Fragrance-free Vacation Rentals Please!

We have been sold a false image of fragrance. Manufacturers tell us it is like a spring day, fresh flowers, lemon scented, but nothing about fragrances used in most personal and household products is natural. These are synthetic fragrances, full of chemicals that produce the smell, others that make sure the smell lasts and others that do who-knows-what.

Fragrance is added to the obvious – perfume, aftershave, air freshener – and the not-so-obvious – soap, shampoo, laundry soap. Even household cleaning products have added fragrance. Think about how many of these you use in a day. Studies are showing that these chemicals are having a bad effect on our health.

When I walk into a house where air freshener is used I feel dizzy and slightly sick. If I am with someone wearing perfume, I feel very unwell. I know many people who avoid these fragrances as I do. Some people are sensitive to them like I am, but others are very sensitive to them and don’t travel because they cannot be exposed to these chemicals. Do you sneeze when you walk down the fragrant laundry soap isle in the supermarket? You are reacting to these chemicals.

The chemicals used in fragrance are not listed in the ingredients because legally a fragrance manufacturer does not have to tell us what chemicals they use. They claim they have to protect their “secret” formula.

“The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on a cosmetic ingredients list usually represents a complex mixture of dozens of chemicals. Some 3,000 chemicals are used as fragrances. Of the thousands of chemicals used in fragrances, most have not been tested for toxicity, alone or in combination. Many of these unlisted ingredients are irritants and can trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms.”
David Suzuki Foundation – Fragrance and parfum

To avoid synthetic fragrances, don’t use any product that has one of these ingredients: fragrance, perfume, parfum (French), profumo (Italian).

Ingredients on Italian laundry soap
Ingredients on Italian laundry soap

Three Easy Ways to Make Your Vacation Rental Fragrance-Free

Even if you are not affected adversely by synthetic fragrances, you may want to remove them from your vacation rental because many people like me are sensitive to them. If your vacation rental is fragrance-free tell us on your website or your HomeAway/AirBnB/etc. page.

1. Don’t use air fresheners. If you want to remove smells, remove them, don’t cover them up with chemicals. Open the windows and let the fresh air in. Put some “real” lavender or herbs in a bowl to give a natural scent. Plugin air fresheners and air freshener sticks are the worst. Their chemicals fill the air and get absorbed into the furnishings and curtains.

2. Don’t use scented candles. They seem romantic and natural, but most use synthetic fragrance. You can’t stop your guests from using them, but you don’t have to encourage their use by providing them.

French fragrance-free laundry soap
French fragrance-free laundry soap

3. Don’t use scented laundry products, fabric softener or dryer sheets. This is the tricky one. It is not easy to find unscented laundry soap. Start at your local supermarket and look for products that are “sensitive” or “hypo-allergenic”. Read the ingredient list. If fragrance or perfum is there, it is not fragrance-free.

“Clothing and bedding washed and dried with fragranced products provide a constant exposure to fragrance chemicals that are absorbed and inhaled.”
Positive Health Online – Fragrance: A Growing Health and Environmental Hazard, by Klaus Ferlow, May 2008

In a supermarket in France we found a fragrance-free version of the popular Persil laundry soap. The label said “sans allergenes, sans colorant, sans parfum”. It Italy we found some products labeled “ipoallergenico”. If you cannot find them in your local supermarket, look in a natural foods shop. Ecover is a popular brand of laundry soap and has a fragrance-free version.

Or talk to your local professional laundry. When we stay in vacation rentals or hotels that use a professional laundry service, the sheets and towels are fragrance-free. These companies know that many people do not like or want fragrances on their bedding, so they use fragrance-free laundry soap.

How I Cope with the Fragrances Found in Vacation Rentals

When I book a vacation rental I ask if air fresheners are used. Occasionally someone says “yes”, so I don’t book that one. But usually the person either does not understand why you are asking or doesn’t care. If I arrive at the vacation rentals and find air fresheners, I gather them up, put them in a Ziploc bag and hide them somewhere far away from where we will be. Then I open all the windows to air the place out.

