Love it or hate it: Air fresheners

by Patty Templeton

Love It“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it,” said Patrick Süskind in his superb historical thriller “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.”

Damn straight. A smell can lift your mood, make you feel as if you are in another country, another life. Hence why I love air fresheners. I don’t care if it’s candles on a kitchen table or clippy-doos in my car, air fresheners give me the opportunity to be awash in whatever beautiful want I am in the mood for. They’re worldbuilding and mood-shifting at its best. Fresh cotton smell on a cold winter day? How lovely! A whiff of vanilla cupcakes on a lonely afternoon? Absolutely splendid! A sniff of cinnamon cider to amp up an autumn horror movie marathon? Who wouldn’t want that?

I like shifting reality in whatever ways I possibly can, and that includes the way it smells.

— Patty TempletonHate itI mentioned to a friend once about how much I liked “new car smell,” and she said, “Why? It’s just a bunch of chemicals.” I gave her a firm “touché,” and then began wondering: If actual new car smell is just a bunch of chemicals and manufacturing going up your nose – new plastic, vinyl, foam in the seats, etc. – what exactly goes into air fresheners promising to give your car that “new car smell”?

But why stop at “new car smell” when you have other chemical-laden air fresheners to choose from? The science around the dangers of certain air fresheners is mixed. The biggest potential offender is phthalates, which, according to the National Resources Defense Council could affect hormones and reproductive development.

I ask, why do this? I once stayed at the home of some kin down south and the first thing I noticed were air fresheners attached to every wall set on timers to spray puffs of “clean laundry,” “citrus blast” or “cinnaspice” every 10 minutes. I kept wondering, “What does their house really smell like?”

How about going for the real thing instead? I’d rather make a homemade cinnamon broom than light a candle. I’d rather have actual clean laundry than plug something into a wall. I’d rather make a cup of coffee than shoot “caramel latte” out of a can.

In some sense, chemicals are almost unavoidable in our society. How much do we need to add just so things can smell unnaturally good?

— David Holub


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