Last week, Mel wrote a great post which clearly pointed out the dangers of commercial air fresheners and chemicals in a bird’s environment. A cockatiel belonging to a nursing home resident struggled to breathe while being subjected to the fumes from a plug in air freshener and Mel had to come to the rescue.
The warnings about air fresheners have been circulating for some time and as usual, some people take them seriously and others do not. We know good air quality for your parrot needs to be high on your priority list, so let’s start at the beginning…
Why do air fresheners cause harm to a bird, but not a human?
A bird’s respiratory system is very dynamic and transports oxygen much more efficiently than does our own respiratory system or that of other mammals.
The best example of this might come from the early days of coal mining, when workers used to place a cage of canaries in the shaft of mines that were suspected of containing lethal gasses. After a period time, they would re-enter the mine and assess the condition of the canaries to judge the safety of the area for humans.
Birds were used for this test because a determination could be made quickly – a bird will process and succumb to toxic air faster than a mammal of similar size. A mouse, say, would take twice as long to die.
The breathing apparatus that is so advantageous to a bird in the wild puts them at risk in the human environment.
Air fresheners pose two dangers…
1) Many are dispersed into the air in spray or aerosol form. This is a problem for birds. Sprays are made up of particles which linger in the air and give a bird no choice but to breathe them in. Aerosols are particularly dangerous because the contents of the can is under high pressure and the spray comes out with greater force, in smaller particles that stay afloat longer and reach further distances. Powdered rug deodorizers, for instance, will also contaminate the air as they are shaken out and the lightweight powder is carried away in the homes normal air currents. Plug in fresheners and scented candles use heat to project their scent into the air and currents to disperse it.
2) These products contain toxic substances. If it isn’t bad enough that all those particles enter your bird’s body as it breathes, multiply that problem by 100 by adding poison to it. Seriously. You don’t that the can of “spring breeze” scented air freshener actually contains a flowering meadow? No. Those odors are created in a laboratory with chemicals.
And just for the record, these products are not good for you, your family or the other pets in your house either. That we don’t die from something is not evidence it is safe.
I found over the years that some people get annoyed with me as I continually request that they change their ways and give up certain products. However, birds are not like humans or cats or dogs and therefore, we do have to make adjustments to the way we do things when we keep them in our home. Sometimes it is inconvenient for a while but as time passes new things become the standard. Keeping your bird alive and healthy should be all the motivation you need to change your habits.
If your house smells, clean it.
Unless you have a large number of birds in one room or if you haven’t changed the substrate or removed dropped food from the cage bottom for some time, you should never smell your birds in your house. Never accept odors as being part of bird ownership, dust yes, odors no.
The best ways to keep your house from smelling funny is to:
- Vacuum frequently, move the cages and clean underneath them often.
- Keep the trash emptied.
- Clean pet areas like litter boxes and dog beds frequently.
- Steam clean carpeting and upholstery as necessary. Steam is proven to clean as effectively as chemicals and so much more safely.
- Use the exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom and invest in a good quality HEPA filter to remove odors from the house.
- Open the windows wide whenever the season allows and let fresh air do some of the work.
Recipes for “Common Sense Scents”:
Smells are a big part of how we perceive our world. Scent can define a person or a place and it calls up wonderful memories. The smell of cookies or pies baking brings you right back home again.
Having birds doesn’t mean you that you can’t enjoy a pleasant smelling house – it just means that you have to create aromas in a smarter, safer way using common sense.
There is no end to the combinations of fruits, extracts, spices and herbs you can use to make your house smell like a slice of heaven. Individual tastes and experimentation will help you arrive at the perfect one.
On the stove top:
It is simply a matter of adding ingredients to boiling water and reducing the heat to simmer. As long as you keep adding water as it evaporates (never leave a pot unattended), you can keep a pot of yumminess simmering all day.
When choosing ingredients, I find that the sturdiest ones are the most durable for long term simmering like twiggy herbs such as sage and rosemary, and fruits that are still attached to their rinds. I also find that fresh herbs are suited better to a larger room because of their aromatic potency – they can become over whelming in small rooms. I will sometimes add them at the boiling stage and remove them after about 15 minutes of simmering.
Here are some simple, yet fragrant recipes:
FALL AND CHRISTMAS SCENTS:
Apple Spice: 1 tablespoon of cloves, 3 cinnamon sticks, 1 apple sliced into wedges and 1 cup of cranberries.
Winter Wonderful: Peel of one orange, 2 teaspoons dried nutmeg, I teaspoon vanilla extract, 3 cinnamon sticks, and two 1″ thick slices of ginger (for a variation, add a 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract).
Pine Forest: 1 sliced lemon, and a handful of fresh pine needles.
SPRING AND SUMMER SCENTS:
Italian Spring: 1 sliced lemon, 1 handful of basil sprigs, 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
Island Getaway: 1 tablespoon of coconut extract and 2 sliced limes.
NOTE: Don’t forget about other dry spices like allspice, anise (or star anise for more potency) and apple pie spice and try adding your favorite spiced tea to the water.
Bottle your favorite recipes in a cleverly decorated mason jar to make a wonderful and unusual gift for the holidays or as a thank you to your dinner party host for their hospitality.
In the oven:
- In an oven safe ceramic dish, place a tablespoon of your favorite extract in a 300 degree oven for about an hour. Your house will smell delicious.
- Slice a couple of lemons in half and bake them on a foil lined cookie sheet at 225 degrees for 60 -90 minutes.
NOTE: Experiement! There are many more extract varieties available that you can find in your local supermarket. A google search can open up a whole new world for you.
Essential oils are extracted from plants and very potently deliver its scent. A few drops is usually more than enough to get the job done.
Some people like to sprinkle a few drops here and there throughout the house. Others don’t want to risk oil coming in contact with their carpet or furniture and choose to use a diffuser. There are several types of diffusers: some are electric, some are used with candles, others are simply made of porous materials like terra cotta that collects and holds the scent of the oil. The latter are the ones I feel are safest for use with parrots.
A couple of other options are using a small jar filled about 1/3 full with baking soda, sprinkle several drops of essential inside and cover with a perforated lid. Another method is to use cotton balls or fabric sprinkled with essential oil in place of the baking soda.
Keep in mind that the essential oils on the market will vary in quality. Some have additives that might be undesirable. Young Living essential oils is a good choice and the one that is most commonly used by the parrot owners whose opinions I trust.
Potpourri is a concoction of dried botanicals, essential oils and an absorbent fixative that keeps it smelling great for a long time (usually made of a natural, non allergenic cellulose). The dried ingredients and fixative, as well as containers and sachet bags, can be purchased online at a place like this.
When you use scents to change the smell of your house remember that even if it is not high in the particulate matter or toxins that make it dangerous, it could still be an unpleasant experience for your bird (or family) if is it is too potent.
Some herbs and essential oils can most definitely overwhelm if they are over used. Remember to go lightly with ingredients to begin with – you can always add more if needed. Be watchful of your birds response to any new smells.
We would love for you to share your recipes and ideas for parrot safe room fresheners and deodorizers.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.