Every day we see a television commercial featuring an ecstatic mother who is never harried or stressed. Why is she smiling with that happy glint in her eye? Her nose is buried in freshly washed laundry that smells like a “mountain spring.”
If you’ve ever sat next to a real mountain spring, you know it doesn’t smell like perfumed laundry.
Nevertheless, we’re led to believe that this woman on the commercial is a better mom because her laundry looks cleaner and smells fresher than that of mothers using other leading brands.
What’s truly amazing is that we’re buying the potentially dangerous products she’s peddling. Merchandisers bank on our love of scent. What most people don’t think about is the origins of those scents. That whiff of “mountain spring” comes from scientists—dressed in protective white lab coats and masks—who wheel around on little stools, mixing compounds until they’ve found a way to reproduce “natural” smells through the use chemicals.
Although we may be tricked by artificial smells, our cells aren’t. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just a barrier that shields us against outside invaders. In fact, it’s similar to a fine mesh that allows tiny particles to pass in and out of the body. Think of the nicotine patch that doses the wearer with chemicals that alter the body and mind. What’s the difference between that and the residue that detergents and dryer sheets leave behind, coating your clothing and touching your skin? We may not be able to see it happening and we might prefer to ignore it, but those chemical residues are impacting our bodies.
But it’s not just the fragrances that lurk in our clothes.
Something Stinks in the State of Fragrance
Until the twentieth century, fragrances and perfumes were made from natural substances like roots, barks, flowers, and berries, all of which were soaked in water and animal fats to produce fragrant oils.
Today, however, the National Academy of Science reports that up to 95 percent of the chemicals used to make fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including known toxins capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, and allergic reactions. Many of these chemicals are derived from benzene one of the most carcinogenic chemicals known to mankind.
Of particular concern is the fact that many of the toxic compounds used to manufacture fragrances  can actually penetrate the womb and harm an unborn child. Exposure to chemical fragrances found in many cosmetics may damage the productive system of a human male fetus as early as eight weeks into the pregnancy.
Today fragrances are added to thousands of products, including health and beauty aids,  laundry soaps and conditioners, household cleaners, paper products, oils and solvents, drugs, candles, plastics, and even foods.
Detergents and fabric softeners described as “fragrance free” or “unscented” on the label may still contain fragrance-inducing chemicals. Such labels only imply that the product has no perceptible odor. A product labeled “unscented” often contains a masking fragrance introduced during the manufacturing process that neutralizes odors. Manufacturers aren’t required to list a fragrance on the label if it is added to a product to mask or cover up the odor of other ingredients.
This makes it very difficult for consumers to know exactly what they exposing themselves to when using a specific product. But you can lessen your risk by slowly eliminating the laundry products you know contain added chemical fragrances. You can also be more confident with reputable “green” brands that have built their entire businesses on offering customers safer, natural alternatives.
The fragrance industry tells consumers that their chemicals have not been proven toxic. However, it doesn’t take a scientist to recognize that chemically produced scents are dangerous to living things. Even a California schoolgirl was able to develop a science fair project that demonstrated the toxic effects of certain perfumes and colognes. She sprayed cotton balls with perfumes and colognes made by Calvin Klein, Polo, and others. Then she put the cotton balls into some cups, each with a live cricket, and sealed the cups with plastic food wrap secured with a rubber band. By timing how long it took the crickets to die, she determined that Calvin Klein was the most toxic perfume—death in eighty-four seconds.
The most toxic cologne was the appropriately named Axe brand.
Ask yourself: If perfume or cologne can kill crickets in a matter of seconds, what damage can they do to someone who wears them all day long? Give extra thought to saturating your clothing and bedding—and more importantly, the clothing of your children—in similar chemical perfumes that are part of the “cleaning process.”
Your laundry is one everyday part of your life in which you can easily eliminate unnecessary chemicals. Nontoxic, natural detergents are readily available in many supermarkets and most natural food stores. Reusable cloth dryer sheets or non-PVC dryer balls—which help reduce static cling—can be found online. At the very, very least, you can select unscented or lightly scented mainstream laundry products.
Our cotton sheets should not smell like lavender, and our jeans should not smell like mountain air unless we live in the mountains. We need to retrain our noses to appreciate the true scent of clean—which is no scent at all. When you smell smoke in your home, you know there is danger. So when you smell those fragrant sheets or that cloying cologne, you should know to run like your life depends on it.
Because it does.
© 2011 Dr. Myron Wentz and Dave Wentz, authors of The Healthy Home: Simple Truths to Protect Your Family From Hidden Household Dangers By Dr. Myron Wentz and Dave Wentz for Not Just The Kitchen