Have a little think for a minute about what smells good and true. A jasmine plant you walk past, fresh flowers at the market, pine cones, sea air … Now think about the ‘Pine Fresh’ or ‘Spring Bouquet’ or ‘Vanilla Crème Brûlée’ fragrance claims on air fresheners, scented candles and reed fragrances. Really think about how they smell. Were you dazzled by the shiny and new?
Look at this ingredients list for a common home fragrance product. Does it fill you with thoughts of lavender fields and floral bouquets, now that you know what you know? ‘1,4-dichlorobenzene, terpene, di-ethyl phthalate, di-n-butyl phthalate, di-isobutyl phthalate, di-methyl phthalate, diisohexyl phthalate, galaxolide, tonalide.’
Hardly the ocean breeze ‘clean-air system’ we thought we were buying, eh? Let’s get back to good and true. Are the very things marketed to us as ‘improving our indoor air spaces’ actually polluting our spaces more than anything? Wouldn’t that be crazy?
Surely, you’re thinking, scented candles can’t be as bad as plug-in air-fresheners. I’ll give you the fact that they don’t have as much packaging, but that’s about it, most of the time.
Wax types are often paraffin (made from petroleum), soy (which can be GM) or palm (a deforestation disaster). The cheaper candles can also have lead in the wicks. Let the good times roll, eh?
The scents in these candles are either as bad, or use a blend of essential oils and synthetics, which means there are most likely phthalates lurking around. Even with the ones that use only essential oils, the question comes down to the origin of the wax. Can they offer you transparency? Sustainable sourcing standards? It’s worth investigating with a quick email or call if it’s a company whose products you’ve enjoyed – and giving your constructive feedback if you find the answers aren’t great.
Plain beeswax candles are the best way forward if you love the flame of a candle. For fragrance options, diffusing essential oils from companies with strong sustainability practices and transparency is a brilliant way forward.
You can get a diffuser and create your own blends. It’s such fun to get into perfuming your home naturally, and you’ll feel the difference straight away – it’s like letting nature into your home, even if you live in an apartment.
Simple home fragrance ideas
✽ Bathroom air freshener: Pop a few drops of essential oil on the inside of your toilet roll.
✽ Long car drive spray: Try a car freshener spray for alertness: 4 drops peppermint essential oil, 4 drops rosemary oil, 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) alcohol (e.g. vodka) and 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) water in a small spray bottle.
✽ Natural air freshener 1: Pop 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) alcohol (e.g. vodka) into a spray bottle with 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) water. Add a total of 20 drops of your favourite essential oils. Spray as needed.
✽ Natural air freshener 2: Pop 45 g (1½ oz/½ cup) coffee beans in a vase with some vanilla bean powder, and sit a big beeswax candle inside.
The gentle heat from the candle will bring out a beautiful, subtle vanilla bean and coffee aroma. You can also pop a baking tray of coffee beans with a ½ teaspoon vanilla powder and 3 drops cinnamon oil in a 180°C (350°F) oven for 15 minutes. It’s as close as you can get to baking something extraordinary without actually baking. In fact, why don’t you just bake something gorgeous? There’s an idea! Nothing like the smell of something baking to lift the spirits of everyone in the house.
✽ Bedroom air freshener: For stale smelly children’s bedrooms, pop a tub of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and 10 drops lemon oil underneath their beds. Add a few fresh drops of oil each week. They’ll almost smell as sweet as the day they were born. Almost.
Take the low tox challenge: Ditch all the synthetic fragrance candles and fresheners from your house. If you’re not prepared to fully concede yet, that’s fine. Just pop them in the garage in a box. Leave them out of your house for three weeks. Wait until you start to smell these things out and about in stores and at friends’ houses. How did you go? My guess is, as with thousands before you, it will hit you like a ton of bricks just how synthetic those fragrances are.
Images and recipes from Low Tox Life by Alexx Stuart, Murdoch Books, RRP $35.