I don’t bother with home fragrances for 3/4 of the year, we simply open the window but during the winter months our home sometimes need a bit of help to smell fresh. If you’ve been reading the website for a while you won’t be surprised to learn that the idea of spraying synthetic chemicals into the air that my family breathes is pure lunacy to me, so when seeking to freshen our air I only consider natural toxin-free options. If you’re unsure why synthetic air freshners should be of concern read this article. This is a US based article but I’ve heard researchers in the UK say similar things in relation to indoor air quality.
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First things first, let’s start with the simplest option possible and then work up from there.
Bicarbonate of Soda
If you’ve got a noxious odour in your home you might want to start neutralising it first with a bowl of bicarbonate of soda, which is great at absorbing smells. I constantly have a bowl in my fridge and copes with all but the strongest of smells.
Flowers & Plants
The quickest, easiest and, in my opinion, prettiest way to fragrance your home is with plants or flowers but flowers bought in winter are normally flown in, which is not very sustainable, and plants that have scented flowers in winter typically need a consistently warm environment which isn’t sustainable in wee cold Ireland.
Ah yes, a memory from the 80s when it was all the rage. When I was growing up there wasn’t a bathroom in Dublin that wasn’t adorned with dry petals, but then it fell out of favour and has yet to make a comeback. The website Pioneer Thinking has a guide to making your own potpourri here. or you could simply use some dried lavender flowers on their own. You’re advised to use newly opened flowers but I think that’s a waste, enjoy them in their zenith and then make the potpourri just as they start to fade. If you don’t want to have your potpourri on display in a bowl, aka 1980s style, you can put it in an attractive ceramic potpourri jar or hanging ball (pomander – see photo above).
If you just need a temporary lift you could create a simple simmer pot by simmering some well-chosen herbs and fruits on the hob for 15-20 mins. Because this technique involves using energy and items that will most likely be composted afterwards this is only really sustainable if it’s replacing a synthetic shop-bought fragrance.
Scented Candles or Lightbulbs
I’ve written an article on Sustainable Ethical Candles which you can read here. This is a very popular way for people to fragrance their home but if you don’t want to be tied to a particular scent you can just place a few drops of oil-based essential oils on an unscented candle for temporary fragrance. Even simpler still put a couple of drops on a non-LED lightbulb, switch it on and let it infuse the room. I say non-LED because they don’t heat up and you need warmth to release the fragrance.
At this juncture I should mention the risk with some fragrances including some essential oils. Limonene, which is naturally present in citrus fragrances converts to formaldehyde, a know carcinogen, when used indoors. Houseplants do counteract the impact of limonene to an extent but personally I prefer to avoid in the first instance if possible.
It’s also worth making sure that the country of origin for any essential oils don’t support animal testing, such as China where testing of cosmetics on animals is required by law! Finally some essential oils are toxic to dogs and cats in varying doses, so check them out before buying.
If you’re debating whether to invest in organic essential oils over non-organic just be aware that most ‘organic’ products aren’t 100% organic and may only need to a small percentage of organic ingredients in them to be allowed use the term on their label. So although I’m completely pro-organic, check the label to make sure you’re not being hoodwinked. Some suppliers of essential oils in Ireland and the UK include
- The Nature of Things (Ireland)
- Kotanical (Ireland)
- Atlantic Aromatics (Ireland)
- Purely Organic (Ireland)
- Bomar (Ireland)
- NHT Organic Oils (UK)
- Neals Yard (UK)
Since I switched to bars of soaps I’ve been exposed to a wonderful world of new scents. I’ve found the some of them are so powerfully scented that they double up as a room fragrance. Now getting a product to provide two functions instead of one, that’s a great sustainability hack. My particular favourite are from Clare based Palm Oil Free Soaps; their soaps smell divine.
Another simple way to fragrance your home over an extended period in the winter is to apply a few drops of essential oil to a porous material like rice, paper, wood, felt, wool, porcelain, or terracotta (see top photo). I think using rice would be wasteful as it would probably need to be replaced regularly so something more permanent would be more sustainable.
My daughter got the cutest porcelain flowers at a birthday party, which we’ve been using very successfully for a couple of years now. I haven’t seen these on sale in the shops in Ireland yet but you can pick them up on Etsy or alternatively I’d say any un-painted porcelain or terracotta decoration from a craft shop would work too.
A trend of recent years has been the emergence of home fragrances that use porous reeds inserted in an oil or alcohol-based fragrance.
You can create your own Homemade Reed Diffuser by simply mixing your favourite essential oils with a base oil like almond or rapeseed and inserting a material that will soak up the solution and allow it to waft into the air. Some people advocated using twigs or bamboo in lieu of the standard reed diffusers but I haven’t found these to be very successful and bought some reed diffusers instead.
If you’d prefer not to go down the DIY here are some more natural room diffusers to consider, just bear in mind the point about limonene mentioned above.
Based in Meath, The Handmade Soap Company make cruelty-free skincare and home fragrance products with coconut derivatives, vegetable emulsifiers, scented with essential oils. This home fragrance uses a completely natural diffuser base and scented with natural essential oils only They do use plastic packaging but the card in their packaging is said to be from sustainable sources and printed with vegetable-derived ink.
Dublin based pyFU offer reed diffusers made from what they call ‘renewable’ sources, which I’m thinking must mean plant based. The diffuser oil comes in a brown glass bottle with a plastic cap in a cardboard box with natural rattan reeds. They also use plastic-free recycled-cardboard packaging for orders.
Italian brand Pure BIO Fragrance Diffusers are made exclusively from natural and organic ingredients certified by CCPB, a certification and control body for agri-food and ‘non-food’ products from organic, environmentally-friendly and eco-sustainable production sector. The fragrance comes in a glass bottle and the diffuser reeds that come with it are undyed. You can buy their products in the Organic Hairdresser in Dalkey, Co Dublin or from a host of e-tailers.
Mervue Natural Skincare make plant-based organic products in their Cosmos approved facility. Their products are cetified by Cosmos, The Soil Association, the Leaping Bunny (cruelty-free) and the Vegan Society. Their products contain plant botanicals and fruit extracts that are grown, harvested and processed sustainably and ethically without chemicals, synthetic pesticides or herbicides. The company is working towards having their containers reusable in the future. For now their glass containers are recyclable.
A new trend to hit the market are electronic diffusers, which create a scented vapour when on. Ultrasonic oil diffusers are the most popular, only needing a small amount of distilled water and a few drops of an essential oil to operate. When switched on, a small disc located at the base of the device vibrates at an incredibly fast speed, disrupting the water held inside and breaking apart the water and oil molecules so that they turn to vapor. The mist is then channelled out of the device in an ethereal plume. Most of these diffusers come with timers and some with LED lighting functions too. I’ve read that they can also function as mini humidifiers in spaces with dry air.
The advice is to thoroughly clean an oil diffuser after every use to avoid bacteria growing. I would imagine it’s the same issue you get with infrequently used shower heads and legionaries disease, whereby bacteria grows in residual water left to sit for extended periods only to infect people when the shower is switched on and the bacteria is vapourised out of the shower head and into the bathroom.