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Accommodations Fragrance-Free Travel

I am sensitive to the synthetic fragrances that have become increasingly popular the world over. These are the chemicals used in personal body products, laundry products, cleaning products, scented candles, and air fresheners to give them a “smell”. These fragrances are not regulated by government agencies and research has shown that they can be harmful to humans, not just to those who notice them and feel sick around them. If a product has the ingredient “parfum”, “perfume” or “fragrance”, they probably have these harmful chemicals in them (unless they also say “from natural sources”). I can make my home fragrance-free, but it is problematic when traveling. I have been dealing with this for 20 years and have some ideas to make your travel as fragrance-free as possible.

When booking hotels ask for a fragrance-free room. Some hotels know how to deal with this. They will not spray air freshener in the room and will air it out before you arrive to remove the fragrances from the cleaning products. We used to stay in a hotel in Toronto that even did an extra fragrance-free wash of the sheets for us. Unfortunately more hotels are now spraying fragrances in the lobbies and hallways, even in the rooms (signature scents). If you ask about this before booking the person you talk to may not understand what you mean because they have stopped noticing the fragrance, so do not know that it is there and is strong.

Spa hotels frequently have fragrance in the hotel and rooms because they think it promotes a relaxed atmosphere. They think they are spraying something natural, but it is usually a chemical soup of fragrance.

Cheaper hotels, especially chains in the US/Canada, use fragrances throughout the hotel to make it seem nicer than it is. Older buildings, like historic buildings in the UK and Europe, use fragrances to cover the smell of mould. Hotels by the sea frequently use air fresheners to cover the damp smell.

We try to limit our hotel stays because it is easier for us to air out a vacation rental/airbnb. Fragrance in hotels tends to be more intense than in a house/apartment. The Sofitel airport hotels in the UK will provide a fragrance-free room and their bedding does not have a fragrance. The Mercure chain in Europe seems to be low on fragrance.

When booking vacation rentals/airbnbs ask if fragrances like scent sticks or air fresheners are used. Most owners/managers will tell you they do not use them, but when you arrive you find the scent sticks that they had forgotten about. Look carefully at the photos. Do you see scent sticks? Anything that looks like an automatic fragrance pump, the ones that pump fragrance into the room? Some owners will understand what you are talking about and will air out the house/apartment before you arrive. Some owners don’t use fragrances!

Air out the house/apartment. When you arrive at your vacation rental/airbnb, remove fragrant things and air out the place. Remove the scented candles. I put them all in a plastic bag and put it outside if I can. If I can’t, I find an unused closet in the house/apartment and put it there. Remove any bottles of perfume and do the same (yes, we have rented more than one place that had bottles of perfume in it). Look under the sinks in the kitchen and bathrooms. If it is very fragrant under there do the same with these things. Find the washing machine. Put the collection of half empty, strongly fragranced washing liquid in a plastic bag and put outside. You will find that removing all these sources of fragrance helps. Open all the windows for your first day and air out the place.

Have a good walk around looking for fragrant things. Sometimes throw pillows are bad – maybe they have been sprayed, maybe someone wearing perfume was using it. I remove them if they have a fragrance.

Bring your own pillow cases and sheets. This sounds extreme and for someone wanting to pack light, it is extreme. A compromise is to just bring an allergy pillow case (this keeps the dust mites and fragrances inside) and a pillow case to put on top. I travel with two allergy pillow cases, two pillow cases and two king-size (UK superking-size) flat sheets. They take up a whole packing cube but have saved us many times. I don’t bring a fitted sheet because bed sizes vary. A flat sheet can be used in many ways – as your bed sheet, to enclose a fragrant duvet, thrown over a fragrant sofa.

Most hotels do not use highly fragranced bedding. Their wash is done commercially, and these places tend to use fragrance-free detergents.

Most vacation rentals/airbnbs wash their own sheets and in Europe the normal washing soap is very fragrant. Fabric softeners are even worse. Chances are very good that your bedding and towels will have a strong fragrance. These fragrances transfer to the duvet. When I encounter these fragrances, I remove the sheets and pillow cases and use my own. I take the duvet or blanket and hang it outside in the sun for a day and this helps.

Bring your own washing soap. I travel with my own clothes washing powder for hand or machine washes. You can find fragrance-free washing soap in most countries, but it is not always easy to find. Look in the natural foods shops. It is easier to bring it with you than spend precious holiday time hunting for it.

