I am very excited today to introduce our first ever Guest Blog!
Thank you so much Pauline Ferguson from the Red Fox Building Biology for contributing and for helping us make healthy and safe choices 🙂
Air Fresheners – Do they work?
Firstly, what is “smell”? One of our main senses, it’s defined: “Smell begins when airborne molecules stimulate olfactory receptor cells. If a substance is somewhat volatile (that is, if it easily turns into a gas), it will give off molecules, or odorants. Nonvolatile materials like steel do not have a smell.” (http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/smell1.htm)
Chemical air fresheners (and this includes the sprays and oils and those sticks that sit in a bottle of perfume) work in two ways: They affect your olfactory receptor cells, so they don’t work as well (therefore you smell less of an odour); and they mask the odour (in the case of perfume).
Some marketing companies will tell you that they work by killing the bacteria which causes the smell… however, as we’ve just seen, above, it’s the gas, not the bacteria which causes the odour. They have clever ads, where people are seen spraying the bin, and it magically smells like flowers and sparkly things happen in the air. Dare you to try that with some old prawns that have been outside for the day. Put those in your bin, spray them with air “freshener” and see how much it helps.
I imagine that you’ve seen where I’m going with this – if you take the prawns outside and throw them away (or better still, keep them in the freezer ’til bin day and then put them out), they won’t smell up your bin, kitchen, noses, and cause a divorce.
Why put them in the freezer? Because volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – what smells are made of – react with the temperature and humidity of the air. It’s why dogs smell much doggier when they’re wet. It’s why (along with the effects of heat and going off) our prawns smell much prawnier when they’re out of the freezer and getting warm. It’s why cooking food smells more than raw food.
So, what can we actually do about keeping the air fresh in the home?
Firstly, remove the smelly stuff. If your kitchen bin smells, put the rubbish outside. If your dog is smelling quite doggy, get him to sit in another room, or give him a wash. (Don’t use those doggy deodorants, though, they work exactly the same as air fresheners).
If you’ve got smelly gym clothes littering the bathroom floor, encourage the users to put them into the washing, and wash them! If your floor or carpet needs a wash, give them a wash. (Note, carpet shampoos also have the same “odour removing” ingredients as air fresheners, for the same reason. If you’ve got something that “works”, why change it? I use a little bit of my clothes detergent (for top loaders, less foam) in the carpet shampooer. Works a treat).
Secondly, open windows. Get fresh air inside your home. Fresh air brings in more oxygen, and if your garden features pleasant VOCs from flowers, grass and trees, your house will smell fresher very quickly.
Thirdly, house plants. These actually filter and remove some VOCs from the air, and some other toxic gases, such as formaldehyde.
Fourthly, use natural cleaning products. My favourites are white vinegar, bi-carbonate of soda and water. For disinfection I use eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil. Microfibre cloths are also great. Cut down on your chemical use and you’ll feel much better!
If you must perfume the air (and sometimes it’s nice) try to use fresh flowers, pure essential oils or fragrances made from essential oils, or candles scented with essential oils.
I know the idea of spraying a magical spray around your house that stops the smells can be seductive – and a bit easier than actually picking up the dirty washing (especially if you’re trying to make a point). Those “automatic sprayers” are even more seductive, because you don’t even have to do anything! However, they don’t do what they say they do, and they do have toxic chemicals in them (read the can, it actually says do not use in confined areas. So does shower cleaner. Hello? Shower compartment? Confined space?).
A quick note on those automatic perfumes, especially in use in public toilets or in commercial buildings. If you’re building or maintaining one of those buildings, consider putting in an exhaust fan instead. If you’re building or renovating a home, consider putting in an exhaust fan in your toilet, too, vented to the outside. Odours will “magically” disappear, and you won’t have to use those horrible sprays. You can get silent, solar powered exhaust fans, and it will pay for itself in fresh air and lack of chemicals in your home.
Pauline Ferguson is Queensland’s leading Building Biologist, helping you detox your home and/or workplace and achieve a balance between today’s busy and techno-dependent life and nature.
You can find out more about Pauline and all the great things she does by visiting her website: www.redfoxbb.com.au