A simple air freshener

by Kristen on December 20, 2011 · 55 comments

in Housekeeping

It’s possible that I’m the only person on the planet who hasn’t done this much until recently, but just in case some of you are in the dark, I’m going to share. ;)

I’m not an enormous fan of plug-in air freshening devices, mainly because they aren’t free and because they do create some unnecessary trash. It’s not that I visit someone’s house and recoil in horror when I see a plug-in, it’s just that I can’t usually bring myself to buy any for my own home.

I do like scented candles, but of course, the ones with non-cheesy scents* don’t come cheap.

*I’m sure you know the ones…the fruit-scented candles that smell like children’s lip gloss, and the pine-scented candles that make your house smell like Pine-Sol.

Even if you don’t normally use air-fresheners, if you’ve made fish for lunch and are then having people over to your house, you might be desperate for some sort of air-freshener.

Not that I would know about that.


If you, like me, appreciate a spice/orange scented smell, this will fill the bill for you. It’s super easy, and as a bonus, it squeezes a little more use out of something that’s headed to the compost.

All you need is citrus peels (I’ve used orange, clementine, and tangerine with no discernible difference in the aroma), cinnamon stocks, and whole cloves.

Just deposit them in a pot (I like to break my cinnamon stick first), add enough water to cover the ingredients, and bring it all to a low simmer.

Once you’ve brought the water to a simmer, you can turn your burner down to a very low heat setting, and you’ll still get a lovely scent. It smells a lot like Russian tea to me…orangey and spicy.

Just be sure not to let all the water boil out, or you’ll have a scorched mess on your hands (fortunately, I’m not speaking from experience, though I’ve certainly scorched other things!)

Once you’re done using the orange peels and spices, you can drain the water and put the solids in your compost pile. No waste!

As far as ingredients go, the orange peels are free, assuming you eat oranges in the winter. The cloves and cinnamon can be more pricey, but check your grocery store to see if they have an ethnic foods or bulk foods section. Weis has an international foods aisle, and I can buy all sorts of spices there for far less than in the regular spice aisle. You can keep an eye out at this time of year for sales on whole spices as well, since they’re considered to be a holiday ingredient.

You can also save your cinnamon stick and cloves to use in the next batch, as I highly doubt they exhaust their entire aromatic capabilities in just one day.

Now that I’ve written this post, I’m wondering if there are any other good spice/peel combinations. If you know of one, leave a comment!


Today’s 365 post: Curling ribbon is harder than it looks.

Joshua’s 365 post: Joshua didn’t get a post up, so I’m hijacking his blog today.


Leave a Comment

{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Yvonne Fawehinmi December 20, 2011 at 7:19 am

I have heard, not yet tried, that putting a cinnamon stick into your vacuum bag is a good air freshener. I think I will give that a shot today since I have to vacuum anyways.


2 Jo@simplybeingmum December 20, 2011 at 11:53 am

Pine branches can also work with vacuums. Figured this out when accidentally hoovering some up from under our tree a few years back…


3 Kristen December 20, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Me too! I sometimes purposely put a new bag in the vacuum after we take our tree out…I vacuum up all the needles, and it makes the vacuum smell lovely until we need a new bag.


4 Ann December 20, 2011 at 7:38 am

I do this frequently! It also humidifies the air in your home a little bit. The cinnamon stick can be used at least 3 times for this purpose and continues to provide a good smell. This is also a good use for a moldy piece of citrus, if you find one hiding in the fridge. Just cut off the mold and throw the remainder of the fruit into the simmering water.

Another nice smell is created with lemon peel and a mint-tea teabag or lemon peel and a spring of rosemary. If you like a pine smell, you can use a piece of your Christmas tree!


5 Beth R. December 20, 2011 at 7:58 am

I recently heard of someone throwing orange peels and cinnamon stick in their wood burning fireplace, saying that it gave a nice spiced tea scent. Sadly, I have gas logs so I can’t try it, but it sounds great!


6 Terri S. December 20, 2011 at 8:02 am

Also, if you find a really cheap crock-pot at Goodwill, you can put ingredients in it and leave on all day without watching your stove.


7 Libby December 20, 2011 at 8:31 am

Not only does this method of air freshening generate no waste, it is also chemical-free. The plug-in air fresheners are pumping chemicals into the air that we end up breathing. Yeah for all natural!


8 Sharon December 20, 2011 at 8:31 am

I once put cinnamon on a baking pan and turned the oven on low when I had invited friends over for Christmas cookies. As soon as they walked in they said, “It smells like cookies!” Of course, running your oven for very long isn’t very frugal!

