How To Make Your Home Fresh Without Fragrance

My best 10+ tips on how to make your home fresh without the fragrance.

Growing up, we didn’t use scented candles, air fresheners, or perfume-y cleaning products. My dad is very sensitive to scented products and in some cases, they make it difficult for him to breathe! At the time, the angsty child in me thought I was being deprived of some fundamental right but it turns out he was right about fragranced products!

Scented products often have a multitude of chemicals that you breathe in or absorb through your skin. They can get into your lungs and bloodstream and tend to stay there for an uncomfortable length of time. Furthermore, fragrance is one of the leading causes of skin irritation. Naturally-sourced fragrance ingredients aren’t necessarily better. They can still give people trouble breathing and many are notorious for skin irritation and allergy.

We’ve been socialized to equate cleanliness with a certain smell. Think clean laundry! But as my favourite cleaning guru Melissa Maker says, “clean” should have no smell at all.

We can certainly tell when something smells dirty – sports equipment, mold, garbage, etc. (You’re welcome for stirring up your smell memory). These are often caused by unwanted bacteria and fungi. Cleanliness should be the absence of these bad smells and the absence of synthetic fragrances used to mask them.

Here’s some tips on how to make your home fresh without the fragrance:

Wash Your Textiles

Make your home fresh by washing pillow inserts, duvets, throw blankets, etc.
Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Soft surfaces are really good at harbouring unsavoury smells. We regularly wash our clothes, towels and sheets, but what about all the other cozy items in our homes? Pillows, cushion inserts, duvets, feather mattress toppers, throw pillows, throw blankets, quilts, bath mats – the list goes on.

A lot of these guys are machine washable, just make sure to read the label first. When in doubt, Google how to wash that specific item. Generally, these items are best washed separately in a cool gentle cycle. Washing these items too much or too harshly can lead to deterioration. If you’re washing items with feathers, pay extra attention to the washing and drying instructions – feathers deteriorate quickly if left wet for too long. Most importantly, make sure the item is truly dry before you start using it again (more on that later).

A general rule of thumb would be to wash these kinds of items semi-annually or seasonally depending on how much “love” they get from your pets and family members.

Wash Clothing Accessories

Wash jackets, scarves, mitts, and cloth bags
Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash

This is the same principle as the above tip but for coats, jackets, mitts, scarves, backpacks, cloth bags, etc. That gross winter mitt smell brings back fond memories of playing in the snow as a child but then I remind myself that it’s likely a funky unwanted micro-critter causing the stench. Once again, check the care label. If it’s a much-loved “dry clean only” item, you probably don’t want to risk ruining it in your washer. If you don’t want to spend the $ on dry cleaning, try hanging these items in the bathroom when you shower or place them in a plastic bag in the freezer.

For the machine-washable items, I would think a seasonal washing is good enough (during the seasons the item is used). For kids’ stuff, a bi-monthly washing is probably a good idea…

Let It Dry!

Dry items fully before putting them away
Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

While washing the textiles in your home is a good way of keeping your space fresh, how you dry these items will make or break whether this freshness lasts. Have you ever opened a linen closet to reveal a not-so-friendly smell despite everything in there being clean? This is probably because some items were not dried properly. Even when something feels dry coming out of the dryer, chances are it’s not evenly dry all the way through. Putting something away with a bit of extra moisture is a really charitable thing to do for your local bacteria and fungi. In return, they will provide you with a trendy, musty scent.

Line drying on a nice day for several hours is the best way to go as sunlight naturally brightens and disinfects as well (don’t quote me on the latter, but I have read it from a few different sources). Also, you get that nice outside smell! However, I live in Canada so line drying is usually not an option. Most clothes I hang to dry straight from the washer and leave 1-2 days depending on the thickness and drying “quickness” of the fabric. For towels, I put them in the dryer until they are just slightly damp then hang to dry until the next day.

Sure, these methods take extra time and effort, but I think it’s worth it. As a bonus this helps items like towels stay nicer longer and not turn into crispy flakes.

Ok, But What About Shoes?

Use baking soda or washable inserts in your shoes
Photo by Portuguese Gravity on Unsplash

We all have someone in our life with notoriously smelly feet. If no one comes to mind, then you are probably that person. Filling a small semi-permeable baggy with baking soda and keeping it in your shoes or boots when you’re not wearing them can help with this. This is especially handy when storing off-season shoes and boots but don’t forget to switch out the baking soda every now and then to get the most out of its deodorizing powers.

The baking soda trick will likely not cut it for shoes worn everyday and sneakers. I have had success with de-lacing running shoes and tossing them in the washer but I would not recommend this for nicer fabrics like leather and suede. I think the best bet here is to purchase some low-profile, machine washable insoles for your most worn shoes, and wash them weekly. I’m currently looking into this so I can’t recommend any at the moment but Amazon likely has some options. You could also try an eco-friendly store/supplier or use washable panty liners (they’re in your shoes, so no one’s gonna see them!)

