The Truth About Air Fresheners

What do shoes, carpets, drapes, dogs, chairs, onions, dirty laundry, beds and fish have in common?

They all make your house smell bad and believe me when I say there’s like 150 other things in your home right now that are adding to what’s called the ‘scent signature’ of your home.

Well, the reality is that your scent signature can quickly become your stank signature – and when that happens, many of us run off to the store to purchase the different products that are conveniently packaged and placed in their own little aisle to solve our ‘problem’.

We all know these products right? Sprays that supposedly fa-freshen the air in your home – scented candles or these plug-in fresheners which, in this case, will made your house smell exactly like the rainforest.

The problem is, these plug ins don’t smell like the rainforest.  The candles, which are supposed to smell like apples and cinnamon, don’t have apples or cinnamon listed as an ingredient, and sprays straight up smell like cheap perfume…the kind that gives me a headache after only a minute or so.

I thoroughly do not enjoy these scents. They do not take me on a scent-fantasy vacation as the commercials say they will.  Rather, I get a pounding headache within minutes of exposure.

But what about all the health concerns?

Now, I’m not going to get into the debate about chemicals and toxins.   If that is a concern for you, then there are many, many studies available which talk about what goes into these products, some of which I’ve linked below, and you can make make up your own mind whether you want these products in your home, or not.  I leave that conclusion to you.  Recently, larger companies that produce these have had to become much more transparent about the ingredients which go into their products.  That way, consumers can make their choices knowingly.  If you are informed, you can make better decisions; so get informed!

Time Magazine Article 

Scientific American Article Article 

The main reason why I don’t use these products in my home is quite simple, the products are superfluous.  They are mere middlemen to perceived problems.  When there is an odor that you want to get rid of, you need to DE-odorize – or remove the odor – all of these do nothing more than put artificial odors into the air to overpower the odors you’re trying to get rid of – which essentially RE-odorizes – and that’s a big difference.

So what does clean really smell like?

For 7 years now I’ve been running a cleaning company, and one of the more consistent comments that I hear from our customers is that they love to walk into their newly cleaned home to smell – nothing…not be overwhelmed with the artificial smells of cleaning products, but to smell nothing.

Nothing is the new smell of clean.

So, maybe you’re reading this because you were one of the many people who have asked me how to get rid of this nasty smell in my house….. or maybe you’re tired of spending your money on expensive products which do nothing more than mask odors – or maybe, just maybe you got trapped in an Internet vacuum and can’t explain why you ended up reading an article called “The Truth Behind Air Fresheners” – whatever the reason, allow me to share a few ideas to naturally, effectively get rid of smells in your home…

Check out our Summer Cleaning Checklist to get yourself good and ready for the warm months ahead!

How to actually, naturally eliminate odours

Clean the stuff that causes the odours

You want to know the best way to eliminate bad odors in your house? Clean, or wash, the offending items. Have you ever noticed that air freshener commercials show the product being used to tackle smelly shoe odors? Well, here’s an idea – wash those smelly shoes! I know it sounds absolutely crazy, but the results will amaze you!

If the house smells like garbage, maybe it’s time to take out the garbage, if your room smells a little funky, maybe it’s time to take care of the laundry and for those of you with dogs who have asked about the best way to deal with the “dog smell” – the answer isn’t so much cleaning the areas where your dog hangs out (i.e. spraying the dog bed)…it’s about cleaning your dog and washing the dog bed. Plus, I’m positive the dog doesn’t want to feel like he’s yodelling atop the Alpines.

Bowl of Vinegar

Vinegar is a wonderful natural deodorizer and is incredibly easy to use. Simply leave a bowl of vinegar out, overnight and you’ll wake to find the area smelling fresher!  Plain white vinegar will do, nothing fancy.

Baking Soda

There’s a reason we keep a box of baking soda in the fridge. and that is because it can handle the difficult job of managing all the odors that live inside your fridge – well, it’s also effective in other places in your home like at the bottom of garbage cans, kitty litter boxes and even in your closet or spice cupboard.

