Sunday, September 25, 2011

Smelly Lies, Part One

            In the Febreze television commercials, unsuspecting people are blindfolded and led into a room fragrant with sun washed meadows…or freshly baked goodies spiced with cinnamon. However, we the viewers see that these persons are actually lounging on a filthy sofa in a grimy, cluttered room.
            And this should make me want to use Febreze?
            Years ago I read that air fresheners work by anesthetizing your olfactory nerves. In an article dated 1980—has the internet been around that long??—Cecil Adams writes, “There are three basic ways of getting rid of undesirable odors: masking them with stronger scents, such as the ubiquitous lemon and pine fragrances; chemically dissolving or absorbing them, as with activated charcoal or silica gel; and numbing out your nose, so you can't smell a dxxx thing.” (
            Environmental Living, presumably written more recently, agrees. “These synthetic fragrances disguise bad smells by releasing a chemical that coats the nasal passages with a film of oil, or deadens the olfactory nerves. Plug-in air fresheners have been found to emit a suite of chemicals, some of which react with ozone (which comes into our homes from outdoors) and react to cause byproducts that are toxic.…It doesn't really matter what the delivery mechanism is-a spray, a plug-in air freshener, or an aromatic candle-pumping chemical fragrances into your indoor air is a bad idea.” (
            “Not so fast,” cautions, explaining, “The cyclodextrin molecule sort of resembles a donut. When you spray Febreze, the water in the product partially dissolves the odor, allowing it to form a complex inside the 'hole' of the cyclodextrin donut shape. The stink molecule is still there, but it can't bind to your odor receptors, so you can't smell it.” (
            Did you catch that last concept? The stink molecule is still there, but you can’t smell it. Which takes me back to the room in the Febreze ads. Whether you’re numbing your nose or donut-ing the stink molecule, THE ROOM IS STILL FILTHY. And I think we established back in Hazardous Housekeeping (July), that I know something about filthy rooms.
            Why would we as humans want to fool our noses when they do so much for us? Think of the information they provide:
Something’s on fire.
The milk is spoiled.
You need a bath.
There’s a dead mouse in your refrigerator drip pan.
Would Febreze have helped me then? Wasn’t it better that I kept searching through the refrigerator for spoiled food until I finally pulled out the drip pan…and sprinted outside with it and a drowned rodent, to the amazement and amusement of the two women in my kitchen, one of whom laughed so hard she peed her pants?
Check back for Smelly Lies, Part Two, coming soon to a blog near you.
FUNKY WORDS:  I consider myself a born speller, but spell check had to correct me on these two words:  Anesthetize and Environmental.
First used in 1848, ANESTHETIZE and its noun form ANESTHETIC come from a Greek word meaning “without feeling” or “senseless.” That makes sense.
ENVIRONMENT goes back to 1600 with the meaning “the state of being environed.” Now that was helpful. Not.

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