away. I never dry clothes using it, clothes always smell better when dried outside.

  27. I totally agree with you Rhonda. The problem is made even worse during the winter when we're all cooped up indoors. We're all so busy keeping our houses warm, with double glazing, draught excluders, wall insulation etc that we're living in hermetically sealed homes. Filling our homes with all these chemicals is crazy.
    It's open windows for me!

  28. Hi Rhonda
    I have recently started to read your blog after noticing the article in the Women's Weekly. I really enjoy your posts, especially the recipes - including the cleaning products. I have already made bread, cleaned with vinegar and water, mixed and used my own washing powder and convinced my husband to make the tomato relish! All with success thanks to your great information. My next task is to make yoghurt and have been reading losts of old posts on it. Do you still use the same method? How long can you keep the yoghurt in the fridge? Thanks for all the tips, Sarah

  29. I really love the smell of linedried clothes that where washed in pure washingpowder from Ecover. I would really want to learn how to make washingpowder myself as we try to avoid toxic stuff in our home.
    We do not use perfumed stuff, but once in a while I use lavendula oil on the sheets because of the aromatherapeutic effect.

  30. It can be so hard to find things that aren't scented too. Toilet paper being one example! I'm allergic to most artifical scents (and some natural essential oils too), so we've been working for some years to remove them from our home, but sometimes it's hard!

  31. It's mind blowing the rubbish that manufacturers are putting in their stuff. I've used my own washing and cleaning products fragranced with essential oils for several years and aren't I glad, having read this post and the links! In the UK, there are loads of tv ads showing the "delights" of all these pogy products and it makes me mad.

  32. I line dry all year round here in the UK (except when it's raining!) I've found that frost & snow seems to have a similar effect to bright sunlight on white washing...(it's quite good fun when your jeans are frozen & stand up by themselves- bring them in & put over/balance on a drying a frame to warm up) We haven't used our dryer for over a year now.

    On fake-fragrance, I make my own cleaning stuff & add essential oil- much nicer smell!

  33. I love fragrance. I don't like a space to not have a scent- it feels impersonal like no one actually lives there.

    But there are ways to have fragrance that are natural and healthy for us, instead of weird petrochemical cocktails.

    Baking a pumpkin pie (I totally agree with the above comment on pumpkin pie candles, lol!), using essential oils in baking soda for a carpet freshening sprinkle prior to vacuuming, the scented Dr Bronner's soaps, a bouquet of flowers from your garden in the summer, etc. You can make a potpourri with dried bits of flowers and bark and things. If you don't have time, but do have money, there are eco people who make that sort of stuff too.

    For body care- essential oils can give you just a hint of scent without being overpowering to you (or those around you). Create blends with aromatherapy in mind and you've got something that is healthy for you instead of harmful. :)

    One of the main things, though, is that these aren't things I do 24 hours a day. I don't do them 7 days a week. I use a carpet sprinkle maybe once a month, aromatherapy if I need it, baked goodies just rarely enough that everyone considers them treats, and so on.

  34. Thanks Rhonda, like Freefalling, I too am allergic to artifical scents and stay away from them.

    Another thing I learned to beware of this week is carpet cleaning. I booked our carpet to be steam cleaned (it was well overdue and then the little fella trod cat poo into it :)). Because it was steamed, I assumed hot water only, but they also used a deoderiser and our house now stinks of artificial scent. I need to deodorise the deodoriser! We've been coughing and sneezing ever since!

  35. Rhonda

    When I need to freshen up the room in a hurry I light a candle below a small metal bowl full of vanilla water. ( I sometimes boil the water prior to adding the water in order to speed up the process.) In no time at all the room smells heavenly :)

  36. Lets face it, life stinks. If you don't want to waste garbage bags by taking out the bag every five seconds, there is going to be some smell. Think about diapers, used feminine products, food, smelly feet, etc. Even if your clean, there is going to be a smell. Some of use will still choose to use spray air fresheners, but if you don't, I have a suggestion. My mother used to do this when I was growing up. She would put a sauce pan on the stove with some water, ground cinnamon or cinnamon sticks and slices of lemon. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for several hours. It smells heavenly! All natural. But it disguises smells.

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  40. Hi, I would really like to know how to get rid of a hideously powerful smell in a friend's flat which has been there since he moved in. The cleaners must have used a vanilla air freshener or something. It really is overpowering and he is so affected by it he can't sleep. In other words how do I neutralise a so called fragrance - it is artificial vanilla I believe. We have tried washing the floors and cleaning everywhere but it is still there. Thanks for any advice.


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