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Pauline

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