I did an experiment to see what products removed plug-in air freshener fragrance residue from painted drywall. I applied a popular brand of plug-in air freshener oil to boards of painted drywall. I came up with two possible remediation strategies that worked well to remove almost all of the fragrance odor.
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The results of my experiment led to two possible remediation strategies, based on which products you do better with.
Steps to Remediate Plug-In Fragrance
Step 1 Prep: We are going to be doing a lot of washing of the walls so we need to protect the area from water. Caulk around the trim, baseboards and outlets with non-toxic caulking. Cover the outlets with tape and protect the floor with taped down plastic.
Step 2 Wash: Go over the area with a non-toxic dishsoap. It’s best if you can use one with natural citrus oils like this one.
Step 3 Degrease: TSP is a degreaser and it works particularly well to remove plug-in fragrance from painted surfaces. It also is a de-glosser of your paint so it will mar the surface of the paint. I used in in high concentrations, 1 part TSP to 3 parts water. I went over the area twice then rinsed it off with water. Be prepared to paint after using high concentrations of TSP as it can mar and discolor the paint and could also affect most floor finishes. (I couldn’t actually tell that the eggshell paint had any damage from what I did, however).
Alternative: If you don’t want to risk damaging the paint you can use a lower concentration of TSP or use a non-toxic industrial strength degreaser instead like Simple Green Crystal, Benefect Atomic Degreaser (or other options here). You can also use vinegar in this step.
Step 4 Break Down Fragrance: There are two options for this step depending on what you do well with:
Option 1: D-Limonene: The option that worked the best (by far) was to use 4 drops of grapefruit essential oil in a tablespoon of dish soap. Mix it together and then let it sit on the wall, trim and floor for an hour. Then wash off with water. Of course at first it smelled strongly like grapefruit but when that faded it was obvious that this helped break down the plug-in odor. The grapefruit oil odor did not fade 100% for quite a while, so if you are sensitive to that natural odor and you need to return to the house quickly this will not work. (You can use other citrus oils high in d-linonene, as d-limonene is a hydrocarbon solvent that dissolves other hydrocarbons like petroleum products). This did not leave oil marks.
Option 2: Oxidize: We can use various products to oxidize the fragrance residue – 3% hydrogen peroxide, chorine dioxide, or sodium carbonate peroxide. I used Closys Mouth Wash (unflavored) which contains chorine dioxide on the painted drywall that had already been treated with TSP to see if I could get the scent down completely. I did 5 passes which seems to help (maybe 30-50% of an improvement). (More than 5 passes did not seem to help). In second place was sodium carbonate which worked quit well though it did scratch the paint since I didn’t dissolve it well (plus it can damage paint even if you do dissolve it). In third place came 3% hydrogen peroxide.
Note: Do not use both essential oils and an oxidizer since oxidized essential oils leads to a very weird smell.
Step 5: Buy new plastic outlet covers for all outlets where plug-ins were used.
Step 6 Paint/Seal: There are two options here. The first is to paint with ECOS Air Purifying Paint which contains zeolite to absorb odors. This can certainly help quite a bit to noticeably reduce the plug-in odor. The second strategy is to block the odor. For this we would use AFM Transitional Primer or BIN Shellac Primer which are a better block of odors than a regular primer. Followed by AFM Safecoat Paint.
Note: this step should only be done when you have cleaned up or oxidized the odor as much as possible and it’s almost good enough for your standards. Once you paint you can’t go back to other strategies.
If the above has not worked well enough you can also implement the following:
- Time – plug-in residue goes down with time without any intervention. My samples had an odor reduction of about 50% by leaving them sit for a few months. And some other samples were very faint by a year’s time.
- Heat and air – speed up the natural breakdown of the fragrance by heating the home and airing it out at intervals. This is called a “bake-out” and this article has more details.
- PCO and/or ozone – some remediation companies can come in with Photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) machines or PCO and low ozone. You can accomplish this yourself on a smaller scale by using Air Oasis Ionic Air which produces ozone and hydroxyl radicals (OH molecules from PCO) or a PCO only air purifier like Molekule. You could want to move the machines around the room, moving them as close to the drywall as possible since OH molecules do not travel very far at all.
Products that Didn’t Work For Me
EnviroKlenze Everyday Odor Eliminator was applied in full strength and left on for 15 minutes. The initial comparison was that EnviroKlenze worked better than other options. But by the next day the smell was back basically full force. I reader said I need to leave it on longer so I’m going to go back and do this.
Murphey’s Orange Oil Soap. After this step I was left with a fairly strong odor of the Murphey’s Oil. Murphy’s Oil soap claims to be 99% natural but the resulting odor did seem quite strong and to my nose it doesn’t register as all-natural (that could be just me). And this odor lingered, I wish I has skipped this step. It would be better to mix orange essential oil with dish soap for this application.
Earthworn Enzyme Spray was sprayed a few times on the board, each time letting it sit for a while. This did not seem to help at all. Then I tried concentrated lipase enzymes mixed into a paste (meant to break down fats), left not he wallboard for an hour, I misted it a few times during that hour to keep it wet. This seemed to work somewhat, but not as well as the other options. I repeated the process but that second run didn’t seem to make any improvement.
12% Hydrogen Peroxide – I was a little too keen with trying such a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide. The 12% formula caused the paint to bubble up. Not good!
P.S. Details of how I conducted the experiment:
A popular brand plug-in was opened and the oil was dripped on directly to the pieces of painted drywall and spread out. Then each piece was then laid out in the sun to simulate the heating of the plug-in oil that would occur in the device when plugged in. The drywall contained three coats of white latex paint in an eggshell finish before adding the oil.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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