Spring is finally here, so at last you can throw open your windows and replace your home's musty winter air with fresh. Unless you're suffering from spring's worst allergy season ever, and have to close up to keep the pollen and spores and such out of the house. Or if rain, storms, and other bad weather are plaguing your part of the country and you need your windows to stay shut. But before you reach for that artificially scented bottle of "Hawaiian Aloha," which likely contains dozens of air pollutants, you can find much healthier air-freshening alternatives. And most of them are available in unexpected places, such as your liquor cabinet, or your garbage can...or even on you.
Try one of these six weird air fresheners next time your house starts to smell a little funky:
Ethyl alcohol, found in vodka and other spirits, is a main ingredient in most commercial air fresheners. But cleaning your air with vodka allows you to get rid of musty odors without saturating the air (or your lungs) with added chemicals, like petroleum-derived propellants and harmful synthetic fragrances. Vodka leaves no odor as it dries, so you can spray it straight into your air as is, or add 20 to 30 drops of your favorite essential oils for a pleasant scent.
#2: Cat Litter.
Have a smelly closet or musty basement? Set out a tray of cat litter, specifically, Jonny Cat Litter brand, recommends Joey Green of Joey Green's Cleaning Magic (Rodale, 2010). One primary reason that brand works so well has to do with the fact that the main ingredient is diatomaceous earth, a naturally occurring mineral that, among its many wonders, absorbs odors (it also absorbs moisture in the air, and kills pests that come in contact with it). So if you can't find any Jonny Cat Litter, buy a box of diatomaceous earth and set a few bowls out in the corners of smelly rooms. You can find it online from garden supply stores, such as Planet Natural.
#3: Coffee Grounds.
Who doesn't love the smell of coffee? According to Green, it's another weird odor remover that helps cut the smell of winter mustiness. You can use fresh or used grounds, but if going with used, let them dry out a bit first. Place them in a bowl as is wherever you need an odor removed, or wrap them up in a coffee filter or old stocking and hang them in a closet or from a shelf. If you're not a coffee drinker, you can still benefit. Some Starbucks (and many small locally owned cafes) give their used coffee grounds away for free.
#4: A Palm Tree.
We're not talking about palm trees at the beach (though a beach vacation is a good way to get away from dirty indoor air). Palm trees used as houseplants are very effective air purifiers, known to remove formaldehyde, which lurks in paints, furniture finishes, and the glues used to hold pressed wood and particle board together. You'll get similar benefits from a variety of other houseplants, but palm trees are among the easiest to care for. Look for Dwarf date, bamboo, areca, lady, or parlor palm varieties.
#5: Your Skin.
Thanks to all the oils in your skin, dead skin flakes act like natural air purifiers, say researchers from Denmark. According to their study, published in the most recent issue of Environmental Science & Technology, one of the most common oils in skin, squalene, reduces levels of the indoor air pollutant ozone, a respiratory irritant that can trigger asthma attacks. After comparing levels of ozone in a day-care center's indoor air with the amount of squalene from skin flakes in its dust, the researchers determined that dead skin flakes can reduce ozone levels anywhere from 2 to 15 percent. Even we aren't sure how to best make use of this information, so please don't go around leaving skin flakes everywhere. But isn't it nice to know your very presence can make the air fresher? Also, ewwwww.
#6: Elbow Grease.
Ultimately, the best way to deal with smelly or chemical-laden indoor air is to go straight to the source. It's easier to eliminate an odor's cause than to try to cover it up with coffee grinds or cat litter. And indoor air pollutants that collect in dust can be trapped by a good vacuum and weekly dusting with a damp cloth. To prevent further polluting your indoor air, make your own green cleaning kit with white vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, and borax, all of which are also natural odor removers. For cleaning recipes, see How to Make Green Cleaning Recipes That Really Work.