I have given up on asking for fragrance-free bedding and towels. If someone uses regular laundry soap but changes to unscented for your visit, you are still going to have fragrance on the blankets, quilts or duvets because they have been around the fragrance for so long. Also, it is a lot to ask of an owner, to change their way of washing just for you. Instead I travel with my own pillow covers (allergy covers and cotton pillow covers) and two flat sheets. When I arrive, I take the scented sheets and pillow cases off the bed and use my own.

I love vacation rentals and stay in them most times when we travel, but I have to admit that hotels are usually better on the fragrance issue. Most have their bedding and towels professionally washed and these companies rarely use scented products. Occasionally hotels pump air freshener out with their air conditioning systems, but I more often found that in US/Canada hotels, not in Europe.

Scented Laundry Soap
Just say “no” to scented laundry soap

In Conclusion

This is a subject that I care deeply about but I know it is one that many people are not aware of or bothered by. My sensitivity to fragrance has made me a bit of an outsider because it is not easy for me to be around people wearing strong fragrances. I work hard to create a fragrance and chemical free environment in my home, but it is difficult to do this when traveling. This is my plea to vacation rental owners to make their places fragrance-free so those of us that are sensitive to them will have an easier time.


Published by

Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

22 thoughts on “Fragrance-free Vacation Rentals Please!”

  1. Amen to this. As you know, I’m very sensitive to fragrances too, and to be around plug-in type of air fresheners is the worst. Some laundry soaps are horrible and I’ve had to strip comforters off beds and put them in a closet to not react to the chemical junk in the perfume. More awareness needs to be given to this very real problem of inhaling toxic chemicals in the name of “fresh scent” when lavender, rosemary and orange peels can give a better scent naturally!

  2. Someone needs to start a chemically sensitive site for those that want to travel. I found one that “said” it did this, but mentioned a place in Jekyll Island, GA that we had unfortunately stayed at. The place is called Villas by the Sea and touts that it is green…NOT!!! We got there and searched for a place that didn’t have carpet, and finally found one unit, but by that time I had a headache from all the fumes. There needs to be some standard by which these places go by…The Brice, A Kimpton Hotel says they are green in their cleaning products, but we stayed there and the scents were there too. I don’t know what they mean by non-toxic except that instead of using bleach they H2O2…but the scents haven’t been dealt with. We are tired of not finding a place that is non-toxic. If you know of places that aren’t too expensive, please forward this information. I’m afraid that the USA is being inundated with toxins.

    Thanks, Chris

    1. I liked your post, as I’m having the same exact problem. The world’s obsession with fragrance is off the chart. Recently, when one of the laundry product manufacturers proudly announced their new fragrance booster lasted 12 weeks, I just couldn’t believe it. Now, in addition to my usual questions for a hotel to see if they are smoke free and pet free, I have to ask if they wash their linens in fragrance free products. This issue has pretty much ended my traveling days, which I regret. I even tried bouncing these issues off of the CDC, but they promptly sent me to other US government sites and that didn’t go well. We need an Erin Brockovich to take on the laundry companies 🙂 I would love to see the major networks send up the alarm on the nightly news to inform folks about what they’re truly breathing in. Thanks again for your comments and I hope things turn around for all of us very soon.

  3. I am in a holiday cottage in Dorset now where they use very fragranced laundry soap. I brought our own bedding but can still smell their soap. I forgot to bring towels, so am washing theirs now. Yuck.

  4. I love to travel. Unfortunately, over the last few years I have become allergic to anything with fragrance. It should be mandatory that all hotels, etc. should eliminate fragrance products to accomadate everyone. Now, when I travel it is such a problem. Have to take my own sheets, pillows, towels, washcloths and soap. I have multiple chemical sensitivity. What can be done to change this ? Seems as if it would be so little change on their part to make our lives better.