De-fragrance the washing machine. The washer in most vacation rentals will have been used with highly fragranced washing soap and if you wash your clothes in it, even using fragrance-free soap, your clothes will become scented. This is what I do to de-fragrance the machine:
  • Remove the soap dispenser. It may take a bit of fiddling, but they all come out of the machine. Give it a very good wash to remove all the old soap. Clean the area around the dispenser too.
  • Do a vinegar wash. Buy a bottle of white vinegar, pour half into the soap dispenser and half into the machine and do a hot wash. This really clears out the fragrance.
  • Do a test wash. I do a test wash on our underwear because if they have fragrance you usually don’t notice it. If they come out relatively fragrance-free, then you can wash other things. If they don’t, then do handwashing only.
  • Don’t use the dryer. There is no way to clean it out and it always seems to pass fragrance onto the clothes. Drying clothes outside on a rack or line also helps remove residual fragrance.
Buy fragrance-free dishwashing liquid. Dishwashing liquid can be very fragrant. If you have a dishwasher and are not going to use it much, then you can get away with using what they have in the house/apartment. Otherwise look for fragrance-free liquid in the shops. This is usually easier to find than fragrance-free clothes washing soap.

Ask for fragrance-free Get Togethers (GTGs). I hate doing this but I have to do it frequently. If we are meeting up with someone on a trip, I ask them to not wear perfume or aftershave. You can’t ask someone to be fragrance-free because that would be too involved in their personal body care routine. Most people use a lot of fragrance without realizing it – shampoo, hair spray, in their clothes from their washing soap, skin moisturizers – but if you are not living with them, you can keep your distance a bit and not be bothered. But perfume or aftershave on a person you are having lunch with can be overwhelming to someone who is sensitive to these chemicals, so it is best to ask for people to not use these.

That’s it. Let’s all have happy fragrance-free holidays and hope that the fragrance industry is soon outed the way the cigarette industry was all those years ago.

If you have questions or advice, or other solutions, post them in the comments.

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Valerie who lives in Italy recommends this fragrance-free washing soap that can be found there. I found this eco dishwashing liquid that has some fragrance, but it is not strong. Products labeled as Hypoallergic are less fragrant.

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I found Winni's in Italy and while it has some fragrance, it is not strong.

Pauline Kenny lives in the UK and hates how the fragrance (chemical) industry has affected her life.
 

Giulia da Urbino

100+ Posts
Glad to know that Winni's and eco Chante Claire are reasonable options! I never found something completely unscented in my local shops but we only use Ecolabelled soaps both for cleaning/washing and to leave in the apartments for guests, hoping that the scents are as natural as it gets.
A question: the only scented item that we sometimes leave (outside) is citronella candles against mosquitoes... would those be ok?
 

chachalaca

100+ Posts
...but citronella is SO strong. For me, they are a definite "no". I'm like Pauline, except I can tolerate most essential oils as long as they are pure so I often use a little lavender or tea tree oil on my clothing.

And while we're on the topic, how about fragrance-free airlines? and restaurants? A heavily perfumed woman or heavily cologned man can be the cause for a serious migraine for me; not to mention the fragrance ruins a meal or glass of wine. And don't even get me started on scented house candles!
 

susan

100+ Posts
A question: the only scented item that we sometimes leave (outside) is citronella candles against mosquitoes... would those be ok?

I also have a difficult time with citronella but I can handle it when it is outside and I sit away from it and where the wind blows the scent in the opposite direction. Thank you, Giulia, for being concerned about it might affect others.

And while we're on the topic, how about fragrance-free airlines? and restaurants? A heavily perfumed woman or heavily cologned man can be the cause for a serious migraine for me

YES!!! AND ALSO the workplace!! I had to deal with this problem all the time in Hawaii. Since moving to Colorado, I have lived in scent free bliss, or if exposed, it has been very minimal and I have been able to manage the exposure. That all ended last week.

As I walked to work last Friday, I first smelled the perfume coming from a person probably 30 feet ahead of me. I was horrified when she went in the door to our office. She is now working in the same place I am. Even though I stayed on the opposite side of the work area and shut the door to the little room where she hung up her coat that reeked of perfume, it was impossible to avoid the smell. I ended up going home sick 3 hours later.