Mind Your Trash

Obviously, garbage and compost receptacles are MVPs at adding “scent” to your home. The key here is to change them often (surprise!). Something that works for my husband and I is limiting the trash cans in our home. We have one in our kitchen and one in our bathroom and that’s it! This forces us to change them often.

Another tip is to choose smaller waste receptacles. Whenever people come over, they comment on our teeny, tiny, cute little compost bin. But this little guy has beauty and brains because his small stature ensures that we empty him often.

Another key tip here is to wipe down/wash your waste receptacles every time you empty them. This makes sure there are no leftover juices or bits that can give off a stench. Maybe a wipe down every time seems like overkill, but doing it often makes the job quicker and way less gross.

Clean Out Your Fridge

make your home fresh by keeping a clean fridge
Photo by Squared.one on Unsplash

Fridges are another happy place for unwanted bacteria and mold (whether you can see them or not) so keeping a clean fridge will help make your home fresh. You can also place a semi-permeable bag/container with baking soda in your fridge and change it regularly or get one of those baking soda box things specifically made for fridges. Glass food storage will also help keep food smells from leaking out of their containers and inter-mingling.

Did I Mention Baking Soda?

put baking soda in areas where smells develop
Photo by Plush Design Studio

I try to keep little semi-permeable baggies of baking soda in the spaces around my apartment where, despite my best intentions, pesky smells can develop. Places like my closets, dresser drawers, linen cupboard, and at the bottom of laundry bins and baskets. It can be a bit messy, but it vacuums up easily. Keep in mind that you will not smell instant results, but it definitely works well over time. I change up these baggies every few months.

Rinse With Vinegar

You might have some items (towels, I’m looking at you!) that hang on to undesirable smells even after carefully washing and drying. On your next wash, try swapping fabric softener with ½-1 cup of pure white vinegar depending on your load size. Vinegar is really good at getting rid of those pesky microbio pals and stubborn scents. Don’t worry, it evaporates as your items dry so they will not smell like vinegar after! Bonus fact: vinegar is a natural fabric softener and is really good at fluffing up towels!

This is also a good idea for any soft, thrifted items. Last fall, I bought a throw pillow at a local second-hand store that came with its very own musty scent. I added vinegar to a soak cycle on my washer and then again in place of softener. This little cushion now fits in quite well with his many brothers and sisters.

Switch Your Plant Soil

switch out plant soil if it starts to get a weird smell
Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

This is unlikely to stink up your whole house, but fellow plant parents out there likely have experience with bad-smelling soil. I’m far from a plant expert, but in my experience, this comes from old soil that has been overwatered several times. I’m guessing the extra moisture once again attracts unwanted bacteria and fungi. Switching your soil out for new soil on a yearly basis will get rid of the scent.

Plants themselves can help with your house smell, as some are said to filter air. In any case, all plants pull in carbon from the air (and maybe smells with it?). Having house plants also makes your home feel fresh by “bringing the outside in”.

Pet Tips

keep your pets and their belongings clean
Photo by Thom Bradley from Burst

We all know that our fluffy friends can be really good at smelling really bad. Please don’t blame them (they might think you smell weird!). You can help tame the smell by giving them a bath, washing their bedding, toys, and food bowls, and treating pet messes right away. I’m not an expert of this stuff either but please don’t over-bathe them and use a gentle shampoo to avoid causing them irritation. Remember, soap, shampoo, and showering are all human inventions and not natural for your pet. Please also consider using gentle laundry products for their bedding. If you have a caged critter, wash their cage and change out their bedding weekly.

Some Last Measures To Make Your Home Fresh

make your home fresh by opening windows, decluttering, and using a dehumidifier
Photo by Alistair MacRobert on Unsplash

Regular cleaning is the best way to keep your house fresh but here are some extra tips for good measure:

  • Crack open a window
  • Wash your toilet and the floor and walls around it often
  • Shampoo your carpets/rugs every now and then
  • Use a dehumidifier if your space is extra moist
  • Clean up kitchen spills right away
  • Clean behind your oven and fridge
  • Leave your washing machine door open when not in use
  • Declutter

Hopefully these tips on how to make your home fresh will help prevent the urge to bring a bunch of unnecessary smelly chemicals into your home. Currently, my biggest weakness is a nice seasonal candle in the fall and at Christmas. My plan is to stick to beeswax candles and create nice seasonal smells with baking and natural decor like evergreen branches.

2 comments

  1. Loni

    Sarah!!!! This blog post is incredibly helpful!! I can’t wait to implement some in my home! Also, I LOVE Melissa Maker too!

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