Try These Safe Ways to Scent Your Space in 2021
There are a number of potential issues to consider when choosing scents for your home. Some may be unsuitable for pets or irritating to those prone to headaches or skin reactions. Try to stay away from scents including artificial ingredients, opting instead for safe home fragrances made from organic materials. Only choose natural materials and avoid those that emit harsh chemicals, which some perfumes do. In fact, some scented products -- particularly those mass-produced and sold in big-box stores -- can release VOCs and disturb the health of your home’s indoor air. A recent study conducted by the NOAA -- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association -- found that scented products contribute significantly to outdoor air pollution. In 2018, NOAA revealed that “emissions from volatile chemical products like perfumes, paints and other scented consumer items now rival vehicles as a pollution source in greater Los Angeles.” For a few safe ways to scent your space in 2021, follow our guidelines below!
How to Safely Scent Your Space
Understanding the Dangers of Room Sprays and Home Fragrances
Quoting CIRES scientist Brian McDonald, an article reviewing the study notes that “a lot of stuff we use in our everyday lives can impact air pollution.” One of the reasons perfumed and otherwise scented products -- intended to be smelled by everyone around you and within your home -- contribute such significant VOC pollution is actually fairly straightforward. NOAA atmospheric scientist Jessica Gilman explains, quoted by Macaela Mackenzie in a recent article for Allure. Gillman notes that scented home and body products are “formulated to evaporate...designed so that you or your neighbor can enjoy the aroma.” This intended aerosolization is what makes perfumed products dangerous to our surrounding environment.
Recognizing and Remediating Indoor Air Pollution
The first step in controlling indoor air quality is measuring it, followed by researching the products you choose for your home. Consider adding an in-home air purifier and indoor air quality sensor to spaces in which you use scents -- whether they be candles, sprays or diffusers -- in order to determine how intense pollution might be and if it can be mitigated. For an exceptionally effective air purifier, consider Molekule’s Air Pro, available through Living Deep. The Air Pro harnesses PECO technology, destroying “the widest range of pollutants, including viruses, bacteria, mold, allergens, and chemicals.” For an especially sensitive and easy to understand IAQ sensor, consider the uHoo Smart Indoor Air Quality Sensor for Home. The uHoo sensor was the 2020 winner of the CES Innovation Award and boasts a number of certifications. The uHoo senses carbon dioxide, dust, nitrogen dioxide, relative humidity, air pressure, carbon monoxide, temperature, VOCs and ozone.
Choosing a Safe Home Fragrance
Fresh or Dried Flowers, Herbs and Foliage
Methods and products by which to infuse one’s home with fresh and comforting fragrances abound. For those who love the earthy scents and verdant aesthetics of houseplants, we suggest grabbing a bouquet of fresh flowers from your local florist or a few potted herbs from a gardening shop. Adding seasonal foliage -- like sprigs of pine, spruce or lemon verbena -- is also a safe and pretty choice. Dry the flowers and foliage after they have passed their prime to create home-made sachets for drawers and closets. Follow Marie Iannotti’s advice in her recent article for The Spruce if you plan to repurpose dried plants. The process is fairly straightforward, involving harvesting the herbs, mixing them together and adding “a few drops of essential oil” to “enhance the scent” before placing them in a small open-weave bag.
Essential Oil Diffusers
While once difficult to find, beautiful and effective essential oil diffusers are all over the market now. Even those with stunning sculptural silhouettes are in stores and on-line, either handmade or mass-produced. While essential oil diffusers are generally safe -- and healthy -- to use at home, there are a few potential operator errors to be aware of. Gabrielle Kassell addresses these in her article “How to Safely Use Essential Oil Diffusers” for Shape. As Kassell notes -- and many will already know -- “diffusers work by dispersing essential oils into the surrounding air (usually via steam, air, or heat) which creates a chill ambiance, makes the entire room smell ahh-mazing, and may have some serious health perks.”
Types of Diffusers
Kassell outlines the three primary types of diffusers, which include ultrasonic diffusers, nebulizing diffusers and heat diffusers. Ultrasonic diffusers create mist by sending vibrations through water infused with essential oils. While this type of diffuser is popular because it can humidify the space simultaneously, “most are made from plastic, which is not as eco-friendly.” Furthermore, “some experts believe that plastic might negatively interact with and affect the quality of your essential oils.” On the other hand, nebulizing diffusers emit oils into the air using only air and heat candles -- you guessed it -- use heat to disperse the scent. While heat diffusers are often inexpensive -- making them more attractive to some -- “they're thought to be less effective because the heat can change the chemical properties of the oil.” This process alters the diffuser’s “effectiveness as well as the smell.” To make the most of whichever diffuser you choose, Kassell recommends “investing in quality essential oils,” considering allergies and/or asthma ahead of time and checking with a doctor if pregnant. Users should also limit the number of drops used to what is recommended, clean the machine “after each use” and be “mindful of pets.”
