The Science behind stale indoor air!
Updated: Feb 28
Why does indoor smell matters?
We all deserve a living or working space which makes us feel good and at peace. Be it our home where our loved ones live and grow or office spaces where we need to do something productive. Indoor Air Quality is a well-known and studied parameter which affects the indoor environment. There are many factors which affects the air quality of our indoor environment and in turn our mood, health and energy levels. One such factor is odor or smell.
The sense of smell by means of olfactory receptors is one of the key faculty of human beings which helps us in navigating the world. By dint of evolution, humans were able to adapt to their surroundings with the help of sense of smell. It can help in knowing more about the ambient environment without direct contact or vision.
With the advent of urbanization and unprecedented growth of urban areas, our time spent in closed spaces is also increasing parallelly. Be it our houses, offices, cars, restaurants or gyms, we would like it to be a place with a pleasant and inviting smell. The smell can induce involuntary responses and emotions in human body and mind which can either attract or repel the inhabitants. It gives away information about the living space even before anyone utters a word.
An indoor space with malodors is not desirable generally. Considering malodor as a mere issue of aesthetic importance is an incomplete way of looking at the problem. It may not have direct toxicological effects, but can increase the chances of occurrence of several physical and mental problems.
People of all age group face problems due to foul odor. You can be young parents with children or waiting for bringing in a new baby or an elderly enjoying their life after retirement, you would not be willing to compromise with the safety and wellbeing of yourself or your loved ones.
What are the prevalent problems associated with musty and foul-smelling indoor spaces?
There are many widespread issues people face because of smelly indoors, some of them are:
· Headaches and in severe cases migraine
· Nausea which may lead to vomiting
· Irritation in eyes and/or throat
· Breathing & other respiratory problems
· Neurological problems like cognitive decline, anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorder (ADHD)
What are the major causes and sources of indoor smell?
The source of foul smell may be external which seeps in through openings or internal caused due to various activities we perform. But, in majority of the cases the cause of odor is internal. Main composition of these odors are VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and mVOCs (Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds). We can’t avoid performing our regular activities which is essential for our survival. It is to be understood that the best way to deal with malodor is not to mask the odor, but to eliminate the source of odor.
Some main questions that may arise in your mind regarding musty smelling indoor spaces:
1. Why our washing machines have a musty smell?
The unpleasant smell inside and around washing machines may be caused due to formation of mold, bacteria and mildew. These developments of microbes are because of the body oil, scum, dirt and hair coming from the clothes. These get deposited in gasket, seal and detergent dispenser. These in combination with temperature and humidity releases foul and musty smell.
2. How can we avoid stench from garbage storing places?
The stale smell around garbage buckets may be due to Sulphur containing, nitrogen containing or other compounds. Major contribution of smell in garbage is due to Sulphur containing compounds which are produced as a result of anaerobic breakdown of organic waste. Nitrogen based compounds are caused due to rotting meat. Other compounds are also caused due to anaerobic decomposition of the food waste.
3. Why my carpets are stinky?
The musty odor on carpets is due to moisture and dampness which causes propagation of microorganisms like mold and mildew.
4. What causes laundry storing places smell bad?
The places where we keep our dirty laundry generally stinks due to the release of gases by the bacteria breaking down the skin cells, sweat and other bodily fluids coming from laundry.
5. How to avoid smell caused due to pets?
Most of us are familiar with the stink of a pet house and know how unbearable it is for anyone. This is caused due to dirt, saliva, urine, dander and hair.
6. How can I get rid of smell in my sheets?
Be it home or in hotels, stale sheets are always a troublemaker. Like most of the sources of bad smell, presence of sweat, dirt, saliva and hair is the main cause for the odor.
7. Why car interiors smell bad?
The major culprits behind the car odor are spilled liquids, food crumbs, sweat, pet hair and moldy food. This causes the formation of mold and mildew colonies on carpet and upholstery.
8. How to freshen up gym floors and equipment?
As we all know gym floors and equipment are susceptible to exposure to immense amounts of sweat and body fluids, it is not difficult to understand the presence of microbes and in turn the musty smell.
9. How to make upholstery smell good?
Other than obvious causes like accidental spills, a fabric couch can trap cooking odors, body oils, fur, dust and much more. This is an obvious place to lookout for in case we experience bad smell.
10. How to make our curtains smell nice?
Apart from being prone to outdoor odors, dust and allergens as it is in near the openings of living spaces, it is also bound to collect and build up odor causing agents from the indoors as well. This, due to continuous accumulation over time causes contamination of indoor air and deteriorates the its freshness.
11. What is a natural way to freshen up restrooms?
Its not a news that our restrooms stinks. The obvious causes of smell can be washed and cleaned. But, the less obvious ones may be caused due to accumulation of smell on bathroom walls, curtains or doors. This may result in persistent malodor if not treated.
How we are dealing with the bad smell now and what’s the way forward?
Most of us are dealing with it with chemical air fresheners available in the market sold by big players in this space. These fresheners help only with masking the odor rather than eliminating the source of odor. Along with this, they come release several harmful components into the air which are responsible for deterioration of our health without us even knowing. Commonly used air fresheners include sprays, oils, gels, disks, diffusers and evaporators.
Air fresheners are generally packed with and emit more than 100 different chemicals such as terpenes, formaldehyde, benzene, ethyl-benzene, toluene, xylene and VOCs. They also emit semi-VOCs like phthalates. They can also react with indoor oxidants such as ozone(O3), hydroxyl radicals (OH) and nitrate radicals (NO3) to create a range of harmful pollutants.
They can cause many adverse effects such as migraine, headaches, asthma attacks, mucosal symptoms, dermatitis, infant diarrhea and earache, neurological problems and ventricular fibrillation.
So, what should we do in such a situation where we need to take into consideration the health and safety of our loved ones?
Recently, there has been a surge in number of people looking for chemical free room and car fresheners because of rise in awareness of hazards of using chemical air fresheners. There have been several cases of negative health impacts of chemical air fresheners in the recent past. Many are making their own fresheners at home and other are buying natural air fresheners.
The best way always is to use homemade freshener made from natural materials. Some examples of ingredients which can be used to make these fresheners are natural essential oils (peppermint, lavender, orange, chamomile, rosemary, lemon, grapefruit and clove), alcohol and water.
These may be very good natural alternative to chemical air fresheners because they cause no harmful health effects, but they come with their own drawbacks. These homemade fresheners like their chemical counterparts mask the odor instead of eliminating the source of odor. Another drawback is that they are not long lasting. We need something which is used not so frequently but at the same time gives a lingering sense of freshness.
Zerodor CARE Natural Freshener Spray comes from Ekam Eco Solutions, an IIT Delhi partnered venture is a pioneer in developing products in the sustainable sanitation sector. This venture is striving to help people and our planet to head towards a sustainable future.