We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Air Fresheners

I just got back from the dentist's office. And yes, it got a clean bill of health, and a silver star on my chart (reduced flossing demoted me from a gold star). Whew! But, I have a problem with that office; it stinks.

Well, you might think it smells good, but I don't. Because other patients complain about the "dentist office smell" they use various plug-in scents, scented candles, and spray air freshener/air fragrance products to mask the odors people comment on. The irony is that I'm complaining about the faux fresh-air smell. My sinuses buzz when subjected to scented products, and sometimes the chemicals used to make those products cause me to get cold-like symptoms that can last 24 hours. That's not a price I'm willing to pay my dentist, no matter how good he is.

Now, to be fair, he and his office compatriots do try to please me, as much as they can. When I went to him the first time I couldn't even stay in the waiting room as I waited for my dental hygienist because the scent was so pervasive. They removed all the air fresheners during my stay, but that didn't help enough. So I quit going.

I live in a small community, and his wife asked me why they hadn't seen me in the office in a while. So I told her. She totally understood my perspective and promised to work on removing the fake air scents. The dentist, seeing me at lunch recently, walked up to me and said to be sure to ask the receptionist to mark in the calendar to remove everything the day before my appointment. I told him that wouldn't be enough time since the carpet, upholstery, and curtains were saturated with the chemicals. Darn it! I was right. But, they do get a point for trying.

As he left me in the chair, after his exam was completed, to finish my cleaning, he asked me what my Boulder dentist had used (I told him that office smelled fresh like unscented clean air). I called and found they used nothing; they don't have a "dentist office" smell to mask. Huh.

Since I want to keep using this dentist I decided to research what they could use to mask or remove the scents that other patients are bothered by. You get to benefit from this research, as I will (I hope) in 9-12 months when I go back.

Quickly, here's a list of the problems associated with various chemicals found in most commercial air fresheners:

  • allergic reactions
  • asthma attacks
  • eye irritation
  • lung irritation
  • skin irritation

Problem chemicals include:

  • camphor (potential nervous system harm)
  • d-limonen (a pesticide)
  • various neurotoxins and endocrine-disrupting compounds
  • formaldehyde (a carcinogen)
  • paradicthlorobenzine (a carcinogen
  • 1,4 dichlorobenzene (a lung irritant)
  • VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are what's at work here, and many are known to cause cancer.

The first place I checked for good air fresheners was GoodGuide, but was disappointed in the results. Miessence Rainforest Air Freshener was the only name I recognized that I knew had quality, non-petro-chemical ingredients. [note: I hesitate to use the phrase "natural ingredients" since green washing has so ruined the meaning of it.] I checked the next two on the list and was dismayed by the list of chemicals.

Then I just Googled for "natural air freshener" to see what I could fine. I loved what I found here:

  • baking soda
  • beeswax or soy candles, scented with essential oils
  • cedar blocks, though cedar can be an allergan
  • essential oils, dispersed in a variety of ways (lightbulb rings, cotton balls, and porous containers made for the job)
  • HEPA air filters
  • lavender bundles
  • open doors and windows
  • orange with whole cloves inserted
  • potpourri made of herbs and flowers
  • spices, gently boiling on the stove, or in a simmer pot
  • white vinegar

And some commercial "natural air fresheners" include, from the same Google search:

  • CitraSolve's Air Scense
  • Earth Friendly Products/ECOS Uni-Fresh Air Freshener
  • Method Breathe Easy
  • Natural Sundae's Natural Air Freshener - Rosemary & Sage
  • Aura Cacia Orange Pomander Air Freshener
  • Ecco Bella All Natural Air Freshener Ecco Mist, Citrus

And the list goes on.

It puzzles me why people think they need to buy commercial products to freshen the air (or their clothes) when they can save money by just taking a natural approach. Open windows go a long way in freshening indoor air. And it's free! For odor removal baking soda is always good. And if you want a fresh smell, go with flowers. But clearly the marketer are winning and people spend considerable amounts of money making their homes and offices "smell good" with commercial air fresheners.

The hardest part is convincing people that the more chemicals they put in their bodies the more health problems they, or their loved ones, are going to have. All I can do is say try to be as natural as possible with creating a fresh smell in your home or office, and save money.

Further Reading/Research:
- http://www.economicallysound.com/fragrance_free_hospitality.html
- http://www.economicallysound.com/clean_with_green_products.html
- http://www.economicallysound.com/air_purifiers.html
- http://www.economicallysound.com/green_cleaning.html
- http://www.economicallysound.com/have_a_fragrancefree_hotel.html
- http://www.goodguide.com/categories/167203-air-fresheners.html



You hit on a very sore point for me! I have had increasing allergies since being exposed to mold at a job several years ago.

Even "natural" air fresheners can send me into an allergy attack - which causes flu like symptoms for at least 2-3 days or longer. I can't take allergy pills, they don't work and make me feel like a zombie.

Essential oils are often overused (a VERY little bit goes a long way!), as well as when too many different scents are mixed for potpourri.

My major pet peeve - people who use an entire bottle (ok, that's a "bit" of an exaggeration - lol) of perfume or cologne. I can't tolerate patchouli in any form or strength anywhere near me (cinnabar is another). I started asking friends with allergies what aggravates them the most in the scent department - patchouli won hands down!, yet it's one of the most popular scents around lately.

My second pet peeve is people with pets who wear too much perfume, or infuse their house with scents - I wonder what their poor animals are thinking and if they have headaches from being bombarded as their scent receptors are so much higher than a human!

