Suggestions for People Going Fragrance Free

By Amina Donna Kruck and Valerie Kappas

It is the policy of ABIL to accommodate employees, consumers and other participants in ABIL activities who have sensitivity to environmental scents and pollutants. This policy applies to all ABIL facilities and any events held outside ABIL facilities, to the maximum extent possible.

Transitioning from a life integrated with fragranced products to a fragrance-free life is a process that can benefit those with multiple chemical sensitivities and allergies, but also EVERYONE. Today we are bombarded by scented products that often are comprised of harmful chemicals. It is hard for most people without this sensitivity to understand or believe that the chemical sensitivity is real. That is human nature, so I draw an analogy to food allergies that most people have experienced themselves or through someone they know.

Everyone’s sensitivities are unique to them, so it can be confusing that everyone doesn’t have the same response. Don’t be surprised if one person is OK with one product and another isn’t. Just as one person can have a dangerous response to eating strawberries or peanuts, so too can a person have a debilitating response to certain scented products and chemicals. For example, one person was told for years that the “bug spray” being used in a facility was “safe” and others in the building reported they couldn’t smell anything, while it made the sensitive person very ill with instant headaches, high blood pressure, and rapid pulse. Some are fine around most organic essential oils, but most perfumes and scented fabric softeners give those instant headaches and nausea. Products labeled “natural” are not the same as fragrance-free.

Trust us when we say that those of us with chemical sensitivities found it hard to believe we are that sensitive as well! We learned the hard way by repeated exposures and connecting the dots gradually over time from product to symptom. As you go fragrance-free, you may find some chronic conditions being relieved that you hadn’t connected to chemical sensitivity, like headaches, indigestion, burning in your mouth, fuzzy thinking, sudden exhaustion, and feelings of panic.

Remember, this is not personal, though it can feel that way! People can be very offended or embarrassed by a discussion about such a personal issue as personal product fragrances. This is not about anything you are doing wrong. This isn’t about you. It is about accommodating others with legitimate disabilities. Centers for Independent Living, need to use fragrance-free products in our facilities and we expect all staff to make every effort to be fragrance-free at work.

Here are some tips to transitioning to a fragrance-free life:

  • Tackle one area of your life at a time, so that it isn’t too overwhelming. Maybe start with your personal care products and laundry, and then tackle eliminating air fresheners in your home and automobile. Remember, this is a process.
  • Start with yourself before approaching changes that affect your housemates.
  • Personal Hygiene: Read all product labels for personal hygiene products and screen for fragrance-free signage: shampoo; hair conditioner; deodorant; bar and soft soaps; hand sanitizers; hair gels and other hair products; hair spray; cologne after-shave; and lotion.
    • Note: It may take some experimenting to find products that will work for you and be fragrance-free.
  • Laundry: it will take a while to get the fragrance out of your clothing, washer and dryer if you have used fragranced products. It helps to run the washing machine through a few cycles with nothing but baking soda or white vinegar in the water. The dryer will take a few cycles to clear out as well. Wipe the dryer down with white vinegar. This is more difficult to monitor if you have to use public or shared laundry facilities. This will entail a household change if you share washers. Do what you can.
  • Clothing: To clear clothes of fragranced products: soak in water and white vinegar or put a cup of white vinegar in the washer through several loads.
    • Note: Dry Cleaners – If you take clothes to a dry cleaner, take them out of the plastic bag and air them out a few days before wearing.
  • Eliminate Air Fresheners: Eliminate plug-in air fresheners in your home and products that say they eliminate odors. They mask the fragrance rather than actually eliminating it.
  • Automobile: Eliminate fragranced products in your car, like air fresheners. If you take it to be washed at a facility, make sure they do not put any scented products in the car as they clean. Air it out with windows down as much as you can and run your air conditioner so the fragrance can be expelled. If you smoke in your car with the windows up, the odor will follow you and can also be a trigger for chemical sensitivities.
  • Seek feedback: Since our smell sensors get used to familiar smells, we don’t notice them after a while; you will probably have to rely on someone else to let you know if you have achieved fragrance-free. Take the initiative to ask someone you trust. At ABIL, we have all gone through this process, so we understand what you are going through in this transition.
  • To find scent-free products, you can google “Fragrance-free” or go to most stores and read the label, or ask co-workers what works for them. Even environmentally safe products like 7th Generation or Ecos have both unscented and scented products. Check the label!

Here are more things to try if you want to go completely fragrance-free:

Towels and bedding need the same clearing process as clothing to become fragrance free

Household items: Read all product labels for household items: laundry detergent; fabric softener; dish soap; window cleaner; furniture polish; and other cleaning products. Most things will clean well with Bon Ami cleanser or white vinegar and water. Baking soda is a good, inexpensive cleanser.