What does clean, fresh air smell like? Many people associate thunderstorms and the scent that they experience afterward as “clean”. This scent can be so soothing that some air cleaners and purifiers are labeled as “thunderstorm box” or “thunderstorm in a jar” according to the American Institute of Building Science,. What the creators of these products fail to share is that the fresh, post-storm (and even pre-storm) aroma they produce is mostly ozone, which they intentionally create in their “air cleaning” machine.
Naturally occurring ozone is formed in thunderstorms. Clouds produce an electrical charge, lightning occurs and nitric oxide is released into the atmosphere. The nitric oxide then reacts with other chemicals in the air to create ozone, which the storm pushes closer to the earth’s surface.
Inhaling ozone over a prolonged period of time, however, can cause lung damage. It can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and throat irritation, among other things. It can also trigger and worsen chronic respiratory conditions like asthma.
While short periods of ozone exposure at the low concentrations that occur before or after a storm is not considered dangerous. An ozone-producing device in your home or office that exposes you to higher concentrations of ozone on an ongoing basis is hazardous to your health, according to the EPA.
What are those fresh house scents?
We each have a different experience of what the smell of fresh air is. For some, it’s the soft scent of a pine or cedar fragrance. Those who grew up or live in Hawaii may identify the fragrance of fresh flowers with fresh air.
Unfortunately, the fresh scents of pine, cedar, citrus, and roses are often substituted in many modern homes with fragrances that attempt to imitate those scents. Today, many germicidal cleaning products, air fresheners and scented candles often utilize chemically manufactured fragrances.
Unfortunately, many of these items contain chemicals like limonene, a VOC that gives off a good and familiar odor.
Limonene imparts a lemony scent to candles and spray cleaners. Pinene, a chemical similar to pine, is also used to create a pine smell. Outdoors, limonene and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react with ozone to form secondary organic aerosols (SOAs), which are small particles suspended in the air and lead to the haze known as smog.
Limonene is also aerosolized indoors. When the limonene is aerosolized indoors it reacts with other chemicals in the air and produces one of the most common indoor pollutants called formaldehyde.
Limonene on its own is not considered to be harmful to our health. Formaldehyde, on the other hand, is linked to a variety of health effects and problems. Watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, wheezing, nausea, and skin irritation are all symptoms of formaldehyde exposure. Formaldehyde is considered carcinogenic at high concentrations.
Other chemicals found in cleaning products are even more toxic than formaldehyde . For example, phthalates, a class of chemicals linked to breast cancer, infertility, reduced thyroid hormone production, reproductive problems, and other health issues, are found in many detergents and other “fresh scent” detergents.
So what does clean really smell like?
Despite our best efforts to make our homes smell clean, the fact is that clean air can smell like… well, nothing. The absence of any specific odor is a sure sign of clean air in a household.
If odors do exist, it’s better to get rid of them rather than masking them with other scents. If possible, preventing odors from occurring in your home in the first place is the safest technique. However, if you have pets or regularly cook indoors, it can be difficult to eliminate odors completely.
Well designed ventilation systems, including a high-performance kitchen range hood that is vented to the outside, can help. A high-performance air cleaner such as the HealthMate can eliminate odors easily while protecting you from harmful airborne particles as well as the spread of viruses and bacteria.
The air in your home will be cleaner and healthier if you are able to address odors rather than masking them with fragrances and scents.