That “Clean” Smell

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by Donna Mazzitelli

When I ask people how they decide their house is clean, the majority respond that it’s based on how their home smells. Since the mid-1900′s, we’ve been led to believe that the stronger the products smell, the cleaner they make our homes. Who doesn’t associate the smell of pine or bleach with a cleaner kitchen or bathroom? Yet, depending on the source of that smell, our homes may actually pose more risks to our health after cleaning them than before we started! This is a painful realization, especially since we believe we’re protecting those we care about most – our families.

Many of the commercial cleaning products we use in our homes contain fragrance, dyes and chemicals that can irritate eyes, skin and respiratory tracts. These cleaning products may also be emitting VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) —gases that come from certain solids or liquids. The potential hazards of these irritants and gases can be up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors. We take these toxins into our bodies as we breathe and through our skin when we come into contact with them.

Consumers are becoming wiser and many of us try to use products that don’t contain harmful chemicals. As consumers, though, we have to be cautious. Products developed for home, industrial, and even personal care use are not regulated by any governmental agency. Aware that consumers are now looking for safer, less toxic products for home use, a growing number of manufacturers are advertising that their products contain beneficial ingredients such as essential oils. However, the essential oil may not be the only source of the scent you smell. Manufacturers have also developed scents to mimic essential oils, such as lavender, geranium, and lemon verbena. They add these to their products and tell us they are safe and effective. But are these products any safer than the pine product we used to clean with? If the scents are derived from unhealthy chemical formulations, the answer is no. We’re still being exposed to fragrance that can irritate eyes and lungs and contribute to the VOCs in our homes.

In addition to our cleaning products, most of us also identify that “clean” smell with our personal care products. Just like the cleaning products, though, that smell has little to do with being clean. Even “unscented” products must be scrutinized. Often an “unscented” chemical formulation is used to mask the smells of the other ingredients, thereby exposing us to the same risks as scented products.

In an April 12, 2004 Time Magazine article by Coeli Carr the question was asked, “Why is it so easy to lead consumers around by their noses?” Mandy Aftelier, a natural perfumer and consultant based in Berkeley, California, and author of Essence and Alchemy: A Book of Perfume, answered: “Nothing changes your consciousness quicker than a smell. Putting scent in your life, even over mundane tasks, is a good thing to do. It improves the quality of your life in small ways, and those small ways add up.” The article affirmed that “studies have shown that inhaling pleasant natural scents can affect brain activity, alleviating stress and lifting mood.”

Unless the products are scented exclusively with pure essential oils, the benefits may be questionable. If that “aromatherapy” smell was chemically made, it may do us more harm than good. When our cleaning and personal care products are scented with pure essential oils rather than chemically-induced smells, we can enhance our overall health and positively impact our thoughts and feelings.

What is the definition of a clean home and a clean body? Well, clean does not actually have a smell! It is the absence of dirt, residue and debris. If you prefer to accompany the cleaning process with a scent to improve and enhance your life experience, then strive to avoid those artificial “clean” smells and choose products that are completely scented with pure essential oils. By limiting your exposure to chemically-created smells, you reduce your exposure to cancer-causing agents and ingredients that can contribute to skin and respiratory conditions. That clean smell doesn’t have to include a price that goes far beyond the cost of the product.

Donna Mazzitelli shares her passion for creating a greener lifestyle through her company, Bellisima Living, LLC. Her blog, Bellisima Goddess, focuses on creating a holistically healthy, joyful and green life. You can find Donna in Speaking Your Truth, published in August 2010.