Thursday, December 17, 2009

Atmospheric Disturbances

Winter stinks. Literally. Cooking aromas, body odours, and laundry pong have nowhere to go so they just hang around. Often times the weather is just too foul to open windows and doors to get fresh air introduced and moving through the home. In colder climes, houseplants would be risked!

There are numerous brands of air fresheners on the market but, for me, their cloying scent is overwhelming. If the intense and artificial fragrance weren't choking enough, most leave an airborne slick of chemicals that, if you have the misfortune to inhale, leaves a bitter taste that lasts hours. Most are worse, even, than the winter reek they're meant to cover up. So, how to keep the home smelling fresh in those closed-home months? There are a few common household products that not only work well, they're thrifty to use, too.

First on my list are houseplants. Depending on the type of plant and its size, they scrub the home's air through the process of photosynthesis (Wikipedia: Photosynthesis.) Plants consume water and carbon dioxide (CO2) and produce oxygen as waste. Their waste is our gain. Not only is the home cleaned of excessive carbon dioxide – which results from merely breathing – they convert that gas into clean air. The more plants you have, the more square footage of household atmosphere they'll clean. Dispersing plants around the home ensures odours have no hiding places.

Lingering food aromas can be the worst offenders. Rather than mask cabbage or fish smells with spray bursts of chemical lavender or citrus, consider using vinegar. Simmering a few ounces of vinegar on the stovetop for 20-30 minutes will clear the air. If you have a piece of cookware (stainless steel or brushed aluminum) which is blue-stained from cooking alkaline foods, you can serve two purposes by using it to simmer the vinegar. The pot will sparkle, and so will the air quality! After a party, a few small bowls of vinegar, strategically placed, will neutralize any funky remains.

Carpets and rugs tend to absorb odours and, when people tread on them, they're released back into the air. An easy solution is to sprinkle carpets and rugs, liberally, with baking soda and let stand for a half hour before vacuuming thoroughly.

Soda is also great for cleaning and refreshing the refrigerator. A tablespoon or two of this common kitchen ingredient in the wash water and fridge odours disappear. Then, leave the remainder of the box open in the fridge to collect odours until the next cleaning. If objectionable smells happen between cleaning, try adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract to couple tablespoons of water, in a small bowl, and put that in the fridge overnight.

For many years, my mother used charcoal to keep her refrigerator smelling sweet. In my opinion, it worked even better than soda. That type of charcoal (small chunk) is hard to find. Some Garden centers or Nurseries may sell it. If you are lucky enough to find this charcoal – I, so far, haven't been – you'll need about a cup of it in a mason jar with a perforated lid. When it no longer cleans the fridge air (usually about twice a year,) spread the charcoal on a baking sheet and heat it in a low oven (approximately 200 F degrees,) for about half an hour or until odours were purged. Then, cool the charcoal, replaced in its jar and back into the fridge. Used, heated, and re-used, time and again, this fridge freshener lasts years.

There are a number of ways to sweeten the air in closets and drawers, as well. I like to store fragrant guest soaps in with clothing to lend them a fresh scent. Cedar chips, balls, and bars, can be used in closets, and won't add intrusive odours to the garments. Homemade sachets, using common herbs and spices, are another easy way to freshen closed spaces. I buy these spices in bulk for much less cost that pre-packaged brands.

If you wish to create ambiance with scent, try simmering your favourite whole spice (most herbs will not work as well in this application,) combined with a cup of water, in a small pot on the stovetop, and simmer off and on throughout the day, adding water as needed. My favourite combination is cinnamon bark and whole clove, which lends a very nice holiday fragrance to the home. At other times, I use fennel seed, whole cardamom, bay leaves, or star anise. Use your imagination. The aromas you'll create will smell – and taste – so much sweeter than any chemical spray. It's a bonus they're thrifty as well!