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Odorless Cleaning Products for the Scent-Sensitive Migraineur

For the scent-sensitive migraineur, finding cleaning products that won’t trigger an attack can be difficult. In my years of searching, I’ve found some excellent products, both store-bought and homemade, that are free of migraine-triggering odors. Most are low in chemical risk as well, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. While I’m not strictly anti-chemical, I do wonder if it isn’t the scent of a product I react to, but the chemicals that make up the product. Since I’m all about minimizing every possible trigger, I play it safe by checking EWG’s database.

Seventh Generation’s unscented products are my go-to recommendation. I personally use their laundry detergent, fabric softener, dish soap, and dishwasher detergent. They are more expensive than conventional cleaners (though they are less expensive ordered online than purchased in a store), but are odor-free and low-chemical risk according to EWG’s database.

Bon Ami and Bar Keeper’s Friend, both of which can be found at most grocery stores, are inexpensive, odor-free choices for cleaning all surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, including toilets. Baking soda is also a good option, but requires a little more elbow grease. If your toilet has a special coating on it, check the manual to make sure it’s OK to use an abrasive cleaner (I learned that the hard way).

Hydrogen peroxide, which you can dilute with water, can be used as a bleach or stain remover for white clothes and as a disinfectant. I put it in a spray bottle for cleaning up after prepping meat in the kitchen.

Jojoba oil is an excellent unscented option for oiling wood and polishing leather shoes. It’s on the expensive end, but I’ve found it for a reasonable price at Trader Joe’s and from online sources. Mineral oil might be a less costly option, though I don’t have firsthand experience with it. Cooking oils are not a suitable substitute as they will go rancid after a time and smell stale.

Making your own household cleaners is easy and inexpensive as long as you can tolerate the smell of white vinegar or lemon juice. Annie Berthold-Bond’s book Better Basics for the Home is a comprehensive guide to homemade cleaning products, though an internet search will also yield tons of suggestions.

If you’re only concerned about odors and not chemicals, conventional cleaning products labeled “fragrance-free” or “unscented” are available at many grocery and big box stores. Although there are no legal guidelines for whether a product is called “fragrance-free” or “unscented,” common wisdom is that “fragrance-free” is naturally without scent, while “unscented” means chemicals were added to mask the scent. In either case, it’s best to smell them in the store to be sure you’re OK with even a faint odor.

Which low- or no-odor cleaning products are your favorites?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • glassmind
    2 months ago

    I use just plain water and sunlight for most cleaning around the house.

    I use “free” dishsoap by seveth generation. No harsh chemicals, fragrances, bunny-wafe, etc as needed. Yes, I use just water on dishes sometimes. Baking soda on ceramics as needed.

    I use olive oil to polish wood (I live in a dry climate)

    I mix tea tree and eucalyptus oil with water to refresh carpets and upholstery. It also is a critter detterrant, so I spritz in nooks, crannies and cupboards.

    I mix lavender oil and water as a fabric freshener in the bedroom and for clothes. I use “free” powdered laundry detergent pods by GrabGreen. Or hand wash with dishsoap.

    And I dilute bleach with water for deep cleaning of the bath and kitchen. I wear a surgical mask when I use it with the windows open and fans running.

    I have an enzyme cleaner for the drains and a different one by Nature’s Miracle for pet messes.

    My house is spic and span. Friends say I’m a cleam freak. I am. And I use just water and a clean rag almost all the time.

  • Criticatlarge
    2 months ago

    you say quote
    Seventh Generation’s unscented products are my go-to recommendation.
    unquote

    YESBUT.. these still contain chemicals…which smell and can cause migraines. I have an SO with multiple chemical sensitivity,we tried the dishwashing liquid. Horrid.

    Seventh Generation….not recommended, zero stars. “Fragrance free” does not not mean chemical free. Duh.

    Suki is spot-on (sorry to hear you’re as sensitive as my SO, is NO fun).

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    2 months ago

    Hi Criticatlarge, the Enviromental Working Group listed Seventh Generation as a low-chemical risk at the time I wrote this article. That may be too much for some people, so I offered suggestions for homemade products as well. We all have different sensitivity levels, so what works for one person may not work for everyone else.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  • Dee
    6 years ago

    Thanks for this article Kerrie. I too have searched the net looking for alternative cleaning products as toxic fumes are major triggers for me. Today I have a huge migraine thanks to the Lisol that was used yesterday in the bathroom. I knew yesterday itself that I would awaken today with a migraine. The smell lingers even after it has been rinsed away. I am planning to throw out all smelly cleaning products (once I am able) and switch to some of your suggestions. I have always suspected cleaning products as triggers but not really done anything about it. I do however try to use fragrance-free or low-scent skin care products. Funny how we never stop learning about ourselves with this disease.

  • Suki G.
    6 years ago

    oy!!! I can’t seem to write a suitable reply that fits in this box. Thanks for raising the topic. Instead of “sniff testing” (which might make you sick), folks could start reading the ingredients list and avoid the ingredient “fragrance”. The actual chemicals in “fragrance” are not disclosed (as per trade secret agreement between the fragrance industry and the FDA) but contain known neurotoxins. Migraineurs and neurotoxins probably don’t mix very well eh?
    Anne Steinemann at UW is one of the top researchers on this topic. http://drsteinemann.com/publications.html

    #fragrancefree is a trending topic so for resources and information on how to protect your nervous systems from fragrances search Pinterest, Twitter and elsewhere. Educate yourselves. Clear the air.

    By the way-to qualify- I have been diagnosed as a person with osmophobia (sensory disorder of smell 784.1) comorbid with chronic migraine. The products my neighbors use in their houses are not confined to their homes, I breathe them too (so do the birds, bees, pets and so forth in the area). They go up my nostril to the endings of the trigeminal nerves there and BINGO – the volatile petrochemical compounds in “fragrances” trigger migraine or cause pain if the migraine levels are already high (think flashing fluorescent lights photosensitive folks)- or heavy metal music.

    Suki Graves (@freeandclear1)

  • Criticatlarge
    2 months ago

    suki…sorry, s’no fun at all. thanks thanks, never heard of osmophobia, I just know my SO has the same issues you do. who diagnosed you? gotta find someone local to do that…
    take best care,
    Terry

  • Hijinx98
    4 years ago

    I have the same problem and don’t open any windows or doors without wearing a mask that removes all chemicals from the air I breath. It makes it hard on a trip in public (up to 12 hours without food or drink) but better then the migraines I get.

  • Ashley
    6 years ago

    I have been using Sevength Generation products for the last couple of months. I have had migraines for a while but I am newly scent-sensitive. The dryer sheets and fabric softeners used to really get me. SG makes some great products and like you, I have been using the dryer sheets, laundry detergent,dish soap and dishwasher packs. I need to look into your ideas for natural unscented spray cleaners too, although lysol wipes usually don’t cause me any trouble.

  • Diana-Lee
    6 years ago

    Like you, we use a lot of the unscented Seventh Generation products, as well as Bar Keeper’s Friend. I do well with Mrs Meyer’s products, too, but none of those scents bother me. I’m sure other people aren’t as lucky. I especially love the lavender stuff.

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