As a retired teacher, my seasonal winter job is mostly something I do for the social aspect and the great benefits. It's also a way to make a little extra money, but it is not a job I need to survive.

It ended up being a pretty upsetting weekend for me trying to figure out what I am going to do. This season is just about over and I have arranged to only work on days she is not working, but I can't see working with someone wearing heavy perfume next season.

It is interesting how most people have no clue about just how harmful a scent can be to those sensitive to synthetic fragrances. Other people have no sense of smell, so they don't even smell the offensive smell.

When I brought it up with some of my supervisors, I was told each time, "don't worry, we can work around it." I don't think any of them replied to me in a manner indicating that they didn't care. They just don't understand. I can't just work around it. I don't want to have to live my life worrying about using the same bathroom or being in the same space with a heavily perfumed person, even if only for a short amount of time, as it will continue to happen all winter long.

Even if she is asked to not wear the perfume to work, the type of perfume she wears is soaked in her clothes. She would have to de-perfume her house/her clothes/her life, which is not going to happen. I just don't see it working out, so after an emotional weekend, I've pretty much decided that if she returns, I will not.

There really needs to be more education about just how harmful scents can be for some people. I am grateful to everyone who does understand.

Thank you, Pauline, for this Fragrance - Free Travel resource.
 
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chachalaca

100+ Posts
Yes, yes and yes! A former colleague wore so much perfume that you could tell she'd walked down the hall even though she wasn't IN the hall. I teach at a high school and oh, those teens! If a tiny bit of scent is "lovely" then a lot must be better!! Smelly boys wearing too much cologne is the worst! So is the Febreeze the secretary smothers the office in, the carpet cleaner the custodians use, etc.

Our nurse told the building that all scents were no longer to be used, but that doesn't seem to matter.

Those unaffected by scent just don't get it. I REALLY appreciate the post!
 

joe

500+ Posts
It is interesting how most people have no clue about just how harmful a scent can be to those sensitive to synthetic fragrances.
There really needs to be more education about just how harmful scents can be for some people.

Things are going to change only when people realize how harmful fragrances are to THEMSELVES.
Just like in the cigarette, pesticide/herbicide, and food industries. It took decades for this to occur in the latter, so not much reason for optimism - the present situation is that there are loopholes in regulation that enable these substances not even to be listed on the products.
I also detest them, but can live with completely natural ones. Traveling 4-5 hours in a bus here, which I sometimes have to, with no way of opening a window, can be really sickening for me.
 

Bob Fleming

New Member
I have a chronic respiratory disease and find all fragrances found in modern society very distressing. We try to eliminate all synthetic scents in the house but it is impossible to avoid when going out. We have friends whose houses we hate to visit any more because the whole family has doused themselves in common fragranced laundry detergent/softener, plus they use plug-in air 'fresheners', and the air in their house is just a chemical soup. They are all happily oblivious to it, but we come away feeling ill and have to immediately change and launder all our clothes afterwards, even underwear. My partner likes to use Ecover laundry detergent at home, which has soft natural scents, but I use and recommend borax mixed with sodium bicarb (put 1 large spoon of each in the washing machine). This will clean out any machine contaminated with previous scents, and leaves clothes smelling completely neutral. Borax kills bacteria too, and is economical to use.

I've actually lost my sense of smell in recent years due to my progressive illness but fragrances still cause me problems...I can tell I'm inhaling SOMETHING which is making my head ache, throat sore and lungs feel bad after a while, but I just can't discern exactly what it is nowadays. My partner's sense of smell though is still extraordinary - she can tell hours later if somebody has been to visit our house just by the scent trail they have left in the air, and once was able to tell the position where someone had sat on our sofa 24hrs earlier just by sniffing each cushion!
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
I use and recommend borax mixed with sodium bicarb (put 1 large spoon of each in the washing machine). This will clean out any machine contaminated with previous scents, and leaves clothes smelling completely neutral. Borax kills bacteria too, and is economical to use.

I have borax but have not tried it. I will give it a try - and bring some with me to Italy to clean out the washers before I use them. Thanks!

I have an extraorindary sense of smell like your partner. I have been known to sniff seat cushions. I can tell that Steve will react to something before he does.

When I am around a very bad fragrance, I don't just smell it but I feel the chemicals on my lips and in my mouth.
 

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