Sadly, due to sinus problems I’m almost completely without a sense of smell these days. I’m praying it will come back. I had a fire in my toaster over a few months ago that I didn’t even smell before I saw it! Who knew a sense of smell was a safety issue!


9 Sharon December 20, 2011 at 8:32 am

P.S. I appreciate non-synthetic smells as even if I can’t smell them, I’m allergic to the artifically scented candles, room fresheners, etc.


10 Linda H. December 20, 2011 at 9:51 am

I went to a dinner party on Saturday. As the night went on I became more and more congested to the point I could hardly breathe. I figured at least one pine scented jar candle was to blame. Turns out when I politely asked if we could extinguish this one candle they admitted that there were five pine scented candles burning (two in sconces on either side my head over the table) and one pine scented plug in. We need to keep in mind that these are chemicals. My friends were nice about it and after opening a window and blowing everything out, I felt a lot better.


11 Lisa @ Cents To Save December 20, 2011 at 8:41 am

I do like the smelly candles, especially the ones with great Christmas smells. Will have to give this a try too!


12 Jen December 20, 2011 at 8:41 am

I have done the cinnamon stick and cloves on top of our kerosene heater but I’ve never added orange peels. Will have to try that now!

I do have a strange question though. We are in central Maryland, and I shop at Weis too. I noticed just last week that there are so many cheaper spices in the international aisle! But, I admit, I wondered about their quality since they are so much cheaper? Do you know what the difference is, if any? Or why they are so much less expensive?

Merry Christmas!


13 Kristen December 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

I have no idea why they’re so much cheaper, but thus far, I have not noticed a difference in quality.


14 Virginia Dare December 21, 2011 at 8:08 am

Bulk spices at “international” or “ethnic” stores, or even that section at a mainstream supermarket, are mind-bogglingly lower-priced than the ones in the little red-topped jars. Even salt is cheaper. Oh, and saffron! $19 for a tiny jar vs. a couple of bucks for more than enough! We have used these products with no discernable difference in quality.
I think there are a couple of things at play. 1) advertising and store placement costs–has been discussed plenty on this blog. 2) processing and transportation–bulk product in a cellophane envelope just costs less to pack and move around than tiny amounts in a tiny jar with a lid and 2 different seals. 3) the price the customer is willing to pay is always involved in a non-commodity product like this. The typical customer for these brands or at the specialty supermarket is usually not in the market for something at a premium price point.


15 Michelle H. December 20, 2011 at 8:46 am

We started doing this at our house a few years ago when I finally organized my spice cabinet and realized we had 3 tins of pumpkin pie spice….. and they were all older than the kids. LOL. Instead of just throwing them out my mom suggested simmering the spices on the stove in some water. Smelled wonderful!


16 Cate December 20, 2011 at 8:57 am

My mom has done this since I was a kid, and whenever I have orange peels around I do it, too. You can also do it with apple peels, though it isn’t as strongly-scented, or some crushed cranberries.


17 Sloan December 20, 2011 at 9:05 am

My mom always just used orange peels, so if you only have those, you can definitely use that.


18 Kristen December 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

And that would be SUPER cheap.


19 adventuresindinner December 20, 2011 at 9:13 am

I love anything lemon so I often mix juniper berries and lemon peel on the stove. Makes me feel that everything is clean.


20 WilliamB December 20, 2011 at 9:17 am

My friend was just remarking that her baking spices are too old to use. Now she’ll have a use for them.

Many realtors recommend simmering applesauce or apple cider before an open house or showing, for just this reason. I guess they’re assuming one adds cinnamon.

On a related note, if one wants to guerilla-advertize a BBQ or meat sampling, throw a sliced onion on the grill. That smell is also amazing.


21 Kristen December 20, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I baked cookies before we showed our house! Nice and homey smelling.


22 rebecca December 20, 2011 at 9:55 am

i frequently buy whole cardamom pods for tea , to boil with the water for Arabic style hot tea. I love the smell, but deff buy the pods in bulk from an ethnic store or other source, the little bottles of pre ground spice in the spice isle are 10 times the price.

And I do this so often, but don’t want to leave hot stuff on the stove unattended with cognitively challenged kids at home, so I am searching Goodwill for a little 3 cup mini crockpot to use instead.


23 maria in chicago December 20, 2011 at 10:07 am

I am exactly the same…. Those chemical-y plug-ins give me headaches, but I like a pretty, subtle scent at my place. The orange peel and cinnamon sticks boiling smell like Christmas! So nice.


