Keith Kelsen’s Scent Narrative Spring Cleaning with Clean Scent

The Definition of Clean & Clean Scent

Spring Cleaning is upon us and a Clean Scent is our theme. There is no definition of “clean” as a Scent or smell; clean scent does not exist.   When you look up the definition of clean, the first entry is: “free from dirt or pollution”.  Free from pollution could be difficult, based on current scientific research, reviewed later in this article.  Second, it says “free from contamination or disease”. Extreme, yet we know that the pursuit of clean is more than just an experience, it is a Scent all its own.  So how does “clean” smell? What price are we willing to pay for that experience?

As we have explored in previous Scent Narratives, Fresh Clean Scents are added to almost everything we use from personal care products to candles, cleaning products, hand soaps, laundry products and air fresheners. Yet, there is no clear definition of the Scent.


What does a clean scent really smell like? Experts have searched for solutions, adding them to conventional cleaning products. Some Scientists are promoting products:

“I like the Open Window Fresh WetJet scent; it smells pretty good as you are using it. I like fresh and clean smells, so it makes sense that I would also be partnered with Swiffer because that is what they are all about: making your house all fresh and clean.” Dr. Eric Stonestreet

Clean Scent has been pursued by all manufacturers.   A consumer focus group company, the Haystack Group, identified Clean Scent to be the leading criteria customers use rating the quality of a cleaning service.  We have been programmed to believe that if our house doesn’t have a certain Clean Scent, then it isn’t thoroughly cleaned. This is a slippery slope as common cleaners, such as bleach, contain ingredients harmful to our health if inhaled.  The pursuit of a Clean Scent could take a worrying turn if chemicals are overused.

Ahh, the Smell of Pine…

For so many of us, the Scent of  pine-scented disinfectant [i]equates to clean. Scientists in research and development have zeroed in on scent clues to a “Clean Scent”. Scented cleaning and laundry products confirm physiologically to consumers that their stuff is clean. However, there is an unexpected consequence.

“Specifically, using products that contained terpenes – which are components of pine and citrus oils – in rooms where elevated levels of ozone were present, resulted in the production of formaldehyde and ultrafine particles, both of which can potentially harm human health. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen with no level of exposure that poses zero risk, and is a strong eye, nose, throat and lung irritant.” Report by California Air Resources Board,  CARB

Your Cleaning Products Could be Toxic

Some Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in conventional household cleaning products can be bad for you. These compounds are dangerous because they are manufactured to remain in the air for long periods of time. (Think about non-stop heat-based air fresheners.) Bad VOCs commonly used in cleaning products can include propane, butane, ethanol, and phthalates. Propane is a suspected neurotoxin and respiratory toxicant. Butane is a neurotoxicant. Ethanol has been reported to be a carcinogen as well as an endocrine toxicant, liver toxicant, neurotoxicant, and reproductive toxicant.

According to the EPA, VOCs are emitted as gases and include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have adverse health effects.  According to CARB, Consumer Products are

“chemically formulated products used by household and institutional consumers. Some examples are: detergents; cleaning compounds; polishes; floor finishes; cosmetics; personal care products; home products; disinfectants; and sanitizers.” (Here is the link to the complete Consumer Products Regulation title 17, CCR, § 94500)

Regulating Consumer Products for Health

While not all VOC’s are bad, certain Consumer products are a significant source of VOCs that are not good. Thirteen years ago, when last measured in 2005, consumer products accounted for about 259 tons per day of VOC emissions in California alone.

“These VOCs react with other pollutants under sunlight to form ground-level ozone and particulate matter (PM 10), the main ingredients in smog. Reducing VOC emissions from consumer products plays a significant part in ARB’s effort to reduce smog in California.” CARB’s Consumer Products  & Consumer Products and Smog web page.

Time to Unplug that Plug-in

The Federal Hazardous Substances Act requires cautionary labels for hazardous household products, but manufacturers are not required to list all ingredients. This means you have absolutely no idea what your family is inhaling daily. Could that Clean Scent be bad for your family?

An analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that 12 of the 14 common air fresheners tested contain phthalates, chemicals that may affect hormones and reproductive development, especially in babies. The federal government does not currently test these products or require manufacturers to meet specific safety standards.

The Best Cleaning Products & Solutions for Every Situation

What should a clean home smell like? The answer is simple, as a Clean Scent should smell like nothing at all. The answer to a healthy Spring Cleaning maybe in using the best products and some helpful “Good House Keeping” hints.

The place to start is J Miller’s  13 Practical Cleaning Tips  published last year.  Using the best equipment and the best products is the safest way to get your Spring Cleaning “On”!   By exploring these tips, you can find the best and healthiest solution.  Getting rid of the odor is best accomplished by going to the source.  Helpful Heloise has 12 areas to source the odor and clean the Scent.

  • Stinky trash
    • Wash indoor and outdoor trash cans.
    • Leave a couple of used fabric softener sheets in the bottom.
  • A burnt-on food spill: sprinkle salt on the overflow to absorb the burned smell & make it easier to clean up later.
  • A musty freezer: Place a clean sock filled with dry coffee grounds inside.
  • A smelly microwave:
    • Fill a large microwave-safe bowl with 1 1/2 cups water & 4 chopped lemons.
    • Bring to a boil in the microwave, and leave it inside for 15 minutes.
    • Leave the door ajar for an hour or so to air the microwave out.
  • A foul dishwasher
    • Pour a gallon of non-toxic household vinegar in the bottom.
    • Let it sit for an hour or so, then run it through a full cycle.
    • NOTE: If the odor is still strong, call a plumber.
  • A pungent kitchen
    • While cooking smelly foods, place a small bowl of white vinegar on the stove to absorb the odor.
    • To stop offensive fridge smells, pour baking soda into a plastic margarine tub and poke holes in the lid.
    • Wipe down fridge walls with white vinegar to get rid of any lingering odors.
  • A foul-smelling garbage disposal Throw in lemon or lime rinds while it’s running, followed by lots of cold water.
  • The toilet Pour 1 cup of household vinegar into the bowl and let it stand for at least 5 minutes. Scrub briskly and flush.
  • Dingy carpeting To quickly deodorize a smelly rug, sprinkle a box of baking soda over it, and let settle into the fibers for 30 minutes. Then, vacuum it up.
  • A dank basement Open containers of activated charcoal to help fight mildew smells.
  • A stale closet Hanging clean socks filled with dry coffee grounds works.
  • A smelly pet For a quick fix, lightly sprinkle their fur with baking soda, rub it in, and then brush out.

