Let’s clear the air…..

Homemade gel air fresheners on my kitchen shelf

I’ve got to get something off my chest. I’m just going to put it out there, take it as you will, you might think it’s weird. But it’s been bothering me too long to keep it inside any longer.

I can’t stand air fresheners.

Scented candles, room sprays, plug-ins…..

I can’t stand any of them.

And when I say I’ve got something to get off my chest, it’s more like I have something to get out of my chest, my lungs, my sinuses, and my entire respiratory tract, actually. I’ve always been averse to air fresheners of all kinds, but I never thought about why. They are everywhere–public buildings, friends’ homes, vehicles. It’s fun to smell like pleasant things in your surroundings, and it certainly makes a good impression on people when your house smells sweet. This is why realtors often tell you to make your house smell like baked goods when you’re trying to sell it, and hotels spray custom scents in their lobbies to create a certain ambiance. For some reason, though, air fresheners have never struck me as sweet. Underneath the fragrance I have always detected an offensive, chemical note.

This was especially a problem when I was pregnant. During my first trimester, my heightened sense of smell sent waves of nausea through my body any time I got a whiff of cooking chicken, wet dog, the meat section at the grocery store, and pretty much anything that had any odor at all. In a desperate attempt to make my home an aromatic haven, I purchased two expensive plug-in air fresheners and installed them in my townhouse. I was careful to choose the “odor neutralizing” kind with a light fragrance that was sure to eliminate any offensive smells. A few hours later, the lemony scent was permeating the house, but it wasn’t creating the aromatic haven I hoped for. In fact, the plug-ins turned out to be the worst offending odor for my gag reflex. I tied them up in a plastic bag and threw them in the outdoor dumpster. For weeks later I could still smell the air freshener in my house, and I gagged every time I walked by the outlets where they had been plugged in. I can’t catch a whiff of air freshener without gagging, just a little, even to this day.

Now I understand why air fresheners cause such a negative reaction to my system. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most household air fresheners are incredibly toxic. Sprays, plug-ins, and most air fresheners you can buy release harmful chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are known to cause symptoms like, “eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system.” They also contain the same chemicals used in pesticides, like paradichlorobenzene, which are known carcinogens to animals and could also cause cancer in humans. Chemical air fresheners can also combine with gasses from other household chemicals to create formaldehyde and other harmful substances.

If that doesn’t make you want to rip that plug-in air freshener off the wall, I don’t know what will. But what are you to do if you not only want a fresh, clean smelling home, but also a home that smells inviting and sweet?

Cleaning your home with natural cleaners containing baking soda, borax, vodka, and vinegar is a good way to start. These substances kill and/or neutralize odor-causing bacteria, and they don’t release the toxins found in air fresheners and conventional household cleaners. Another way to create a cozy aroma in your home is to make your own air freshener.

I tried two methods for making air fresheners. The first was a recipe from Tip Nut for homemade “smelly jelly.” This was a fun project, because it was so customizable. You can match your smelly jelly to your decor by adding food coloring and imbedded objects, and by pouring it into any water-tight container you like (glass works best.)

The recipe is simple: 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons salt, 4 packets of plain gelatin, 15 drops of your favorite essential oil, and food coloring. Boil one cup of water with the essential oil and a few drops of food coloring. Remove from heat and add the gelatin and salt; stir to dissolve. Add remaining cup of water (cold), pour into container, and let it set. That’s it!

I made one batch of orange jelly and poured it into a clean spaghetti sauce jar. Then I made a batch of lavender jelly and poured it into a couple of tins I bought at a craft store. To speed up the setting process, I put them all in the refrigerator. A few hours later I had homemade gel air fresheners that looked every bit as good as the ones you buy at the store. I put them in different rooms around the house and waited for the pleasant smells to waft through the air.

Twenty-four hours later I was still waiting. As good as these smelly jellies look, they aren’t making very good air fresheners. I can kind of smell the essential oils up close, but the fragrance doesn’t reach very far. Perhaps it takes a while longer for the gelatin to break down and release the aroma, but it’s not looking promising.

My second home air freshener worked much better. It’s a classic method you may have used before. To a small pot of water I added cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange peels and set it to simmer. As soon as the water began to heat up, the delicious scent of oranges and spices filled the air. This is exactly the result I wanted from an air freshener. No hint of chemicals, but a delightful aroma of my favorite scents to make my home feel warm and inviting.

Orange peels and spices simmer on my stove

This second method is also very customizable. There’s a great article from Associated Content from Yahoo with lots of ideas on how to combine different ingredients your on stove to create scents for any whim or occasion. I plan to try several of them! When you are done simmering your spices, you can strain the leftover water into a spray bottle, add vinegar, and use as a room spray. Keep the cinnamon sticks to use again.

If you have another recipe for natural home air fresheners, or have another natural method for me to try, leave a comment. I’m always looking for new ideas!

Next week I’m recycling empty food containers into homemade toys. How do you reuse bottles, boxes, and other food containers once their contents have run out?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Let’s clear the air…..

  1. Suzy

    I don’t care for air fresheners either! Maybe you could try making a homemade reed diffuser? That might work better than the smelly jelly.

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