The other day, arriving a little early to pick up my boys from camp, I stood watching them play from inside the building. After a few minutes, a strong lemony, chemical smell overwhelmed me. I first thought a conventional cleaning product was the culprit, but then I saw an air freshener dispenser installed on the wall.
According to Gina Solomon, Senior Scientist at National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “there are no government requirements that air freshener products get tested for safety … So forget about figuring out whether there's anything nasty in the bottle by reading the label. Secondly, there's not much testing info out there from independent sources either…”
Solomon does note a study done in Europe which tested “74 products, including sprays, plug-ins, gels, and things like incense and scented candles. They found lots of chemicals of concern. The highest levels of ultra-toxic chemicals like benzene were actually in the incense. However, the standard air fresheners contained benzene, formaldehyde, irritants, allergens ... and a chemical called DEP” better known as phthalates, a potential hormone disruptor.
I lodged a complaint about the air fresheners at the front desk and through the camp's online inquiry form and was thrilled to receive an email the next day from the General Manager saying that the camp planned to remove them. Small victory! But now I wonder whether they'll persue more natural options for blocking odors.
I'll have to wait to see how "fresh" the camp smells in the coming weeks, but here are some nontoxic fragrance alternatives we all can try at home:
- Open the windows--simple but effective. Good ventilation is the first line of defense in removing odors.
- Take out the trash often and clean any spaces that might have mold or dirt lurking.
- Make your own air fresheners by using a few drops of essential oils like lavender, lemon, and tea tree.
- Embrace houseplants, which can be very effective in cleaning the air and reducing odors. For plants with a nice smell of their own, try Geraniums, Gardenias and Jasmine.
Do you have any suggestions for great natural ways to block odors and freshen the air?
Francesca Olivieri is co-founder of sage baby, an online eco-friendly baby store offering everything from organic clothes and skin care to furniture. She also runs a green consulting business; blogs for The Family Groove and Scenic Hudson; and contributes to Daily Candy Kids, YogaCity, Citiscoop, and NRDC’s Simple Steps. Please visit her website at FrancescaOlivieri.com.