Vacuuming and steam cleaning

Carpets are pretty much the biggest offenders when it comes to odors in our homes. they harbor a bunch of odor causing nastiness and the same holds true for curtains and other upholstered items. A great way to tackle the smell in a room is to give everything a good vacuuming – use the aforementioned baking soda to really suck up the scents.  If you have a deep cleaner or a steam cleaner, those are even more amazing at removing odours.

Don’t forget to check out Maker’s Clean line of premium products. From microfiber cloths to the Maker’s Mop, they have a great line of high-quality products that will help you take your cleaning game to the next level!

House plants

Let nature help you freshen the air in your home – plants can actually purify air and some smell naturally beautiful and can fill your space with the most wonderful, natural scents.  They are also so beautiful!  Some terrific indoor house plants to keep air purified. The following list both purifies air and removes toxins, and is also pet safe (which is great for me considering my cats think plants are an addition to their meals).

  • African Violet
  • Areca Palm
  • Bamboo
  • Boston Fern
  • Cast Iron Plant
  • Flame Violet
  • Fuschia
  • Gardenia
  • Gerber Daisy
  • Gloxinia
  • Lady Palm
  • Prayer Plant
  • Velvet Plant
  • Spider Plant
  • Yucca

The power of air

The simple act of opening a few windows can make a huge difference in your home -so, let some fresh air in – this is easily the freeist thing that you can do to rid yourself of odors! if you open windows on opposite ends of your home – you can create a cross breeze which can whisk away unpleasant, stale odors and replace them with the freshness of nature – assuming you don’t live beside a tire factory.  I do this whenever weather permits, it especially helps air out the cat dander which I am allergic to (I know, I know) but makes an enormous difference.  I also find it helps contribute to that smell of ‘nothing’ that I often talk about.

DIY home scents and Homemade Febreze recipes

If you have to have a scent in your home, or you really need a product to eliminate odours, there are a few things you can try.  Firstly, you can make your own version of Febreze.  Simply add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to one cup of water and 10 drops of your favourite essential oil (or a combination you love).  Mist around the room and voila, you’ve got your own, natural Febreeze.  And, not too long ago we posted a video called DIY Home Deodorizers which talked about a great way to fill your home with some lovely natural scents by simmering different great smelling items like fruits and herbs..

In the olden days

Back in the day – before the days of air fresheners – people used the methods that I have just shared with you to effectively clean and deodorize the air in their homes and it’s funny how not much has changed – while we now have the option of spending literally hundreds of dollars on products which mask odors – we still have the option of using our heads to completely get rid of odors.  Our grandparents and parents didn’t live in stinky homes, that I can assure you of.

Air Freshener Intervention?

If you or someone you know is a heavy user of these products, consider this.  Not only can you save hundreds of dollars a year (the ‘plug in’ products are what we refer to as ‘the razor and blade’ system, where you purchase the razor once and continue to purchase blades again and again.  You’re also plugging them in and spending money on your energy bill.) but you can do all of the things these products claim to be able to do by dealing with the root cause as opposed to seeking the band aid solution.  Share this with your addicted friends and family and see if their habits will change.

What do you use to naturally freshen the smell of your home?

If you’re looking to up your cleaning game check out our E-Book Bundle! It gives you three amazing e-books (The Complete Guide to Essential Oils, My 3-Wave Cleaning System, and 50 DIY Cleaning Recipes) and is the perfect gift for any cleaning fanatics out there!

the truth about air fresheners

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.


  1. Thank you for this info. Something I wish I could convince my daughter to take notice of. She has those spray things all over her apartment and the first time they hissed at me I almost had a coronary attack. Awful…… And I have asthma. Pity you can’t share this invaluable advice. Hard to swing someone when they don’t believe just how bad all these chemical smells really are. Thanks again xx Kim.

  2. I sometimes smell something in my kitchen. It took a lot of fresheners to get me through the day. But my cat may be sick due to the chemicals. It would be great if there were some natural way to remove smell. Lemon was my choice to prevent smell. any other thing do you prefer?

  3. I am in your exact same boat. I just rented a place and I CONNOT live there because of the smell of the last homeowners air freshener. I’ve spent the last 2 days cleaning with vinegar. Did you have any success? If so please let me know!

