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Let Your Nose Guide You Toward a Healthy Home

Let Your Nose Guide You Toward a Healthy Home

What is the first thing you smell on entering your home? This smell is most likely something that is problematic for your health – not necessarily the most toxic smell, as some toxic fumes have no odor– but something that bothers you nonetheless.

Many homes have characteristic odors, such as cork tiles, oil burner fumes, or pine wall panels. What to you is the characteristic smell of your home? Do you remember what you smelled the first time you entered?

Here are some tips for how to best use the sniff test to help you establish a healthy home:

One of the idiosyncrasies of the nose is “olfactory fatigue,” which means that its ability to perceive odor is dulled within a few minutes of exposure. Because of this phenomenon, the following “sniff test” is best done when entering your home for the first time after being away for a long weekend or vacation.

Make sure that nobody in the home has been cooking anything within a few hours of your re-entry, as the smell of the food can overpower the sometimes subtle house smells. Spend a few moments outside clearing your lungs by breathing deeply, and focus on paying attention to what you smell.

Once you have entered the home and your sense of smell has told you what the dominant smell is, or what the dominant combination of smells is, you will need to then identify the odor. This isn’t as easy as you might think, but most people have some memory capable of identifying the source of a smell. Some ideas for odor identification include heating and cooking fuel, new carpets, mold, perfumes, scented candles, and animals. Try to isolate the smells from the blend of odors you are sometimes trying to discern, such as mold combined with a new carpet, or fresh paint and oil burner fumes.

Once you have isolated the most dominant odor, determine its toxicity. An oil burner in need of cleaning and venting is not healthy, and if you smell strong oil burner fumes, the situation needs to be remedied immediately. The cause of mold needs to be addressed, if that is the smell dominating your home. Not all smells need attending to, of course, but keep in mind that the healthiest home is one that has the most inert ingredients. Most importantly, use your intuition. Tend to the smells that bother you.

Different people can smell different dominant odors in the same home, for example: if one family member is allergic to pine terpenes, then smell of pine paneling is very strong to them, whereas another family member may not smell pine but the “new” carpet smell because they are sensitive to it.

Read more: Home, Health & Safety

By Annie B. Bond

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on anniebbond.com, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

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13 comments

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9:25AM PST on Dec 17, 2012

Interesting, thank you.

10:02AM PST on Dec 16, 2012

thanks for sharing

9:22AM PDT on May 8, 2012

I just try to keep the house and contents as clean as possible. I have 6 cats and have been rescuing cats for decades. I find it best to scoop the litter a few times per day and wash the boxes (I have spares) once a month.

For anyone with a cat pee odour problem, I'd suggest a black-light for detecting cat urine. The pee spots will show up as a yellow glow. You have to use the black-light at night as the more light in the room the less effective it is. Once you've found the pee, if you can't throw an item in the wash, treat the affected area with a good quality enzyme cleaner specifically made for the task. It breaks down the proteins in cat pee which is what causes the aroma. DIY and perfumey things just don't cut it.

7:42AM PDT on May 8, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

5:47PM PST on Nov 24, 2011

The nose knows!

11:11AM PST on Mar 3, 2011

Thanks for sharing it.

1:44AM PST on Mar 3, 2011

I like my home just to smell clean...

4:03AM PST on Mar 2, 2011

great article

4:38AM PST on Jan 19, 2011

As Bette H. wrote "I get used to the smell before I can get any kind of sense of the location." This will be true for most people trying to locate individual odours. What I find smells the most as I enter a home is the off gassing of shoes, boots and entrance rugs...I back up and stay outside ;-(

6:19AM PDT on Oct 27, 2010

Thanks for the article.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

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It affects my husband's health badly.. :-)

no question about it being stressful and having to drive defensively.

What's coconut sugar? I might start with this recipe but use as many fresh ingredients as possible …

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