Time to Change: Home Cleaning Products Now Match Cars for Urban Pollution

[ii] In February of this year, Stephen Luntz profiled the incredible possibility that cleaning products are as bad as cars for our health. Cars have been the bad guys for decades. Smog laws and electric cars are changing that reality. Now with things like the “sick building syndrome” the VOCs can be a major problem indoors. Science is proving this assumption. Dr. Brian McDonald of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) did.  Dr. McDonald, focusing on PM2.5 particles, proved house cleaning is as much of the air pollution in Los Angeles as cars!

“As transportation gets cleaner, those other sources become more and more important. The stuff we use in our everyday lives can impact air pollution.” Dr. McDonald, NOAA

Certain In-Home Scents can be Bad for your Health

This form of in-home pollution, caused by bad VOCs, can cause headaches, directly damage the liver and kidneys, and react with nitrogen oxides to create respiratory diseases and cancer. Science  estimates of VOCs from common chemicals are two to three times above average in major American cities.

“Gasoline is stored in closed, hopefully airtight, containers and the VOCs in gasoline are burned for energy. But volatile chemical products used in common solvents and personal care products are literally designed to evaporate. You wear perfume or use scented products so that you or your neighbor can enjoy the aroma. You don’t do this with gasoline.” Dr. Jessica Gilman, NOAA

A Killer Clean House

Air pollution kills 5.5 million people a year. Globally, vehicles and coal plants remain the largest sources of pollution and half of the deaths are in China and India. Indoors, identifying and eliminating the sources now matters, according to Scientists. In a recent study[iii] funded by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), investigators from the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory measured pollutant concentrations during and after simulated cleaning activities, including mopping and general cleaning, and during use of a plug-in air freshener.  The investigators found:

 “that chemicals directly emitted from the products, such as terpenes and glycol ethers, generally were below levels of concern, but that indoor chemical reactions of the substances emitted produced some other pollutants at levels of health concern.”

Increased exposure to these pollutants indoors could be a concern for professional house cleaners, individuals cleaning in small enclosed areas, and individuals with pre-existing lung or heart disease. Good Housekeeping states:

“Ultimately we all want to do what is best for our family, but we have been tricked by slick marketing into believing certain cleaning products are a must for a germ-free home. The truth is that these products are simply chemical cocktails that kill germs, but also harm your body in the process.  Medical evidence shows that these chemicals have a cumulative effect in the body and once in your body they are very difficult to get out of the body. This means once the lingering scent is gone from your home, your body is still battling those toxins in your body that you inhaled. Exposure to fragrance chemicals adds to the ‘total body load’ of synthetic chemicals, which can greatly increase the chance of developing health problems.”

Our Olfactory Sense of Clean

Our sense of smell is, the most powerful of all five senses. A Scent can invoke positive memories and emotions. Research has proven that the sense of smell is direct to the brain’s limbic system, where emotions and memories reside. We associate qualities to Scents; certain fragrance memories make a home smell “clean”, and “well kept.” Every major company has research that shows that a pleasant fragrance is of top importance in the consumers’ mind when purchasing cleaning products.

Clean Neutrality

The “clean Scent” may be the Scent you like best. If you live in a lovely area, bring the outside in. Open some windows. Add house plants. Avoid cooking smelly foods in general and if so, make sure the vent is on. Don’t just cover up the smells, go to the source and eliminate them.  Then, good VOC’s can augment the positive experience when released in a “Time Released” methodology. Be sure that your Scent solution is healthy.

Perhaps the misconception is that clean has a scent.

So, how does a clean home smell? Ultimately, it smells like the absence of offensive odors. It can also smell like any Scent that reminds you of clean. Eliminate the pollution and focus on the actual cleaning, using Scent deployment that is healthier.

[1] The Spruce: How to Disinfect Laundry for Bacterial and Viral Infections MARY MARLOWE LEVERETTE11/22/17

 [1] Science, 16 Feb 2018: Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions

Brian C. McDonald1,2,*, Joost A. de Gouw1,2, Jessica B. Gilman2, Shantanu H. Jathar3, Ali Akherati3, Christopher D. Cappa4, Jose L. Jimenez1,5, Julia Lee-Taylor1,6, Patrick L. Hayes7, Stuart A. McKeen1,2, Yu Yan Cui1,2,, Si-Wan Kim1,2,, Drew R. Gentner8,9, Gabriel Isaacman-VanWertz10, Allen H. Goldstein11,12, Robert A. Harley12, Gregory J. Frost2, James M. Roberts2, Thomas B. Ryerson2, Michael Trainer2

[1] The full research report on this study can be downloaded from ARB’s website at The current restrictions on VOC content of cleaning products, as well as recently approved changes that take effect in the future, can be obtained from or by calling the phone numbers provided below. For additional information on ozone-generating air cleaners, please visit Further information on formaldehyde is available at General information on indoor air quality is available at