Years ago the chemical world was abuzz with the newly discovered, smell neutralizing attributes of a chemical known as beta-cyclodextrin. Scientists in the development lab of Proctor and Gamble learned that this known chemical could actually wrap itself around odiferous offenders and decrease the stink. They thought they had a winner on their hands. The problem was, nobody wanted to buy it. Apparently no smell isn’t as good as synthetic smell for the consumer. So, Proctor and Gamble inserted synthetic fragrances into their product and called it, "Febreze". An incredibly successful marketing campaign was then implemented to convince legions of humans that even if they thought they didn’t stink, the rest of the world sure did. And a chemical darling was born.
Odour erasure became a new expectation of a civilized human being. Heck, not just a human being, the stuff is everywhere now. Hotels fill their rooms and halls with the stuff, hoping to mask the stinky carpets I suppose. Garbage bags infuse it into their plastic. People spray it in their kid's hockey bags and have a constant drip dose of the stuff emanating from little plastic heaters in their cars and homes. It's on everything, most horrifically, the people! I don’t think I’ve been to a sports game, a store or even to a hiking trail where I haven’t smelled the telling cloud of chemical before I’ve even seen the human sporting it.
Following the trend set by the wildly popular Febreze campaign, the grand-daddy chemical peddlers have ramped up their eye-watering, olfactory-assaulting wares. Increasingly potently-fragranced laundry detergents promise the eradication of your human stink with the smell of a soft alpine breeze or tropical windswept honeymoon. The reality is the delivery of thousands of unknown chemicals all interacting in unknown ways in our bodies and environments. I have had people visit us that left a literal scent stain that lingered for days on the furniture they sat on. The Tide detergent my mom used when I was a kid barely had a scent. Today, laundry detergents are absolutely dripping with synthetic fragrances. Why not? They’re already full of synthetic everything else.
We wash our clothes in this stuff and absorb endless unknown chemicals into the biggest organ of our body, our skin, all day long. We wash our sheets in this stuff and spend the other half of our life cocooned in the same, inhaling our way into a chemical soup slumber. Then we plug in and spray on. Every last pheromone annihilated off the face of the planet. Everyone a “scentsation” chemical slurry. We have no idea what this stuff is doing to our bodies, to our organs that receive them through our skin and blood stream, and have to figure out what the hell to do with it all.
These synthetic fragrances are full of a mysterious slurry of who-knows-what. They don’t have to tell us. They don't have to tell us what's in there or how much of it or what it's doing. Just like they don't have to tell us what's in the packaging wrapped around our food, or the gasses used for ripening produce, the antifreeze used in ice-cream, or the PFOAs, or "forever chemicals", phthalates, and various other endocrine disruptors in everything from our shampoo to our dish soap. Have you ever seen a warning label about wrapping your small child into an envelope of these chemicals? You know, as in dressing them in the clothes you just soaked in this stuff inside your washing machine. Of course not. Just like you won’t see warning labels on plastic water bottles that also sport those same forever chemicals and hormone disrupters, or on diapers, or on tampons that women insert into the most delicate of tissues.
Speaking of tampons, does anyone remember that vodka tampon craze with teenagers? Is that still happening? They would soak a tampon in vodka and insert it. A sneaky, direct to the blood stream way of getting drunk. Isn’t it something that we can wrap our minds around alcohol soaked tampons being a bad idea but that those same tampons, full of dioxins and glyphosate and genetically engineered cotton and PFOAs are magically non-absorbable through the same body cavity? What a marvel of engineering!
When I was younger and in the military I had a series of concerning pap test results that saw me being referred to a civilian Ob-Gyn in the town nearest our base. My fellow female soldiers had affectionately dubbed him “the butcher”. Nice. From his office I was sent to another specialist a few hours away. For a year I had repeat pap tests with the final recommendation of having a LEEP procedure done. For the uninitiated, that's a slice of your cervix taken off with a cauterizing device. I declined. Do you think he once mentioned anything to me about what type of products were hanging out next to my cervix for five or six days every month? Of course not, could have never been that.
But I digress. I digress with the excuse that it’s pretty easy to do so on this topic. These chemicals are everywhere. They're in our food and the packaging it comes in. They are in the synthetic clothes we wear and the plastics that breakdown and fill the dust in our house with their contaminants. We are being bombarded.
We are now nations of obese, unwell humans. People will say it’s the processed carbs or seed oils or sugar or laziness. Surely it is all those things but it’s also the breakdown of our body’s ability to process, eliminate, and detoxify the endless assault of environmental toxins. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are ubiquitous and being implicated in the alarming declines in sperm counts and rising infertility around the world. Sperm counts are at lows never seen before in our species. Fertility rates are abysmal and getting worse. Cancers of all ilk are commonplace. Men sport breasts. Fish in polluted waterways change sex. And what of the people in polluted worlds? No effect? Well, politically correct discourse dictates we don't talk about such things. How convenient for the offending corporations.
So what are the chemicals found in our shampoos, soaps, laundry detergents, toothpaste, face wash, perfume, room deodorizers, plastic household goods, stain resistant materials and synthetic clothing, make-up etc..? Our knowledge in how they affect us is in its infancy and we don’t know all that is there. What we do know is that these products contain chemicals that the human body has never known before. Man-made chemicals meant for profit, not health. There are people I adore in this world that are so saturated in this stuff that I have to hold my breath around them. Little kids smooshing their little noses into pillows off-gassing estrogenic forever chemicals into their bodies all night long.