    1. I ran across this awhile back and it keeps occurring to me that the flip side of this remains unconsidered. I can offer a bit of perspective. We’ve been offering such for 7 years. The majority of the population is so accustomed to regular use of synthetic scent (dare I say unknowingly befuddled possibly by continuous exposure to same), that few are able to stay with us.

      A vacation rental that does not use synthetic scent, but doesn’t restrict guest use of such while in residence, likely would not remain suitable for those who truly need synthetic fragrance free accommodations for long. It’s an arduous way to run things and definitely not the most profitable… more along the lines of a public service. Factor in a mortgage/lack of independent wealth and you can imagine why similar available choices are few and far between.

      People are just not tuned in to this… or rather not quite enough are to make it economically viable. We frequently seriously consider if we need to give up and convert to a “regular” rental. It’s an exasperating situation from all perspectives.

      1. How wonderful that you offer a fragrance-free vacation rental! Where is it? Post your website.

        I think there are two levels of fragrance-free. One is what you are offering – you don’t use synthetic fragrances and your guests don’t. The other level is to not use synthetic fragrances, but to not require the same of your guests. Yes, this “pollutes” the vacation rental for people who cannot be around any fragrance, but the majority of people will be fine as long as you air out the vacation rental between guests.

        Sorry for taking so long to approve your comment. Something was wrong with my notification system and I did not see it.

        1. Pauline,

          I am so sorry, assumed my post had been lost in the electronic mist. Accidentally stumbled in again today via search landing on another post on your site. I admit I’ve been a networking Luddite…

          website: – Folly Beach, South Carolina, US

          Many of our guests are sensitive to synthetic scent, have allergies or asthma and not necessarily MCS/EI diagnosed but in order to keep it safe for the MCS/EI guests we need to be strict in our approach. If we took a lighter approach to broaden compatibility, I’d eventually be unable to stay or participate in cleaning/maintenance. I do have personal reasons to persevere until/unless we’re absolutely certain I can’t mitigate the results of recent changes… the “commercialization of vacation rental by owner”… we endured the past year and we’ve committed to another year. I can’t bring myself to give up easily.

          There are 3 corporation sites that currently control/encompass the majority of vacation rental listings (AirBnB, HomeAway and TripAdvisor). Using Google to search any of those individually +”fragrance free” will turn up a few listings. One caution, I’d advise communicating with the owner extensively as there are various levels of understanding. Reading all of the listing info posted is a great start (expand those pesky “more info” boxes that are so easy to overlook). To some “fragrance free” may simply mean “unscented” and for anyone with chemical sensitively that can be disastrous. You can quickly tell the level of understanding an owner has with a few nicely put but pointed questions. It’s pretty likely anyone who is providing such is chemical sensitive themselves and won’t be the least bit thrown by questions and would far rather ensure likelihood of a good match vs. the “heads on beds” philosophy.

          I’ll try to check in periodically. I get caught up in the everyday running of things though and ignore all else, contact information on website.


      2. Please tell us where that rental is! No fragrance is better than most places. When you travel you always run the risk of coming into contact with fragrance but dryer sheets and air freshers are the worst for most and we’d be happy to know we could avoid them.

        I’m seriously considering starting a small hotel chain in which I do not use any fragrances and 1 single room is reserved for only FF people.

        I would advertise it to asthma people, migraine people and organic food lovers alike. It would be mildly more expensive though and MCS people are not a wealthy bunch. Perhaps we could have a wing of the hotel government funded MCS housing or something to help offset the cost.

        Not sure how to go about this.

  5. Hi,

    I am renting out a bedroom in Acton, West London in my fragrance free house. I have been diagnosed with MCS but the main issue is fragrance. After meeting a woman traveling through London last year who was desperate to find fragrance free accommodation I thought this might be a good option for fellow canaries which would help pay the rent as I cannot find a new housemate who is willing to be fragrance free. I don’t have a website but I am thinking of advertising on Airbnb.