I don't use any products at home for freshening - have multiple animals, opening windows whenever possible works just fine.

Thanks for the research, I'll pass it along to friends for alternative options!


Anne at August 20, 2010 7:25 AM

Great information! I find that if I am in a department store I have to hold my breath as I walk by the perfume area... funny though, men's colognes do not bother my like women's perfumes. I do what I can to keep the chemicals out of my house. I use only Shaklee Get Clean products for all of my cleaning plus I have an Air Purifier in my home which helps. I do admit though that on occasion I will burn PartyLite candles, but those do not bother me like others do. It is hard at times to be so smell sensitive. If you are more interested in the chemical free cleaners check out www.debbzie4health.myshaklee.com

Debbie at August 20, 2010 11:42 AM

I can't stand perfumed products! The soap aisle at the grocery store is a challenge for me. It's so bad that I have to hold my breath, run down the aisle only slowing down long enough to grab the product I want, until I to get fresh, unscented air. Good thing for me I'm a runner.

Why don't people understand how unhealthy these products are for them? And for me?

Heath at August 21, 2010 2:06 PM


You raise an excellent point about the use of even essential oils and how a little goes a long way. My Magik Kleaner uses up to 10 drops of essential oils in a 14oz recipe, and that sometimes feels like to much, at least for My Bigger Half.

I was so proud of the Christmas presents I gave to my mother-in-law and various sisters-in-law -- homemade bath salts and lip balms. My M-i-L couldn't use the bath salts because scents gave her migraines; that was the first time I knew that!


Kit Cassingham at August 21, 2010 2:13 PM

Scented products give me migraines. I can hardly even have flowers around me because of their scents. Flowers didn't used to bother me as much as they do now. I wonder if some of my problem comes from the amount of chemicals we surround ourselves with these days. Thank goodness I can find scent-free stores and offices to go into. I hope your dentist wises up and quits using those scented products.

Marge at August 21, 2010 2:14 PM


It's funny that you mention the perfume section of department stores. My Bigger Half and I were in a department store in Boulder recently and were shocked at how large the perfume section was. The entrance we use was at the perfume section of the store, meaning we had to walk through half of the store that was strongly scented just to get to the escalators to go to the part of the store we were there for. And of course we had to leave the same way. I'm glad we don't have to go shopping there often. Next time we'll know to park elsewhere to avoid those perfumes.

I wonder why mens' perfume doesn't bother you as much? I haven't tested that personally so don't understand.

What I have learned from my research is that many ingredients in today's fragrances include known allergens and carcinogenic compounds. It's cheaper to make synthetic musk, for example, than to harvest the real thing (and harvesting the real thing probably has other environmental implications). And even some natural aromatics can irritate the skin, so "natural" isn't always the answer.

I think the best thing to do is cut back on and eliminate scents so that the fresh aromas became the norm again and scents are used for special occasions or events.


Kit Cassingham at August 21, 2010 2:30 PM

Actually, D-limonene is safe for humans. Sure, it's a pesticide, but so are baking soda and diatomaceous earth. D-limonene is actually more of an insect repellant than an insect killer since it's only effective as a killer until it dries.

It may be a skin irritant, but if you've ever peeled a few oranges your skin will be equally irritated. D-limonene is the active ingredient in all orange based cleaners (including the home-made one I sent the recipe for) this is due to it being a solvent and as such it replaces much more harmful chemicals.

I think that in an air freshener it's not so bad.

Mati at October 8, 2011 1:49 PM


I don't know anything about D-limonene, so thanks for sharing what you know.

Please don't misunderstand me, though, about fresh air. I enjoy fresh scents, but the source of the perfume and the dispersant make a huge difference to me. And to others who are more scent sensitive than I am.

I do use scented products, when I know they are pure. Heck, I make my own! But petroleum-based scents, commonly used in public areas and in candles, cleaners, and air fresheners found in many homes are a source of illness and distress with a growing population base in the US.

If establishments used more D-limonene and other natural perfumes many of us would be happy. But not all, based on the increasing amount of chemical sensitivity out there.

Thanks for writing and challenging me.


Kit Cassingham at October 8, 2011 11:01 PM

I understood your point perfectly, which is why I wrote to point out the difference between D-limonene and some of the other items on your list.

People who are particularly sensitive to smells may not like pure D-limonene when it's fresh because the smell is incredibly strong. Other than that it achieves all the criteria you listed.

Like you I dislike artificial scents, so I learned a little about natural scents over time and I'm always happy to share my wisdom, especially where I know it will be appreciated.

Mati at October 9, 2011 7:04 PM

Mati, I greatly appreciate your proactive and sharing attitude. Thank you so much!

Please share your wisdom about scents anytime you want. I have actually become sensitive about scents for people who get sick from even natural ones. My mother-in-law and My Bigger Half both react strongly to even natural scents. For example, we send low-odor flowers to my M-i-L.

I used to know a woman who was allergic to roses! Since we just don't know what challenges we are facing with the use of perfumes it's best, IMHO, that we all be more careful, especially in public. Hotels need to pay attention to this!

My now-favorite restaurant almost lost me forever as a customer because of the strong odor of bleach when I went there the first time. A friend urged me to try again, and speak to the owner if it was a problem still. The problem dissipated, so I've never had to say anything to her, and I get to keep going their for delicious, fabulously prepared food.

It's interesting to see how we have morphed the topic of air fresheners to odors/smells/perfumes in general. Well done! :~)


Kit Cassingham at October 25, 2011 10:56 AM
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