We take so much so lightly. Too much that goes unanswered. I think that’s probably part of the plan. So many people stuck in the daily grind, exhausted by dissatisfaction, numbed by distractions. Work. Tasks. Distractions. Addictions. Poor health. Foggy brains. Empty spirits. Who the hell cares about fragrance or plastic or food packaging or seed oils?! Who has time for such things? It’s just one of a long list of things that’ll kill ‘me. Shrug.
Yes, true enough. But what kills us in the end isn’t the point. It’s the quality of our lives now and throughout. And the quality of our lives is dependant on our awareness and willingness to learn and then our decision to put in the effort to create lives as vibrantly healthy as we can. To the oft “It shouldn’t be so hard”. You’re right. It shouldn’t be, but it is. “Shouldn’t” is an energy sucker and that’s energy that could be put towards creating and building.
The good news is that there’s a solution to most everything. We can choose differently or find other ways of doing things. And, sometimes, the solution can mean surrendering to the impossibility of perfection with gratitude for the things we can make better. You know where that line is for you.
I’ve long been a proponent of eating as much of our food as possible that doesn’t have an ingredient list. Ingredient lists are bogus anyway. Do the ingredients labels for a bottle of water even mention the plastic bottle that has been breaking down its poisons into the water? Does the pasteurized cream or milk in the cardboard box tell you what that box is lined with inside, the stuff the cream is stewing in? What about a can of peas? Do you know what that can has contributed to your meal? Peas with a side of bisphenol, if you please. In every bag and box and wrapper - a secret. Know that and you can mitigate that.
So what can we do about it? Well, first and foremost is a shifting of our perspectives from “if it’s out there, it must be safe” to the grown up version of “if I want myself and my family to be healthy, the responsibility lies with me.” Face it, we’re more profitable sick and broken than we are robustly healthy.
There's a huge list of further reading and resources at the end of this essay to help you dig further into these topics, but a few quick and easy things you can do right now to start improving your home environment include:
Food - seasonal, local, organic, and real. Water - organic, fluoride free and filtered. If on a rural well, semi-regular comprehensive water testing for chemical contaminants, including agricultural/industrial chemicals is a good idea. I have written about food, nutrition, and water on this site. All of those articles can be accessed through my archive.
Synthetic fragrances and forever chemicals: swap out the toxic “body care” products, like the ones I’ve mentioned, for products with minimal, clean ingredients. Better yet, make your own. Check out the resources below for websites that have tested various products and offer reviews and recommendations.
Fill your home with plants, open the windows, use smudges and resins and pots full of simmering, warming herbs and cedar leaves to fill your home with beautiful scents your body understands.
There is no chemical cleaner you need- I promise! For your laundry, use soap nuts, or a brand vetted by some of the resources below, or just make your own. If things are especially stinky, add in some borax and pour vinegar into your softener cycle. Vinegar is my cleaning soul sister. The vinegar really softens and it takes out any smell. I also buy 35% hydrogen peroxide that I dilute down and use with things like sauna towels and other dastardly duds. If you’re weaning yourself from the heavy scents of chemical detergents and dryer sheets, you can use wool dryer balls with a couple of sprinkles of a good quality, organic essential oil on them. I don’t like my clothes or sheets to have a smell, but this is a decent interim transition if you do. My guess is you’ll start forgetting to even use it as you get sensitized to your environment.
I’ve written before about other areas to consider in order to have a healthy home. You can read about those in my essay “sheltered and held” and “on the skin, into the body”, and "next to skin, into the body." In those essays I get into everything I use to clean, EMF mitigation, and different things we took into consideration from paint to wiring to wall treatments. Below are further resources to get you going.
Now, onto you. I’m interested in hearing how you’re all building your healthy home environments. Please feel free to share natural product brands you’ve appreciated or, better yet, the things you’ve found you can make yourself from simple ingredients. Untangling from the matrix doesn’t happen on one front. It’s a multi-pronged mission. It definitely takes effort, but a time does come when you don’t even think about it anymore. I waste no time bemoaning what I have to do to live as healthy as I can. It has to be done so I do it and then I reap the rewards. I figure if I was lucky enough to be put on this beautiful planet, the least I can do is live as close to the original plan our Creator designed.
Slowdown Farmstead is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Risk of phthalates, the chemicals used to intensify and prolong the scent of products, are closely linked to health risks in children.
Why smelling good (debatable) comes with a cost to your health
Be mindful of the toilet paper you use. Dioxins, BPA, PFAS and even scents are added to many toilet papers. I never buy recycled toilet paper which contains BPAs. Those are some pretty sensitive areas to be putting such things. We’ve been using an unbleached bamboo toilet paper that works fine and is safe for our septic system.
Ten percent of breast cancers are genetic. Here's the rest of the story.
Book: "Countdown: how our modern world is threatening sperm counts, altering male and female reproductive development, and imperilling the future of the human race"
Book: "Pottenger’s Cats"
For good/better/best recommendations on a whole host of laundry detergents
PFAS Chemicals (“forever chemicals”) as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. In everything from water to food to the packaging used in our animal’s kibble, baby clothes, and cooking utensils.
Obesogens: the chemicals making you fat
Phthalate’s found in blood associated with increased waist circumference and insulin resistance in adult males
Chem Fatale Report - Potential health effects of toxic chemicals in feminine care products
Cleaning products in breast milk
Avoid “anti bacterial” soaps and cleaning products
PDF link to a report, “Beyond the Label: Health Impacts of Harmful Ingredients in Cleaning Products” by Women’s Voices for the Earth
Mamavation testing results on common tampon brands This website does a lot of testing on consumer products of all types.