24 Live and Learn-Toss and Turn December 20, 2011 at 10:28 am

I did this a few days ago with lemon peels, cinnamon, and cloves using old spices from my spice cabinet. Smelled great.
However, I don’t know if anyone else has had this problem, but my pot still had a little of the smell in it after I washed it. It had a nonstick coating, so that might had absorbed it. So, if you have choice, I wouldn’t use a pot with a nonstick coating.


25 Kristen December 20, 2011 at 8:21 pm

That’s good to know. I’ve only done it in my stainless steel pot, and of course that doesn’t absorb odors.


26 melissa December 20, 2011 at 10:33 am

You can also use whole apples or oranges (I’d imagine any fruit would work) that is past the point of being able to eat but not moldy. Also, ground cinnamon works just as well (maybe even better) than the sticks, and it’s WAY more frugal.


27 Heather :) :) :) December 20, 2011 at 11:26 am

Oh, this sounds really nice :) I have a teeny tiny slow cooker that is specifically for stuff like potpourri…so I’m going to using that!!! Love and hugs from the ocean shores of CAlifornia, Heather :)


28 Missy December 20, 2011 at 11:33 am

I also put a whole orange on a plate and poke it full of whole cloves and sprinkle it with cinnamon. I also, have used my crock pot on LOW and filled it with cut up oranges, apples, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and allowed it to simmer allllllll day long covered in just enough water to cover the items. It smells wonderful and adds some much needed moisture to the air too. It gets cold and dry here in N. Ky.! Enjoy :)


29 Jo@simplybeingmum December 20, 2011 at 11:52 am

I was so expecting to see a photo of an open window :-) then realised it must be pretty cold where you are!
I’ve boiled cinnamon sticks to neutralise other cooking smells whilst cooking, particularly very strong smells such as curry etc…
Cinnamon can be put in vacuum’s, another good thing to pop in is some rogue pine off a Christmas tree…


30 Kristen December 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Oh, I’m a big fan of an open window when the air isn’t cold (or hot). But at this time of year, opening the window isn’t a very frugal thing to do!


31 Ada December 20, 2011 at 11:58 am

I love this idea and will try it tonight! I’m pretty picky about the things that I smell (telling me “here, smell this” is a sure-fire way to get me to back away from you, and I rarely smell perfumes in stores). I also can’t stand scented candles and plug-ins because they never smell “real” and they give me allergies. Simmering orange peels and cinnamon sticks is a “real” smell, and not an artificial reproduction-sounds delicious!


32 Melissa December 20, 2011 at 12:05 pm

We do this, but only use cinnamon sticks. I’ll have to try a bit of lemon peel and a mint tea bag, that sounds like a delicious scent, and we have ton of green tea mint teabags right now.


33 David Liddle December 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm

How about a bowl of good old chicken soup – that always smells good! But then I am just a guy! (I even think that WD40 smells good!)


34 Glory Lennon December 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I like freshening the air with apples and cinnamon especially, but Lemon balm, lemon grass or mint leaves do a nice job too and to make things even better, it makes a nice natural herbal tea. That way you waste even less! And yes, the cinnamon sticks and cloves can be used over and over and still smell great.


35 Amy December 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I have done this with any citrus rinds (orange in the winter, grapefruit or lemon in the spring) also apples and pears, the rinds are not as fragrant as pieces/chunks of fruit. I also have used tea bags, as mentioned by someone else.


36 Lilia December 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Tea bags for strongly sented herbal teas work great as well. You can even add spices of citrus to them. My old boyfriends Mom used to throw a cast iron pot filled onto their wood burning stove to help humidify the air and make it smell nice.


37 sonya December 20, 2011 at 1:57 pm

i have that simmering on my stove right now!!! love it!!


38 Randi December 20, 2011 at 4:24 pm

re: Candles. Glade has a promotion at Target. If you buy 5 glade products( I bought all candles), you get a 5.00 gift card. They are on sale for 2.50 each. There are Always coupons availble too. I got 5 candles for a total of 4.75. Not too bad and those candles are highly scented and last a long time. They have some great xmas scents too.


39 CNM December 20, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Another idea that I have used is placing an apple peel near the flame of a large candle. The apple peel will brown and make the house smell of apple pie. Of course, you have to watch it while it’s burning so it doesn’t catch fire.


40 Emily December 20, 2011 at 6:56 pm

This makes me think of my mom! At Christmas time, she’d always boil cinnamon sticks in a little pot on the back burner of the stove.