    • Anna: The only way to get rid of the scent is to remove all of the drywall down to the studs and put in new drywall. The air freshener molecules embed themselves in everything. Airing out, using vinegar, etc. will not take away the scent. You have to gut your place. Unfortunately, I know this from personal experience.

  4. You made a great point about what clean really smells like and how no smell is the new smell of clean. My husband and I are looking for wholesale car air fresheners that we can put in both of our cars to make it smell better. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional that we can get these from.

  5. It’s so cool that plants like bamboo can actually make your air smell fresher than normal! I want to get an air freshener in the room that my cat’s litter box is in. As you can imagine, it reeks.

  6. if humans stopped eating meat onions and garlic then there would be less stink…my feet used to stink lots when camping but after diet changed they stopped..
    And to clean ones consciousness the Maha mantra is recommended by Srila Prabhupada.

  7. Oh and I’ve made my own air freshener. With the baking soda. Essential oil. Water. Worked incredibly. Found on a different site. We have dogs and my in laws were coming. Just be sure to find a good spray bottle. The first one I used got clogged. Great info !

    • Ozone is dangerous around people and pets. you are not supposed to be in the same room with it. Also you have to wait a day before going back into the room.

  8. Charcoal is an effective, non-toxic cleanser that is often used to detox the body and to filter bad tastes from drinking water. It is also used to filter air because of its amazing ability to absorb contaminants and strong odors, like that of cigarette smoke.

  9. I am very impressed by this article. Thank you so much for writing it. Air fresheners are extremely unhealthy. They are made from hundreds of chemicals, many of them toxic. These products are NOT regulated by the government. They can lead to serious health issues, including cancer and lung damage. They create a toxic smog in your home (and in your car), putting everyone at risk, especially children. There is growing evidence that air freshener products (including plug-ins, scented candles, oils, etc.) are more dangerous than second-hand smoke. You can Google “air fresheners health” for more information.

  10. What about if you live in an apartment building and the bad smells from OTHER PEOPLE are seeping into your CLEAN home?? I keep my apartment very clean and yet have to use numerous types of air fresheners to “mask” these invasive odors.

  11. How can I get rid of a industrial rubber smell . I bought a running for outside my door by now the stairwell has a heave chemical smell and I need to remove it. Do you know anyway to help remove the smell from the rubber matt

    • The best way I know that has worked for me is to leave anything with strong rubbery smell is in a area where the sun is very strong. The ultraviolet (I believe) and the heat of the sun will evaporate the offending gasoline smell or asphalt smell like of the rubber. Depending on the size and strength of the material you could leave ot out in the sun anywhere from a week to a month.

  12. What I’d really like to know and no one is addressing in articles such as yours – how do you get rid of the smell and toxic chemicals left behind by plug-in air fresheners? We’ve bought a house that is rank with the smell. We thought airing out the house would take care of it. We tried vinegar, baking soda, coffee, waded newspaper, air cleaners on and on. Everyone wants to tell you how bad these things are but no one can say how to get rid of them.

    • I’m searching here as well because I’m helping a friend that purchased a home that is so bad with the chemical air freshener smell, it sends me right to migraine. (MCS Multi chemical sensitivity, it’s real, we’re not crazy) House is still empty and we have left open for days on end, tried charcoal, vinegar, essential oils and cleaning ( I use vinegar) I have even washed the walls and ceiling. I’m getting ready to purchase an ozone generator- yep, I know they can be dangerous but, empty house and I want to make sure the smell is gone before paint.

      • I am in your exact same boat. I just rented a place and I CONNOT live there because of the smell of the last homeowners air freshener. I’ve spent the last 2 days cleaning with vinegar. Did you have any success? If so please let me know!

      • Elaine: You have to remove all of the drywall etc. to get rid of the scent. There is no other way. I am very allergic to air freshener. I know firsthand that cleaning, airing out, using an ozone generator, painting does NOT work. The scent is there to stay unless you replace the drywall, ceilings and flooring … basically you have to gut the place.

