Mother Earth Living

Scents and Sensibility: Herbal Essential Oils vs. Commercial Air Fresheners

Ditch toxic commercial air fresheners in favor of safe odor neutralizers, herbal essential oils and other natural air fresheners.
By Allison Martin
November/December 2012
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Naturally scent your home with herbal essential oils such as lavender.
Photo By iStockphoto


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With the sweet scent and aromatherapy benefits of botanicals wafting through your home, you’ll never consider a store-bought plug-in again. There are very good reasons to ditch commercial air fresheners. Many contain the known human carcinogen formaldehyde, and commercial air fresheners often also contain phthalates—hazardous chemicals known to cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects and reproductive problems. Finally, air fresheners need meet no special requirement to be marked “natural,” so beware of false claims.

Banishing bad smells with truly natural air fresheners couldn’t be easier—or more beneficial. Nature offers a wide array of great-smelling options that can neutralize odors, while at the same time helping soothe your mind or boost your mood. Instead of fake, potentially harmful scents, opt for these safe ways to replace unpleasant odors with uplifting ones.

3 Natural Odor Neutralizers

Sometimes you need to clear a room of scents, not mask an unpleasant odor with another smell. For this task, turn to three tried-and-true natural odor neutralizers.

Vinegar, despite its distinctive scent, absorbs smells without contributing its own odor to the room. The best way to use it is to place a small bowl of vinegar on a mantle or a high shelf. (Be sure to keep the bowl out of reach of pets, and make sure family members are aware of the room-freshening plan.) Check on it every few weeks, and add a little more vinegar as it evaporates from the bowl.

If you aren’t convinced that vinegar won’t make the room smell pickled, use vodka in the same manner. It also absorbs smells, but is completely odorless.

Baking soda is another natural odor neutralizer. Sprinkle baking soda over carpets in the evening before bed. In the morning, vacuum the carpets, whisking away the baking soda and any odors lurking in the carpet fibers. If you can’t wait eight hours for the baking soda to absorb, waiting just 30 minutes before vacuuming can freshen up your living room noticeably.

Herbal Essential Oils

Herbal essential oils are concentrated botanical oils that retain properties of the plants from which they are extracted. Many of them, such as eucalyptus, lavender and rosemary, are antimicrobial and antibacterial, which makes them great for freshening up around the house. In addition to banishing bacteria and microbes, tea tree essential oil is antifungal and antiviral.

One easy way to infuse your home with the scent of essential oils is to make a reed diffuser, as instructed at right. Pick one herbal essential oil, or experiment by blending several. You can simply choose scents that smell nice together, or you can incorporate aromatherapy into your all-natural air freshener. See “13 Herbal Scents” below for some effective aromatherapeutic options.

13 Herbal Scents

These herbal essential oils smell delightful and can help adjust your mood.

Calming: Chamomile, juniper, lavender, lemon balm, lemongrass and ylang ylang 

Uplifting: Eucalyptus, grapefruit, lime, peppermint and vetiver

Memory aiding: Sage and rosemary

DIY Reed Diffuser

Ideally, the bamboo skewers will be twice as tall as the glass bottle you choose.

• 1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or other carrier oil of your choice)
• Small glass bottle
• 5 to 10 drops essential oil
• Bamboo skewers

1. Pour the oil into the glass container, and add 5 to 10 drops essential oil of your choice. Stir to combine.

2. Place the bamboo skewers in the glass bottle. About once a day, reverse the reeds, putting the dry ends in the oil and the oil-soaked ends in the air.


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