Fill Your Home With Scents Of The Season

By Alaina Stratton, Senior News Contributing Editor

We’ve all experienced it: you walk into a store or into the home of a friend and the smell of baked goods, cinnamon and apples, or balsam fir hits you. Before you know it, dozens of nostalgic memories from over the years come to mind. Smell is a powerful connector to memories, and most of us associate those warm, sweet, spicy, woodsy scents with the fall and winter seasons. They elicit feelings of comfort and peace, but unfortunately, many air fresheners, plug ins, and candles bring something less welcome into our homes: chemicals and toxins that can hurt us or those we love.

There are many options for enjoying the scents of autumn in our homes without wasting money on expensive air fresheners or candles that contain harsh fake scents and chemicals. With a few ideas and not many dollars, we can enjoy natural alternatives this season instead.

The Downside of Air Fresheners

Although researchers are split on just how harmful breathing in chemicals from commercially available air fresheners can be for us, most agree that they contain hazardous chemicals.

According to American Grandpar-ents Association (AGA), some of these chemicals include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are “airborne gas byproducts emitted by a wide array of household products, from paints to disinfectants and automotive products.” VOCs are the same reason you wouldn’t paint a room with the windows closed, for example. Depending on your sensitivity or exposure, explains AGA, VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat, headaches, nausea, and potential damage to the central nervous system, liver, or kidney.

Environmental Health Perspectives reports that in a survey of 25 top selling air fresheners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, disinfectants, dish detergents, all-purpose cleaners, soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorants, and shampoos “showed the products emitted more than 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including some that are classified as toxic or hazardous by federal laws.” But it’s not just the brands you may expect — even some labeled as safe, aren’t. “Even products advertised as “green,” “natural,” or “organic” emitted as many hazardous chemicals as standard ones,” the report concluded.  

It doesn’t stop with VOCs. A good deal of health and personal care products sold in the United States contain a host of scary sounding chemicals, including formaldehyde, a multipurpose, odorless gas found in many products, like varnishes and building materials, or as a preservative in products like cosmetics or laundry detergent and softener.

According to AGA, it’s also a known carcinogen that may cause symptoms including irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat, dizziness, and respiratory distress like difficulty, coughing, or bronchitis.

Other chemicals found in air fresheners, says AGA, include 1,4 dichlorobenzene, a chemical compound that can reduce lung function, as well as allergens that can further exacerbate symptoms for those who already suffer from COPD, asthma, and allergies of any kind.

The concern includes not only air fresheners and plug ins, but also candles. In a study by Dr. Ruhullah Massoudi, chemistry professor and lead researcher, and the 1890 Research and Extension Program at SC State University, paraffin candles tested were found to release “unwanted chemicals” into the air. According to the SC State University website, for a person who lights such candles every or uses them frequently, inhaling these pollutants over time could contribute to health risks like allergies, asthma, and cancer.

Concerns have also been raised about chemical in scented products that act as endocrine, or hormonal, disruptors. The concern is not just respiratory irritation, but altering your or your family members internal system for regulating and protecting their bodies.

Further, reports Environmental Health Perspectives, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, (the regulating body for cleaning supplies, air fresheners, and laundry products) doesn’t require manufactures to share any ingredients on their labels, including chemicals and fragrances. Consumers are in the dark unless they have seen the manufacturing process first hand. With today’s regulations, it’s hard to be sure what you are getting when you purchase and home or healthcare product. Especially for those of us with grandchildren and other loved ones who live or frequently visit our homes, these are real concerns.

Choosing to not use products for health concerns is a personal preference. Whether avoiding chemicals resonates with you or not, the following natural alternatives also provide the advantage of being affordable, having a DIY aspect, and possibly providing fun activities for you to share with your grandkids.

Make Your Own Autumn Scents

There are many non-toxic and safe options to replace your common air fresheners and candles. Some you can purchase, others you can create using items you likely already have around the house along with some food grade, certified essential oils of your choosing.

  • Drawer liners or sachets. Non-toxic drawer liners or sachets can be easily purchased. Drawer liners can be made with organic fabrics measured to fit a drawer and sprayed with essential oils. Sachets are easily sewn together with a bit of fabric and a needle and thread. Try spraying or filling these with lavender or cedar.
  • Purchase an oil reed diffuser or create your own with glass bottle, bamboo kabob skewers, a carrier oil like almond or jojoba, and your favorite essential oils. The oils go in the bottom of the container, travel up the skewers, creating scent in the air.
  • Make a DIY baking soda air freshener. Take the old fridge freshening standby, baking soda, and combine with essential oils in a jar or container of your choice. Combine, stir, and cover the container with paper or fabric to keep the powder from escaping.
  • Simmer scents on the stove top. Simply use a combination of citrus, apples, herbs like rosemary, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, essential oils, and vanilla, almond, or maple extract to create the autumnal scent you prefer. Just like when you cook a meal or bake cookies, the scent will permeate and warm your house with autumnal smells. For clean up ease, wrap the ingredients in cheesecloth before simmering.
  • Create your own DIY air spray using water, vodka or rubbing alcohol, and a combination of your favorite essential oils.
  • Create a crafty scented centerpiece. Add strips of felt scented with essential oils into your holiday center pieces of gourds, flowers, or other items. Or create a festive centerpiece with pinecones gathered from your neighborhood. Wash with soapy water and let dry. Dilute essential oils in water and coat the pinecones. Place in a bowl or basket with cinnamon sticks, dried herbs and branches, or festive knick knacks. The pinecones will act like a diffuser for the scent.
  • Switch out your candles for unscented or those made from soy or vegetable wax.
  • Limit the need for scents in the first place. Take out trash often, give pets regular baths, and take advantage of the refreshing fall temperatures and open your windows as often as possible.
  • Fill your home with plant fresheners. Place refreshing herbal plants like rosemary or eucalyptus in vases around your home. As a bonus, they make beautiful decorations when dried, and still release scent. Many house plants are reported to improve indoor air quality by filtering out toxins (and smell). Try aloe vera, spider plants, fiddle leaf figs, Boston ferns, rubber plants, or snake plants.
  • Explore a variety of autumnal essential oil combinations in an essential oil diffuser, which utilizes water and vapor to spread out the scent in the air. Some options to try: orange, lemon and fir; orange, cinnamon, and vanilla; peppermint, fir, eucalyptus, tea tree, and rosemary; frankincense, pine, cedar wood; orange and cedar; cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg; cedar, patchouli, and geranium; spruce, wintergreen, and eucalyptus.

To do your own research on the chemicals and safety of home, cleaning, and beauty products, or to discover brands that make cleaner products, utilize the database compiled by the Environmental Working Group, located at