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Fresh as a daisy, and is that a good smell?

One of the benefits of working from home is that you can safely retire to your own bathroom when the call of nature comes. Other such unsavoury yet inescapable odours can also be prevented from sullying one’s important professional thinking and working space, by, say, putting orange peel in a kitchen bin, or farting in a different room – preferably just before someone else goes in to suffer the consequences. Ahem.

My own workplace at OSMP HQ is a very decent sized room in a proper not-my-house building; I’m very lucky I don’t have to see patients in the corner of my living room or under the stairs, or even out in a shed – as is the shape I know many home offices have taken over the past 18 months. Plus I have a few fun items, such as a rising desk (to help reduce my risk of shortened life expectancy from what is essentially a desk-job, yes way) a parlour palm and a philodendron from the very lovely Botanic, and my colleague Alex Beach painted the room and put up some very cheery Van Gogh prints.

Whilst it’s a very bright and welcoming room, inevitably, on sunny days, I’ve heard things can get a little bit malodorous, right (asking for a friend)? And nobody wants to work in sweat pit, or indeed divulge their deepest worries or fears in one. No Siree. So that’s why we have to think of clever ways to either mask smells or get rid of them. Clearly the best solution would be to open a window. Remember, however, people usually dislike their private health concerns wafting over the breeze to the packed bus-stop on the pavement outside. That’s right folks, confidentiality trumps odour every time. What are the alternatives then? Well to be honest, I don’t much fancy being hidden by swirls of incense, or desperately reaching for the fire extinguisher as my nylon curtain catches fire from a scented candle. And then there are plug-ins. Ah fond memories! Years ago in a B&B I was woken in the night by the horrifying noise of sudden hissing. Turning on the light to visualise what must surely be a black mamba coming to eat me (unusual in Southport, granted), my eyes adjusted to the sight of a plug-in air freshener on some sort of insane timer alert thing. I still have nightmares about it. Urgh.

So this may explain why we so many of us have settled for aerosol sprays. My current companion is a Glade spray called ‘soft cotton’, which must have beaten off ‘rough hessian’ and ‘itchy sackcloth’ in the marketing meeting. I checked out the ingredient list. Not great really: butane, propane, isobutane…(so far, these are all words I associate with industrial grade combustion), ammonium hydroxide (a powerful bleach and cleaner – why would we need this in a spray?!), and benzalkonium chloride (another ingredient that can cause eye irritation, wheezing and skin rashes). I’d like to say it’s ridiculous that anyone would consider using these lavishly or anywhere near their body, but then I remembered a former US president who shall remain nameless, whose comments suggesting that such potent chemicals be injected into the body, led to an increase in accidental poisonings. Eyeroll.

Chemicals: yuck. Aerosols: also yuck! If you’ve seen my inhaler video from earlier this year, you’ll know that there’s been a huge push nationally to switch people from using traditional inhalers to a ‘dry powder’ form (or DPI), where appropriate. This isn’t the right treatment for everyone, but the DPIs have a lower carbon footprint because they don’t contain propellant. Propellants have improved since the 80s and are now less harmful to the ozone layer, but they are still compressed gases, so not only is their manufacture carbon intensive, they also contribute to ground-level smog that increases respiratory problems. Just reading this is making a tickle form at the back of my throat!

Well I intend to find a healthier solution. Hmph *stubborn face*. It must be possible to keep my room a bit more ‘quelle est cette odour agréable’ without harming the planet or inhaling any of these weird and probably not so wonderful particles. So last week I set to work and with the help of Instagram, found a recipe for a DIY air freshener that I am trialling in Bishopthorpe. If you’ve been in the front room there, there’s a little zero-waste pot of bicarb and essential oil with a jolly pink lid, that I hope will work some eco-magic should one of my more pungent colleagues happen to be consulting that day. Oops, job on the line here, ha! I mean, ahem, hopefully it will make the room a nicer place to work and more welcoming for our patients. Good for patients and good for the planet. That saying never wears thin!

Finally, I really do smell positive change in the air. Globally we successfully banned the most harmful propellants (CFCs) and in doing so, helped repair the hole in the ozone layer over our Antipodean friends. This means we can do good! Every small action is worth it! Even in something as seemingly inconsequential as phasing out your sprays, and switching to a planet- and lung-friendly alternative. So your challenge for this week, friends, is to see if you can do without air freshener in your place of work, or home. When it comes to unpleasant smells, we should use a fresh approach…

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