Odor Control in the Age of Fragrance-Free Products

Controlling odors is a baseline expectation for housekeeping and facility management, but it can present a complex challenge. In the past, foul odors could be easily masked with a strong air freshener or other scented product. It’s not so easy these days.

Many facilities now place an emphasis on environmentally friendly and green cleaning methods and supplies. According to the CDC, scented cleaning products may be considered a chemical contaminant source. Their impact on indoor air quality (IAQ) is a serious consideration, especially if your facility is attempting to earn green certification.

Buildings have begun to establish “scent-free” policies to protect their occupants, particularly those with respiratory sensitivities. As a result, janitors must find new ways to combat odors in restrooms and other problem areas, without the aid of artificial fragrances.

Something rotten: Why odor control matters so much

When something stinks, public perception of a building (and its cleaning crew) is negatively affected. Nothing brings complaints faster than a bad smell. In a survey conducted by Cintas, 89% of respondents said they consider odor to be a leading sign of uncleanliness.

If someone thinks that a bathroom is dirty, that impression quickly spreads to the rest of the building, and occupants will begin to wonder about the general cleanliness standards of the facility.

This perception that odor equals uncleanliness isn’t entirely unfounded. Bacteria often thrives in areas such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and kitchens due to the fact that the environment of these areas is a perfect breeding ground for them. As bacteria reproduces, they emit gases such as ammonia and sulfur, which create the offensive smell. This process happens at an unbelievably fast rate, even when areas are cleaned regularly and well. Janitors can’t be everywhere all the time, and as a result, unpleasant odors will occur even in the most immaculate of facilities.

Traditional methods used to combat odor problems include air fresheners, auto-dispensing sprays, and other deodorizing products. The problem with these methods is that the harsh chemicals and masking scents in these solutions are no longer considered acceptable in buildings that are trying to be more environmentally friendly.

Fragrance free: When good smells go bad

The push towards scent-free environments may seem unnecessary to some. After all, how can a pleasant scent really hurt anyone? The science says otherwise. Sensitivities to scented products can cause a wide range of symptoms, which show up in four different areas:

  • Respiratory: Fragrances can cause serious breathing issues for many people, including asthma and reactive airway dysfunction syndrome (also known as RADS).
  • Neurological: Headaches and migraines are the most commonly reported neurological symptoms caused by fragrance allergies and sensitivity, but nausea, dizziness, and confusion can also occur.
  • Skin reactions: Coming into direct contact with scented products may cause irritation, redness, or rashes.
  • Eye/nasal irritation: Inflammation, tearing, and a runny nose are common reactions.

The negative effect of scented cleaning products is a serious problem for much of the population. In fact, a 2009 study found that 19% of people reported adverse health effects from air fresheners. For diagnosed asthmatics, the percentage jumps to 37.2%, and among those diagnosed with chemical sensitivities it was as high as 60%. On top of that, 30.5% of the general population reported that they found artificial fragrances “irritating.”

Aside from the health and safety concerns for building occupants, the high cost of missed work due to issues like allergies, asthma, and migraines makes a strong economic case for eliminating irritants in the workplace. Scented cleaning products are a logical place to start.

The solution: What can you do?

Given the importance of keeping your facility smelling fresh and the constraints of a fragrance-free facility, what are your options? Without the help of scented products, are your hands tied when it comes to dealing with problem odors? Not at all. There are plenty of other tools available, and as this issue becomes better known, innovative products and solutions have started to flood the market. Here are three easy ways to fight bad smells in your facility.

  • Start at the source. Good cleaning crews know the real answer to odor control is great cleaning. With the right tools and methods, you don’t need air fresheners. If bacteria has nothing to eat, it will die off, taking the smells with it.
    • Floors: In restrooms, urine is the top problem, and it can be hard to control. Even small amounts of urine can sink into the grout and cause odor problems. Regular scrubbing helps, but a mop and bucket may not remove it all. Small cylindrical brush auto scrubbers that clean deep into the groat lines, while avoiding cross-contamination of surfaces, are an excellent way to maintain restroom floors. Steam and vapor machines, along with no-touch spray-and-vac cleaning systems are also chemical-free options. The units are an initial investment, but they are easy to use and will pay for themselves over time with what you save in cleaning chemicals and manhours.
  • Urinals: Unscented, enzyme-based urinal cakes and screens are a natural way to control odors without a masking scent.
  • Drains: Floor drains are another source of bad smells. If the trap inside the drain dries out, escaping sewer gases can cause unpleasant odors. Ask your team to regularly pour a cup of clean water into the drain after cleaning. It will keep the trap full and block the smells.
  • Use environmentally-friendly products. Looking for an official green certification on a product is a good way to ensure that it is safe and non-irritating, even if it has a natural scent. Most certification programs also have separate“Fragrance Free” verifications and labels.
    • The United States Government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) runs a very well respected program called Safer Choice. Products with the Safer Choice label help buys and consumers identify products with safer chemical ingredients, without sacrificing quality or performance. Safer Choice also offers a label that indicates that a product is fragrance-free, to help consumers who prefer products without fragrance.
    • Green Seal has a list of industrial cleaning agents that have been certified as environmentally friendly.
  • EcoLogo is a highly respected green certification, and their Environmental Choice CCD-112 certification for digestion additives for cleaning and odor control is recommended by LEED.
  • Look for natural odor absorbing and neutralizing products. This is your best bet for dealing with odors that may occur between cleanings. These can be used in restrooms, break rooms, smoking areas, and any high-traffic area that’s susceptible to odor problems.
    • Fragrance-free diffusers and sprays designed to break down odor molecules can replace scented air fresheners.
  • “Air sponge” products can absorb smells. Activated charcoal, baking soda, and the volcanic mineral Zeolite are natural, scent-free options that can help trap bad smells in the environment.
  • Air purifiers and ozone generators naturally pull scents from the air before they become offensive.

Making the changes necessary to achieve a fragrance-free method of cleaning will vastly improve the IAQ of your facility since it eliminates the source of odor causing bacteria at its source. Your employees and your customers will feel so much better inside of your facility, and you can add more to your bottom line by reducing your costs on chemicals and reducing man hours. So do your part for the environment and your building occupants and switch to fragrance-free cleaning today!

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