In today’s chemical-filled world, unwanted toxins can fill your home in an instant and they can linger for ages. Sometimes the smell is strong and distinct. Other times it’s a faint trace that’s just enough to be irritating.
If you’re sensitive to chemical smells, even the most common of these home-invading odors can cause some big issues. Debilitating fatigue, migraines, brain fog, skin rashes, wheezing — it’s all too common these days. To be fair, folks who don’t think of themselves as chemically sensitive still experience headaches, dizziness, or other symptoms from everyday fumes.
However your body reacts, it’s warning you of danger and prompting you to take action. So let’s gear up learn how we can eliminate these unwanted toxins in our homes.
This article covers:
- What’s compromising our indoor air quality?
- Eliminating chemical odors
- Avoid commercial deodorizing sprays & plug-ins
- Tackling toxic smells and other malodors naturally
- Baking soda (benefits & limitations)
- Activated charcoal and zeolite (benefits & limitations)
- Mineral technology that neutralizes serious fumes (brand recommendation: EnviroKlenz)
What’s compromising our indoor air quality?
After a while, certain chemical smells might start to fade into the background, and you won’t notice them anymore — but they’re still present in your home. For example, it can take months (sometimes years) to offgas VOCs and other chemical contaminants from new furniture, rugs and carpeting, fresh paint, vinyl shower curtains, and other common household items. And whether you realize it or not, your family and pets are breathing these toxins every day.
Even temporary air pollutants that last from a few moments to a few hours can still pack a powerful punch. For example, you can become suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of fabric softener blowing in from your building’s laundry room, gas fumes from the gardener’s leaf blower, cigarette smoke from your neighbor’s open window, or tar fumes from newly paved roads outside your door.
Shutting a window can help, but even with your doors and windows closed, somehow these outside vapors always seem to find their way in. A fan can often help if it’s a warm enough day to have the windows open and the fumes aren’t too heavy.
Individually, the chemicals in each product may not seem like a big deal but, together, they really add up. The resulting health issues may feel only mildly bothersome at first, but they can worsen over time as the toxins accumulate in our body.
Eliminating chemical odors
We can avoid these everyday chemical odors by becoming more selective about the products we buy and bring into our home.
- When shopping for new furniture or décor, choose items made from natural materials and avoid pressed wood or other substances made from (or treated with) chemicals.
- Or look for great vintage pieces that have off-gassed their chemicals years ago. Just beware of any musty or moldy smells that may have accumulated in their place. (We’ll talk about how to get rid of those musty smells in a moment.)
- Choose rugs made from natural materials and that are dyed with natural colorants.
- When it’s time to paint a room, skip the VOC-free (yet still chemical-filled) paints, opting for natural paints made from clay, plants, or milk instead.
- Replace the chemical cleaners under your sink with vinegar and baking soda. Cleaning your home with natural ingredients is easier than you think. They’re just as effective as toxic bleach and ammonia-based disinfectants and more affordable than the chemical-filled sprays we grew up with.
- On the personal hygiene front, avoid commercial body products, which are often filled with unwanted chemicals and synthetic fragrances. Instead, opt for fragrance-free (and otherwise chemical-free) body products made from plant and mineral ingredients.
Avoid commercial deodorizing sprays & plug-ins
I know a lot of folks who use deodorizing plugins to prevent odors or commercial sprays, like Febreze or Lysol, to attack smells like this. But these kinds of products add even more chemicals to the room. Plus, they often smell worse than whatever odor you were trying to cover in the first place.
Here’s how the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database rates them, in case you’re curious:
To avoid adding to the chemical mess, you’ll want natural air purifying agents. These include vinegar, baking soda, activated charcoal, and zeolite that all absorb odors, as well as advanced mineral technologies that actually remove the offending chemicals from your environment entirely.
Tackling toxic smells & other malodors naturally
Health-seeking lifestylers often rely on baking soda, activated charcoal, and a volcanic mineral, called zeolite, to get rid of unpleasant chemicals and other smells in their homes. And for good reason.
These natural alternatives don’t just cover odors as the chemical deodorizers do. Instead, they have tiny pores that attract and trap odor-causing bacteria, essentially ‘absorbing’ the offending particles and leaving you with truly cleaner indoor air.
While this is obviously fantastic news, there are a few downsides you need to know, as well as stronger alternatives to consider, when these natural solutions don’t do the trick.
Baking soda (a.k.a. sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda) can be sourced naturally, though it is often synthesized in a lab (simply sodium + carbon) without the use of toxic chemicals.
- Baking soda is great at absorbing most everyday odors in the fridge, diaper bin, kitty litter, and around the house.
- Once it has done its job, you can toss it down the sink, tub, or toilet to help keep the pipes clean and prevent future plumbing issues. Nice added bonus, right?
