You enter your house after a few hours away and it’s like a slap in the nose. You wonder how long it has smelled so bad and if anyone else has noticed.
And so it goes with scents we wear on ourselves and in our homes. Sometimes we’re the last ones to realize there’s something stinky going on. A wise person once told me “The last one to notice the water is the fish.” In other words, it’s not easy to get a true reading on your home’s stink factor when you’re living in it every day.
The smell of clean means different things to different people. For some, it takes only a faint hint of bleach to signal that things are spic and span. For others it’s the unmistakable aroma of mothballs. Still others like to pile on the artificial scents like they’re building an aromatic hero sandwich. One undeniable fact remains: there is no such thing as a universally pleasing smell. From incense to candles, Pledge to Febreze, putting pretty smells into the air is easier than ever. You can rinse your clothes in vanilla fabric softener and clean your kitchen with lemon-scented disposable wipes. The smell of a pine forest is only a plug-in deodorizer away, and if you want to live in a bouquet of gardenias, a noseful can be sprayed into your world, as well. There are electric and battery-operated gizmos that claim to neutralize anything wicked in the air. Even a more environmentally friendly approach to cleaning can leave behind memories of vinegar or baking soda.
We all know someone whose olfactory senses are no longer up to sniff. They walk around oblivious, in a swirl of cologne like the cloud of dust that always surrounded Pigpen in the Peanuts comics. Recently, I was the subject of a walk-by hugging featuring a generous amount of Obsession by Calvin Klein. For the rest of the day I was obsessed only with the idea of taking a shower and washing the Calvin off me.
The same can happen with your house, where even pleasant smells can become overwhelming. Environmental sensitivities and allergies seem to be at an all-time high, and many workplaces are banning the use of artificial scents. Do what you like in your own home, but don’t be surprised if a heavily perfumed domicile isn’t everyone’s idea of comfort. Fresheners, room sprays, carpet and rug refreshers and scented candles can leave your home with the thick atmosphere of a perfume shop. If your guests are sneezing and coughing as much as they’re talking, you may be over-scenting your abode. Take an inventory of all of the smelly stuff in your world, and don’t forget things like potpourri and aromatic plants. And don’t be misled by your own nose.
Just because you’ve become used to whatever you’ve bathed your home in doesn’t mean it isn’t apparent to others. You may want to ask a trusted friend if the “Orange Spice” candles are overpowering the “Lavender Breeze” air fresheners while the “Weekend in Tuscany” room spray battles them both for supremacy. Lingering food smells are another issue — they were even the subject of a civil complaint a few years ago between apartment dwellers. If you fry up some orange roughy or create curry chicken, you’ll get used to the aftermath long before your guests stop noticing what you had for dinner. One man’s feast is another man’s foul odour.
And don’t forget about the critters that share your home. If you’ve been putting off bathing Fido over the winter, believe me, his sensitive nose knows — and so do those of your guests. Keep up with the cat box, too. Rinse the stove fan filter regularly. Mind the mess in the mudroom. Corral the dust bunnies. True cleanliness wins the pleasant smell contest over a spritz of cover-up juice any day.