Candles and Incense
Health Issues Uncovered by Research
While candles offer both an air of romance and the perfect ambiance for a solo night in, some are more harmful than helpful. In fact, a market analysis and literature review published in 2001 by the National Risk Management Research Laboratory for the EPA identified “candles and incense as potential sources of indoor air pollution.” The review found that “consumers are exposed to concentrations of organic chemicals in candle emissions” when burning them in their homes. The brief continues on, noting that experiments in which several candles were burned simultaneously in small space “exceeded the EPA’s 10-6 increased risk for cancer for acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, and exceeded the RfC for acrolein.” However, the brief also notes that the “EPA’s 10-6 increased cancer risk guidelines are not designed specifically for indoor air quality issues, so these conclusions are subject to interpretation.”
Unfortunately, the simple reaction of combustion that occurs when candles are burned can be harmful when one is in close contact with a candle -- even an organic candle. No matter the type of candle, the process of combustion releases particulate matter into the air, thereby reducing surrounding indoor air quality. Assya Barrette explains this in her article “Are Candles Bad for You? From Scented to Unscented” for Molekule. Barrette writes that “anything that releases smoke decreases the air quality around it, whether it be a coal plant, a burnt piece of toast or a scented candle.” She identifies the “main culprits behind the health risks in scented candle smoke” as “particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and lead” -- the last of which is rare today. When choosing a candle for your home, follow Lindsay Kellner’s advice in her article “The Best Nontoxic, Clean-Burning Candles For 2021” for MindBodyGreen.
Recommendations for Buyers
Kellner suggests paying special attention to the wick, wax and fragrance of each candle. One should choose a candle with a wick that is 100% cotton or “made of wood, like cherry wood, which doesn't create ashy, sooty residue inside the container or surrounding walls.” As for the type of wax, buyers should avoid “paraffin- and petroleum-derived waxes [which] release chemicals into the air when burned.” Sustainably-sourced, clean-burning beeswax and soy wax candles are best. For fragrance, Kellner suggests choosing “products that specify that they've used 100% naturally derived essential oils.” Candlemakers should also guarantee each product is “phthalate-free, or further explain the ‘fragrance’ to be natural and nontoxic.”
Laundry Pods and Detergents
A more subtle way to scent your home is to choose all natural scented laundry bombs, wool dryer balls, detergents and moth balls. With their organic, inoffensive fragrances, all-natural textile fresheners help blankets and throw pillows maintain the scent profile you have chosen for your home, rather than adding a clinical smell to the space. For a gentle scented laundry detergent, we love Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Lavender Laundry Detergent, which was also endorsed by Lexi Dwyer in her article “The 8 Best Green Laundry Detergents of 2021” for The Spruce. Dwyer notes that “this laundry detergent contains no parabens, phthalates, or artificial colors but is still great at removing stains and smells from clothes." Our final favorite laundry soap is Frey detergent. In her article “10 Easy Pieces: A New Wave of Organic Laundry Soaps” for Remodelista, Alexa Hotz notes that Frey is “made with biodegradable ingredients (no sulfates, parabens, or synthetic dyes) in a cedar wood/oakmoss/amber or sandalwood/bergamot/clove essential oil scent.” We love the sandalwood, bergamot, clove scent best. Admirably, the company plants a tree for every order they receive.
Dryer and Moth Balls
Add a Kon Mari touch and a soothing woodsy scent to your closet with the company’s Cedar Moth Balls from collective Iris Hantverk. We love these moth balls because they are made from “all-natural red cedar” which effectively keeps pests away while adding “a lovely, woody element to your closets and drawers.” If the scent lessens, users can “simply sand the wood lightly to draw it out.” We also love Coyuchi’s Climate Beneficial Wool Dryer Balls because -- while naturally unscented -- the balls can be removed a few minutes before the drying cycle is over and scented with a few drops of essential oil. The wool for these long-lasting dryer balls is sourced locally in Northern California from a ranch in Bodega Bay.
Sprays and Spritzes
In their article “Non-Toxic Air Fresheners: What Are Your Options?” Nature’s Nurture warns against using the majority of mainstream, scented air fresheners. The article explains that many air fresheners “release harmful particles into the air, called volatile organic compounds, which according to the EPA can cause respiratory irritation, headaches, liver and kidney damage, and even cancer.” They also often contain “phthalates, which are known to “cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems.” Perhaps worst of all, many aerosol sprays contain “propellants like butane and propane, which come with their own list of dangers.” Thankfully, the number of available organic, non-toxic home sprays on the market is growing.
In her article “5 Best Organic Room Sprays” for Healthista, Christina Paugger endorses Organic Trevarno’s Cinnamon, Sweet Orange and Nutmeg Room Mist. According to Paugger, Organic Trevarno “prides itself on the use of organic ingredients gained from plants, herbs, flowers and fruits” and leaves behind the “chemicals you often get with some other scented room sprays.” Some of our personal favorites come from Veyali’s line of Natural Room Sprays, with scents like lemongrass and sweet basil, fir balsam and juniper berry, eucalyptus and palma Rosa and palo santo and cypress. Veyali’s sprays are all-natural, with scents “derived solely from essential oils.” The company’s FAQs page explains that their sprays never contain “cheap fillers, preservatives, petrochemicals, sulfates, detergents, preservatives, artificial colors, fragrances, or GMOs.” Kind to the body and gentle on the planet, Veyali never uses “any plants whose native populations are being depleted due to unethical over harvesting or are on The United Plant Savers “at risk” list.”