- While baking soda is highly recommended as a no-scratch cleaner and can reduce so many common odors, it often isn’t powerful enough to remove the heavier chemicals and other strong odors that may leave you with a headache (or worse). This is because baking soda doesn’t react with all chemicals and, therefore, doesn’t attract and absorb every type of odor. The granules also have a small surface area, which limits their ability to react with a high volume of particles. As a result, you may find that you need to couple baking soda with another odor-fighter to fully accomplish the task. Or just use a stronger alternative altogether, such as activated charcoal or zeolite.
Still, keep baking soda handy!
Beyond deodorizing, I personally use baking soda just about every day to scrub my pots and pans, clean the sinks and tubs, lift spills from the carpet, and boost the cleaning power of the soaps I use in both the washing machine and the dishwasher.
Because I use it so liberally, I skip the small baking-sized boxes and buy it in bulk. I’ll then portion it out into empty pasta sauce or olive jars, keeping one at the kitchen sink and one under the bathroom sink for easy access.
Charcoal and zeoliteActivated charcoal comes from heating carbon-rich materials such as wood, bamboo, or coconut shells. zeolite is a naturally-occurring mineral that is found near volcanos. However, it is also produced synthetically for commercial use, predominantly from silicon dioxide and aluminum oxide.
- Both activated charcoal and zeolite have larger surface areas than baking soda, which means they can absorb more odor.
- They are also able to attract and absorb a wider array of chemical-causing odors, making them effective in more situations.
- Unlike baking soda, which needs to be discarded after its job is done, activated charcoal and zeolite can be ‘recharged’ and reused over and over. Once their pores are full, simply place the bags containing the activated charcoal or zeolite outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. The sun’s heat will release the trapped chemicals, freeing the charcoal or zeolite for reuse.
- While activated charcoal and zeolite trap chemicals on their surface, they don’t actually neutralize them. This isn’t a big deal for your indoor air quality if you regularly recharge them in the sun to release the odor-causing molecules outdoors.
- If their surface fills up before you realize it (and there is no real way of knowing when that happens), the trapped molecules can start to release back into the air.
How I use them
Despite their limitations, I still use charcoal bags all the time. I hang them in my closets, keep one on top of my laundry basket, and another next to my cat’s litter box to keep things fresh. To be honest, I haven’t tried zeolite, but it’s only because they don’t seem to come in pretty bags, as the charcoal does. That said, I’ve read a ton of user reviews and folks definitely swear by zeolite.
Mineral technology that neutralizes serious fumes
Baking soda, activated charcoal, and zeolite are great for everyday bathroom and kitchen odors. However, you’ll usually need something stronger for things like cigarette smoke, paint vapors, chemical fumes, and other serious odors.
One brand that is popular with folks who are acutely sensitive to chemicals is EnviroKlenz. That’s because their products completely neutralize chemicals and other obnoxious odors that other solutions aren’t strong enough to tackle.
As a big believer in “the simpler, the better”, I also appreciate that EnviroKlenz uses just a handful of mineral ingredients to do the trick:
- magnesium oxide / magnesium hydroxide
- zinc oxide
- titanium dioxide
- vermiculite (a mineral mined from volcanic glass)
How EnviroKlenz works
The minerals in their products attach to both chemical and biological malodors from surfaces, indoor air spaces, and laundry. They don’t mask odors, as chemical deodorizers do. Nor do they just trap them as baking soda or activated charcoal would. Instead, the minerals create small, but entirely safe chemical reactions that actually neutralize the pollutants on contact.
Their ingredients are also biodegradable, completely non-toxic, and safe for use around children, pets, and extreme allergy sufferers. They are also non-bleaching and non-staining for clothing, rugs, and other textiles (except leather).
Popular EnviroKlenz products:
- Everyday Odor Eliminator: Eradicates smells from new purchases, such as unwrapping a rug or mattress, or from installing new flooring or building materials. It’s also great for everyday use to safely wipe down the kitchen, bathroom, pet area, baby nursery, and more.(BUY)
- Absorbent Odor Neutralizing Granules: Neutralizes the smell of pet urine, vomit, soured milk, or other strong odors on carpets, rugs, drapes, upholstery, and furniture.(BUY)
- Laundry Enhancer: Great for stubborn laundry odors from new clothing that’s been preserved in formaldehyde and thrift store clothing that is either musty and moldy or has scents left behind by the previous owner. It also helps to prevent cross-contamination at the laundromat from chemical-based detergents, bleaches, softeners, or fragrances lingering in the machine from previous users.(BUY)
- Odor Eliminating Pads: Get rid of chemical or musty smells from small, enclosed spaces such as dresser drawers, closets, gym lockers, kitchen cabinets, and old boxes that have been stored in the garage or attic.(BUY)
- HEPA Air Purifier: Removes and neutralizes airborne dust, dander, pollen, odors, mold spores, gases, vapors, fragrance, VOCs, bacteria, and other airborne particulates.(BUY)
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Sometimes it can feel like a never-ending battle to keep all those noxious fumes at bay. But once you have the right natural cleaners in your arsenal you’ll see results quickly. And unlike the big name bottles at the store, these solutions won’t just cover up chemicals with more chemicals. After all, that’s just a headache.