Natural items like balsam fir clippings, cloves, cinnamon and orange peels can be added to water and simmered on top of the stove to provide fresh, non-toxic scents inside the home. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

For as long as people have lived indoors, they have produced unpleasant smells and odors.

On top of that, the recent discovery of bacteria in a commercial aromatherapy spray linked to a serious and rare disease shows some solutions to bad indoor air odors can create bigger problems.

With the onset of cold weather, keeping windows open for fresh air is not always the best option. Maine homes tend to be airtight to keep out the winter chills. But what keeps the cold air out can keep particles and odors in. And those can create issues ranging from mildly annoying smells to dangerous respiratory problems.

If it’s too cold or stormy to fling your windows open, there are local and do it yourself options to improve the smell of your living space.

A great method is to incorporate heat with your favorite scents. Toss things like mulling spices, apple cider, slices of citrus fruit, cinnamon sticks, mint, cloves or other sweet smelling spices in a crockpot of any size. Plug it in on low and let it simmer uncovered. The released steam will produce a fall-like scent in your home.

If you don’t have a crockpot, you can do the same thing with the same ingredients in a small saucepan or pot on your stove. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Just make sure you check the level in the pot on a regular basis and never leave the stove on if you are leaving your house.

If you heat your home with a woodstove, set the pot filled with your spices, liquid and any other nice smelling ingredient on top of it and let it simmer. Again, be sure to check the level to make sure the liquid has not fully evaporated.

To get a fresh, forest-like smell in your house, instead of using spices and fruit, bring a batch of pine or fir needles to a boil in water and allow it to simmer.

For odors that need eliminating, placing a bowl of vinegar near the point of origin will absorb bad smells. As will open containers of baking soda.

Room sprays can also help. Though as far as Nicole Starbird of Starbird Hill Farm in Sumner is concerned, when it comes to anything you are going to breathe in, locally made is the way to go.

“When you have something made in large batches on an assembly line there are more people touching it and more mistakes can be made,” Starbird said. “And people don’t always think about what can be in room sprays and it’s pretty horrible.”

Many commercial room and household sprays and room deodorizers can emit more than 100 different chemicals. These include volatile and semi-volatile compounds like ethanol, formaldehyde and benzene.

To provide an alternative for her family, Starbird started making her own scented room sprays using only distilled water, a biodegradable emulsifier, a natural preservative and all-natural essential oils.

She started making the sprays and other natural household and body products at the start of the pandemic. She said it was to become more self-sufficient and to make use of the milk produced by her goats. That milk goes into soaps and lotions.

“We started testing it last year,” Starbird said. “People are really liking it.”

For Nicole Farley, owner of Mainely Scents, if it’s a product she would not use in her home, she won’t make it or sell it.

Farley began selling her scented wax melts — or wickless candles — using coconut wax and non-toxic fragrance oils a month ago and said there is interest from people looking for local alternatives. It’s been so popular she is going to be at a pop up event at the Brewer Community School this Saturday.

“I think the non-toxic factor is a big thing for people,” Farley said. “People worry about their kids and pets being around dangerous chemicals and are leaning toward healthier choices.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described a wickless candle product.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.