    1. I was on Airbnb today looking at rentals in Italy and wondering if anyone ever listed fragrance-free accommodation. I have seen environmentally-friendly listed. If you list on Airbnb make it very clear that the person must be fragrance-free. I am not sure what their policies are – can you choose who you will rent to?

      Another option would be to advertise in any MCS publications or websites. I don’t know anyone in the UK with MCS but when we lived in Santa Fe (in the US) I knew many people in that community and they had a difficult time finding accommodations when they traveled.

      In my experience people claim to be fragrance-free, or to honor your request to be fragrance-free when staying with you, but don’t fully understand what it means. They may stop wearing perfume before they arrive, but their clothes are saturated in it. Or they are not aware that their shampoo is full of chemicals. So you really want someone who understands the issue and is looking for fragrance-free.

      Best of luck with this! I wish more people would do this! You could put your contact info (or link to your Airbnb listing when you get it) on this post. Maybe someone will find you that way.

      1. Hi,

        Thanks for the prompt response. Airbnb has an eco friendly filter but not fragrance free which would be extremely helpful. I have come across one Airbnb host who mentions fragrance free in the US.

        I’ve also come across this site via Google.

        I agree that many people don’t understand what fragrance free means until it’s explained. I will make it clear before booking. I am looking for people who are truly in need of a safe space while traveling so plan to take time to find places like this where we can let people know it’s available. I’m in no rush as I cannot be casual about someone turning up with laundry fragrance on their clothing. It would be a problem for me and it would be a problem to rent out again.

        A site that brings different places together would be a good idea. What about an open Facebook page?

        Thanks. I will add a link once we’re sorted.

        Best wishes,


        1. Hi
          I have sensitivity to chemicals & fragrances!!
          Are you renting out your room in London & do you have any more information of places to stay in the uk that are fragrance free!

    2. Hi Lisa,

      is there any website or anything for booking that bedroom? I’m thinking of travelling to London and am looking for an affordable, fragrance-free stay.

      I’m living fragrance-free and bought a washing machine after developing this intolerance, so there has never been any scented laundry detergent in it. And I’m used to keep any “outside clothes” out of the bed.


  6. I’m so glad to see this being discussed. I currently live in Asheville NC in the states but will re-locate to Glastonbury Somerset later this year. Part of what I’ll be involved in there will be establishing a small Creative and Spiritual Arts retreat with ‘fragrance free’ accommodations. I live this way and have rented my home in NC out from time to time and always with chemical and fragrance free options on hand. I’ve visited Glastonbury many times and always with an eye on the shelves at the health food store for these options. Your post on buying a house in England is welcomed reading as well.
    Thank you. All the best in your travels!

  7. I am getting so discouraged about traveling. I wrote to Air B&B and asked if they could encourage their hosts to be fragrance/chemical free. It seems as though I spend so many hours trying to find a place to stay thAt I get worn out and give up looking. There must be places that are FF.

  8. Just having the designation of fragrance-free from an uneducated Airbnb owner would not be guarantee enough for this MCS sufferer, however, lobbying for fragrance-free and chemical-free as filters will help the industry to evolve.

    I personally would be delighted to help Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO to establish criteria for fragrance-free accommodations. I suspect a special deposit would need to be levied to protect owners from non-compliant guests, as just one noxiously scented “client” could wreak havoc on a home’s furnishings! FYI-I am presently having some success with two deodorizing cleaning products suitable for use on carpets, upholstery, and other surfaces that cannot be laundered: Ashley’s Green Products Mystical Cleaner and AsepticPlus (last one is not for use on wool or in conjunction with vinegar or other acidics).

  9. We are looking to possible convert our lower level of our home in Colorado to a chemical free fragrance free vacation rental for those with MCS or mast cell disease. I have both MCS and mast cell activation and want to keep my place safe for me too. I was thinking to advertise on MCS groups and clinics rather than Air BnB so my guests would understand the true meaning or organic, chemical free, fragrance free place.

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