  13. The ultimate in getting rid of orders is an Ozone generator. These are often used by professional restoration services that deal with fire and smoke clean up. The Ozone is almost like bleach in the air; it kills mold and mildew and destroys smells. You can take a smoker’s car, run the ozone generator overnight in the car and the smell is gone. It is great for dealing with household odors. Ozone is nasty stuff, so I close off the room, set the timer and leave the house for the day. When I come back I vent the area. These units tend to cost a few hundred dollars, but they are very effective. For well insulated homes, I also recommend an air exchanger, if you have foggy windows in the winter, you need one. There is no substitute for fresh air.

  14. Hahaha …”maybe you got trapped in an Internet vacuum…”. Guilty 🙂 Great article though, really enjoyed reading it. Awesome writing style and humour. Gonna go check out the rest of your articles now. (do I sound buzzed? I feel like I sound buzzed.)

  15. Cooking odors rank near the top in my opinion. Even people who have a functional hood fans refuse to use them because they are noisy or do not seem to work well. I have to visit many new homes throughout my workday to perform warranty work on plumbing and hvac systems and I must say most people do not seem to have scheduled cleaning as a priority. On the other hand, there are the few who do keep a very clean home but do not have or utilize proper ventilation, so instead they insist on these plug in type air things that remind me of very strong urinal mats. I am not joking. These putrid plug in things just mask the lingering odors of last nights fried fish and the diaper genie, barely because I can still smell all three combined plus the bumps I get on my neck from plug ins. In my own home,we have a very strong asian hoodfan which we use several times a day even when boiling pasta. I have also installed another ventilation system which removes air from a few key points. Above the dishwasher and over dining areas.The bathrooms also have very effective exhaust fans that see lots of use as well. The only thing anyone can smell in our house is the freshly ground coffee in the coffee grinder and the wood furniture, we usually keep one lightly and tastefully scented candle around nothing to strong. There is likely to be some energy penalty for having and utilizing an effective or in our case multiple ventilation systems , but the world of difference in the air quality and lack of any lingering odors is worth a few dollars a month.

  16. All great ideas! My challenge is apartment living and shared walls. My hall closet is on a shared wall with a stinky neighbor. How do I combat the odors coming through the walls?

    • I have a similar problem in my apartment, when my neighbour cooks the smell comes through the walls into my bedroom and spreads throughout the whole apartment- how do I combat that?

  17. Why are so many here so against chemicals? Chemicals kill bacteria and are safe for use. I couldn’t live without my antibacterial spray, bleach and antibacterial wipes!

    I do open windows daily and vacuum regularly (remember to wash your filters often and pour a cap of fabric softener on before leaving to dry to avoid old dust smells), I deep clean my carpets and clean the bins out weekly.

    But there’s no way I will be giving up my auto spray air freshener in each room, plug in’s in each room, gel blocks by the beds, car tree’s behind pictures and radiators, fabreeze, carpet foam spray, motion activated spray, Yankee candles and Yankee tartlets, and most recently the use of in wash scent beads that are used in the bottom of bins as well as washer for anyone. My house is cleaner and free of more bacteria and germs than most homes, I just like the place to have a nice smell to go with it, and my visitors do nothing but comment on how beautiful the place smells with every visit. X

    • Well the “chemicals” everyone is and should be against are the hazardous ones. Parabens, Sodium Laurel Sulfates, (used in almost everything that lathers) and articficial colours and scents can all be very unhealthy, some even carcinogenic.

    • I just recently read about a study done on the effects that cleaneing chemicals have on the lungs. This study revealed that cleaning chemicals are worse than smoking cigarettes.

  18. I can’t thank you enough! I’m going to use several of your ideas on our upcoming 2-month primitive camping trip high in the Colorado mountains. I’ll let you know the results!

  19. Here’s a good one for everyone. I live in a small town and have a large property. I had the same neighbors for 20 years NEVER had a problem. So the former owners passed away and their family sold the house to some very rude and nosey neighbors. They didn’t housebreak their little yappy dogs and she uses really strong deodorizers outside that wafts over the high fence, to clean the mats that they get to do their business on. I have been here for over 20 years and never seen or smelled anything so awful, in the country which is one reason why I moved here in the first place. I’ve survived cancer twice and numerous other illnesses because I haven’t been exposed to these toxic things. Any advice? I use natural solutions and my home smells lovely, but outside is really getting gross even to sit on the new deck I had built last year.