41 EngineerMom December 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Whenever I make apple pie, I do something similar with the peels and cores. You can also add candied ginger!


42 Kristen December 20, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Of course, when you’ve made an apple pie, it’s hardly possible for your home to smell bad. ;)


43 Alexis @ Simply Alexis December 20, 2011 at 9:42 pm

At my house, we also simmer a cinnamon stick and the extra apple peels from the apple pies we make. It helps me feel a lot better about all those wasted peels! And you get to have a house smelling like apple pie for even longer :)


44 Hip Mountain Mama December 20, 2011 at 8:28 pm

love this! I can smell it now!


45 Callie December 20, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Thanks for the reminder! I love doing this. Sometimes I find imitation extracts on sale for $1.00 (usually vanilla or almond) and they are a nice addition.


46 Erika December 20, 2011 at 9:17 pm

I bought a few of those plug-in air fresheners, until one time I pulled it out and put in on my side table because it was too strong smelling. It tipped over and some of the fluid leaked out and it COMPLETELY stripped the finish on my table (where the liquid contacted) down to the bare wood (and this was a commercially finished table!). I figured if it could do that to wood finish, what in the world was it doing to our lungs? I threw them all out immediately.

I’ve also heard that plug-ins have been known to cause house fires – not sure if it’s true, but I don’t want to test it!


47 Becky December 20, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I put an orange, a lemon, a few cinnamon sticks, some cloves, and a little nutmeg (from an old spice rack I bought at a yard sale) into bags with a note to simmer on the stove for a holiday air freshener and gave them as little christmas gifts to my coworkers on year. I also purchased some inexpensive vanilla extract thinking I had found a wonderful deal–it tasted TERRIBLE, but it made a nice addition to my simmering potpourri!


48 Jen Millard December 21, 2011 at 12:26 am

Great idea for air freshening! I love reading your blog because of a lot of the natural things you come up with and do like this – great ways to reuse things!
Had a thought for you – Have you even tried making your own distilled scented waters? Usually it involves a large stockpot, a smaller pan inside and simmering whatever you want the scent of, in the water in the pot and letting the distilled water run down into the smaller pan inside. You can add alcohol to help it “keep” longer or just refrigerate it and it should keep a few weeks and would be something to do with used fresh flowers and things like the orange peels and then you could have that bottle of water to spray last minute, it’d be natural and instead of running a crock or pan on the oven everytime you needed or wanted it, it could be there between times to use. :)
Just a random idea!


49 David Liddle December 21, 2011 at 7:43 am

I’m hurt! No one liked my idea of chicken soup? It is the greatest whether you are sick or if you just want your house to smell great, and inviting.


50 Cheeryshirley December 21, 2011 at 9:45 am

I’ve always used a mini-crockpot filled with: 1 cinnamon stick, 5 allspice, 5 cloves, small amount orange peels, small amount apple peels, fill with water…lasts 2 – 3 days…Mmmmmm! Also, when vacuuming, I would put vanilla extract on a cotton ball and put in vacuum’s exhaust and it would fill the house with warm vanilla! I soooo love smells! :) Cheeryshirley


51 Shaney Gober December 21, 2011 at 11:25 am

I do this too. I’ll throw in apple peels and a spoon full of used coffee grounds. Makes the whole house smells good.

Orange peels or squeezed limes or lemons in a bowl of water to steam your microwave is good to do.


52 Karen December 21, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Paula Deen made this on her show. Aunt Peggy’s Potpourri
Recipe courtesy Paula Deen (foodnetwork.com)

.Prep Time:10 min
Inactive Prep Time:– Cook Time:1 hr 0 minLevel:
Sliced apples
Sliced lemons
Sliced oranges
Bay leaves
Whole cloves
Cinnamon sticks
In a slow-cooker, combine fruit to preferences of smell. Cover in water. Top with bay leaves, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Leave slow-cooker on low.



53 Heather December 23, 2011 at 9:51 am

We leave a pyrex simmering on the woodstove all winter. Moisture for the air and scents for the stale house. I only replace the peels and cinnamon every few weeks, or when the water isn’t replaced soon eonough and the whole mess has burnt to the bottom.


54 Rosie July 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I’m way behind the curve on this one, but I’m always looking for new “receipes” for smell-goods at home.

One of my faves is sliced lemon (with a little bit of the peel zested in), vanilla extract, and a few sprigs of rosemary. simmered on low on the stove. smells amazing!


55 carla fraser September 21, 2014 at 1:34 am

thanks but im looking for a orange, vanilla essence, mint leaf and sea salt air freshner


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