The Washington Post
Products to freshen up your space (without harmful chemicals)
It’s a familiar problem: Strong cooking smells from the kitchen waft into our living areas and linger long after dinner is over. Or the stench of the garbage sticks around, even after the trash can has been emptied. ¶ There are generally two approaches to whisking away bad smells: neutralizing the odor or changing it to something more pleasant. For a quick, inexpensive fix to the stinky-kitchen problem, Becky Rapinchuk, author of “Clean Mama’s Guide to a Healthy Home,” likes to leave a dish of white vinegar out overnight. “Vinegar absorbs odor,” she says. “It works similarly to the way baking soda works in the fridge.” ¶ She also likes charcoal bags, which absorb odors in smaller places, such as drawers or the bottoms of garbage cans. Or just open a window for five to 10 minutes a day, says Gurl Gone Green blogger Suzi Swope. ¶ The other option — masking or changing the unpleasant smell — is where things get tricky. It’s tempting to reach for a cute candle or an aerosol air freshener, but scientists say that might not be the safest choice. Conventional home fragrance products can contain hundreds of chemicals, including phthalates, benzaldehyde, camphor, ethyl acetate, benzyl acetate, musk ketone, benzene, formaldehyde, BHT and acetaldehyde. Studies have shown that some of these chemicals can cause headaches, breathing problems, contact dermatitis and other health issues. ¶ The easiest way around this is to choose fresheners with ingredients that you know and can research if needed. Think dye-free candles made of beeswax and scented with essential or natural oils, Rapinchuk says. (If you’re concerned about whether the beeswax is harvested ethically, soy is a good alternative.) Wicks should be clean-burning, which means they’re made of all wood, hemp or cotton. The same selection principles apply to deodorizing sprays. ¶ And be on the lookout for “greenwashing” — a company’s attempt to market something as green or “natural,” even though it’s full of preservatives and artificial ingredients. You can check a product’s ingredient list on the Environmental Working Group’s website ( ewg.org) or app. ¶ We asked Rapinchuk, Swope and Sara Swabb, an interior designer and the owner of Storie Collective in D.C., for their favorite air fresheners without potentially harmful chemicals. Here are their suggestions.