    • Become friends with the neighbors. Take them something from your garden. Take an interest in their lives. Offer to care for their dogs, when they will be away. When you have achieved friendship, you can bring it up or anything else; or you won’t care.

      Alternative: Send them a certified letter with a time limit giving them x days to correct the situation or you will take them to court, sue for maintaining a nuisance, demand an injunction together with actual and exemplary damages.

  20. Awesome write up! Thank you 🙂 I stopped using conventional air fresheners when I realized how unnatural and counter-intuitive they are. It’s up to us as consumers to create a change in what corporations deem profitable. If we demand natural, they will gladly supply natural products (maybe). Anyhow, I started DIY projects and then started experimenting with some small local producers of air fresheners who use traditional essential oils to make car and home fresheners. The two I’ve used are California Scents (they come in small cans) and myChoice aromatherapy. Your point is really ON Point… we need to take the initiative for change. 🙂

  21. Great Advice, changing my whole freshner routine, also how do u get rid of a Mouse
    Smell, periodically it is in our work place as the building is very old and I think the
    mice travel from building to building. Would Vinegar work?
    Thanks so much, you are the best, you have changed my life, and you are
    Canadian!!!! So the products can be found here in your Haul Blogs.

    • Peppermint essential oil is GREAT for eliminating mice smells, and repels them too! I put cotton balls in small glass shot glasses (I buy them for next to nothing at yard sales, I grab all I can get, handy for things such as this) and add a few drops of essential oil to the cotton ball in the glass, then set them around where I need them. Peppermint not only removed the smell of mouse where one had gotten in a basement but didn’t have such good luck getting back out, and it deterred from future mice, havent seen any in years since doing the peppermint, never even find them in traps I set around any more, used to find full traps often. The reaons I use shot glasses, is it keeps the essential oil from damanging the floors or surface you use it on, and if you find the scent too cloying after a few days, it dissipates immediately when you remove the shot glass, rather than leaving a lingering smell when you no longer need it. I use this same method for other essential oils-clove to prevent snakes in basement, tea tree to repel mosquitoes on porch, etc.

  22. I didn’t that about air fresheners, I need something because I have two boys in the house, their bedrooms smells like a football teams locker room. And don’t let them pull off their shoes, omg it makes me gag and smells sooooooo bad, the smell flows in the hallway , in the kitchen and the living room. I bought airfresheners, plug-ins, clean the carpet, I’ve even tried coffee. When they wash their clothes the bad smell is still there. I will try vinegar and make my own febreze. I hope I can get rid of the feet, butt and armpit smell. If you have any more ideas let me know. Thanks

    • My teens used to swim with a school team. At times they left towels and swimsuits for days in bags which caused the most horrible smell. I started adding inexpensive vodka to the wash with detergent and the horrible smell was totally eliminated. The vodka does not leave a trace of any smell.

  23. I want a nice air freshener to just make my place smell nice. I like a nice soft smell not a strong heavy smell. I have brand-new carpet so I’m not trying to cover up any odors or anything I just like a nice scent, kind of like the party light candles have a nice smell to them. Not real heavy. Now my problem is I have a Parrot. Many candles and air fresheners have chemicals in them that will kill a parrot. And can do it almost instantly. So I miss being able to have some of my nice scented candles and air fresheners. I do like something for the bathroom after someone has a bowel movement to get rid of that smell. But again I have to be careful what I spray because of my parrot. I had to go to stainless steel pots and pans because I can’t use anything with Teflon coating anymore either. What do you know about the chemicals used in certain air fresheners and their effect on parrots?

