Scent Free Homes

Fragrance: The F-word you should really avoid
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Of the five senses, our sense of smell is most tied to emotion and memory. So it’s no wonder that we feel so connected to certain scents. And partially because of this, many of us think that our homes, laundry, and hair have to smell clean to be clean. While they may smell nice, the chemicals used to create scents in typical commercial products are anything but clean.

Secret scents

There's a highly influential lobby group for fragrance manufacturers, and they've made it nearly impossible for us to know what's in the products we use in our homes. Claiming that the information is proprietary, products containing fragrance ingredients don't have to disclose the chemicals used. So the seemingly simple "fragrance" or "parfum" on the ingredient list could be one of hundreds of chemicals. 

Some manufacturers will provide a list of all ingredients used in their fragrance formulas, but not specifically what’s in any given product. While not all chemicals are harmful, common fragrance chemicals include known or suspected carcinogens, hormone disrupters, and allergens.

It’s worth noting that the amount of a specific chemical within the fragrance part of a product is tiny. However, these chemicals are used in just about everything: air fresheners, cleaners, candles, fabric softeners, diapers, and personal care products to name a few. The effects of these chemical combinations at low doses over a long period of time is not well-studied.

Go scent-free

Finding a safe scent in commercial products can be a challenge. Make it easier on yourself and go scent-free altogether. Not only will you improve your indoor air quality, you may also find that it clears up allergies and skin irritations.

As you phase-out the scented products in your home, it's important to read product labels fully to determine what’s in the products you’re using. Don't rely on the terms "fragrance free" or "scent-free," since this just means there is no discernible scent to the product and not necessarily that is free from fragrance ingredients. 

For personal care products and cleaners, look in the full ingredient list for “fragrance” or “parfum” and avoid the product if they don’t tell you exactly what’s in it. To help decipher complicated labels, look up the product on Think Dirty, or specific ingredients in Skin Deep to learn more about its safety.

Other products such as dryer sheets and candles don’t have to have ingredients listed. If they’re marketed as having a fragrance without disclosing how it’s made, consider finding alternatives with ingredients you know and trust. For example, dryer sheets can be replaced with vinegar in your washing machine rinse cycle to remove static and soften clothes without the chemicals (and no, they won’t come out smelling like vinegar), and natural beeswax candles won’t impact your indoor air quality.

Natural scents

If you really miss having scented air or products, try boiling a pot with citrus peels in water, or replacing chemical fragrance with high quality, organic essential oils. Keep in mind that essential oils can still cause allergic reactions, so use them with caution and choose reputable products to avoid contamination with chemicals you’re trying to avoid.

Remind yourself that just because something doesn’t smell, it doesn’t mean it isn’t clean. By switching to products with fewer chemicals, you’re reducing the toxins in your home and leaving it cleaner than it was with chemical scents. And that’s something you can breathe easy about.