    • Getc the poo-pourri spray just spray 3sprays in the toilet before you or anyone has to do the number 2 and you won’t smell it. It’s natural oil based so the bird will be fine

  24. I run a respite home (like emergency foster care) so I have a lot of people in my home. I was always so confused when people kept telling me that my house smells really good because I don’t use air fresheners. After reading this it makes sense. I open the window every day regardless of the weather even just for 30 minutes. We promptly remove garbage and keep the floors clean. I bake often too and that lingers a bit. I also use baking soda on potty accidents before cleaning up – I use baking soda for almost everything

  25. Hi melissa…..
    i hav a baby at home who only pees or vomits on the sofa…even though I clean them the odour still stays or sometimes jst fills in the air although its a dry home…what should i do..
    also please put up a vifeo on cleaning couches n sofas..pls..pls…..Please . …

  26. I live in a condo where the people below me have a deep fryer that they use often to fry fish. They use so many chemical air fresheners to cover their cooking odors, that when their front door opens even for a few seconds a disgusting waft of chemical stink comes out of there. I think I’ll print your post and put it in the laundry/garbage room, so that they might learn that they aren’t deodorizing, they are creating a melange of fried grease and chemical toxins. Imagine a Chinese restaurant and crate of urinal cakes, that is the odor of my neighbor’s apartment. Yuck!

    • and then they come here to read it online in full. and then they see your comment. and then they know you were vaguely passive aggressive coward rather than saying directly

  27. NIce! Simple and cuts the chord from commercial products. Vinegar and baking soda and fresh air.

    Thanks – now I can smell the coffee!

  28. I like to burn sage or birch bark sawdust (Scouts) or sweetness. The sage or birchbark in an old tuna can on the stove on low heat. But maybe its a guy thing.
    Malcolm Massie,
    Cobourg, ON

  29. my husband uses those frbreeze air freshners in his truck all the time is there a natural something I can give him to use ? we are both somkers.

  30. Okay. you’ve persuaded me that all of these fake perfumes are bad so I’m going to make my own orange cleaner and lemon air freshener. What is your source for essential oils? I’ve looked on Amazon until my eyes started bleeding, lol.

  31. So simple…Why didn’t I think of that…just clean what stinks….oh and I can’t wait to try the vinegar in a bowl….gonna go do that right now…your videos are so cute and funny…I enjoy them

  32. What if you have a cat at home and he tips over and spils every thing with liquid in it? I really want to use the viniger idea but, I allready try to put flowers in my room will the viniger just make a funky smell with the flowers or will it not

    • I came across this idea a while back. Take a dry natural sponge, place it into a plastic tub(margarine, sour cream) poke holes into the lid, pour just enough vinegar for the sponge to soak up and be good and wet, put on the lid with holes and set out to do its dirty work. No spills 🙂

  33. Hello Melissa, great article on the truth about air fresheners. We trust you don’t want chemicals linked to cancer in your home. Learn more about the ATTITUDE Natural Air Purifier purifying the air in your home with active coal while creating the desired ambiance thanks to natural essential oils. We trust our Natural Air Purifiers are a better option than spraying chemical compounds.

  34. I am going to try the bowl of vinegar technique. I can’t stand the smell of air fresheners and my husband hates scented candles. So I was hunting for ideas to keep my home free of odor and I guess your video was the right thing at the right time! Especially since winter is round the corner and opening the windows will no longer be an option. Thank you so much for making it easy!

  35. You know what else is refreshing? Your straightforward dose of common sense! Just started reading your blog, and wanted to say thank you for sharing this with all of your readers.

    I’m definitely learning some good things from your other articles, but the air freshener fad is one thing I have never understood, nor ascribed to. So great to show my friends that I’m not the only ‘crazy’ one who says the best way to clean shoes is Wash them. Ah, just so refreshing to read your common sense! Thanks!!

  36. Hi Melissa

    Can I take a solution of half water half vinegar and put into a spray bottle to spray the fabric seats in my car? Will that deodorize my car leaving it smelling clean?

    Thanks a million. I love your videos very informative and great tips.


  37. I am old school and have subscribed to your methods for years. I bought a wonderful living room set that was lightly used. I could not tell that her house had been smoked in, but notice a light door of it since I brought the set to my place. Any suggestions for how to deal with this?

  38. The natural way for sure! My favorite natural deodorizer is a simmering pot 3/4 full of water, one sliced lemon, 3-4 sprigs of rosemary an 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract. This is simple and I ALWAYS have the ingredients in my home.


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