Air freshnening - scents and sensibilities

9th of November 2018
Air freshnening - scents and sensibilities

How do air freshener manufacturers tread the fine line between gently fragrancing an environment and creating an overpowering aroma, asks Ann Laffeaty.

According to a new memoir, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told his daughter that she “smelled like a toilet” when she visited him on his deathbed. However, this seemingly harsh-sounding criticism of Lisa Brennan-Jobs was merely a reference to the rose-scented spray she was wearing at the time.

This story illustrates the huge challenge that air freshener manufacturers face on a daily basis. They need to come up with pleasant background aromas that will be appreciated by end users - without creating smells that have negative connotations. So how do they achieve this?

SMW uses two distinct approaches says operations manager Clément Janin. “We offer a range of standard fragrances including woody, marine and citrus aromas that cover most needs for both functional fragrancing and odour control,” he said.

“Then we work with customers to understand their positioning, their clients and their image and come up with bespoke fragrances that will reinforce their brands and generate a stronger customer engagement.”

Fragrance perception is strongly linked to culture and habit, he says. “For example, citrus notes work well in washrooms and tend to be associated with cleanliness in France,” he said. “However we always bring something extra to our fragrances and try to come up with more sophisticated aromas that we blend with odour control notes.”

SMW offers various fragrances for environments such as offices, care homes and shops. “These can evoke different feelings depending on our clients’ needs: for example, a scent can be used to create a cosy impression in a care home; an invigorating environment in an office or a soothing ambiance in a spa or a retail centre.”

According to Janin it can be difficult to avoid ‘fragrance fatigue’ whereby people fail to notice an aroma that has been present for a long time. “When this occurs, facility managers may be tempted to increase the aroma’s intensity even though visitors are satisfied with the fragrance level,” he said.

“However, the aim of a fragrance is to improve the connection between the venue and its clients. Customers should notice it but the aroma should remain in the background and never become a nuisance. It is therefore important that facilities managers only evaluate the scent intensity when first entering a room.”

SMW offers a range of fragrance diffusers from stand-alone and wall-mounted options for small areas to products that can be connected to HVAC and centralised air systems for use in larger facilities.

It is a constant challenge to come up with fragrances that eliminate malodours while fulfilling a range of other criteria says divisional manager for AM Services Nikki Phillips. “An air care solution should release a fragrance continuously while also filling a large room and working well immaterial of airflow, temperature and humidity,” she said. “It should also be compliant and safe both for people and the environment.

Aromas subjective

“Coming up with new fragrances that promote positive reactions is a further challenge since aromas are very subjective. Geographical and cultural preferences make it hard to find a universal solution so we believe that offering a varied intensity is better than creating a fragrance for every taste.”

AM Services uses Fragrance Delivery Technologies’ products at its customers’ facilities and these are constantly evolving according to customer feedback, says Phillips. She adds fragrance fatigue is not usually a problem in washrooms since people only visit them for short periods. “However in offices, the same people are continuously exposed to the same fragrance and if they cease to smell anything, they may conclude that the aircare system is not working,” she said. “Offering varying intensities and regularly changing the fragrance is an ideal solution here.”

Perfumes should be chosen to please the maximum number of people according to Prodifa’s commercial export manager Séverine Bossaert. “It is always important to find new olfactory experiences for customers and we look for originality combined with fragrance notes that are not too pronounced,” she said.

Prodifa specialises in fragrances derived from essential oils. “These allow us to offer perfumes based on citrus fruits and floral aromas that won’t be associated with sanitary use,” she said. “They also enable us to come up with fragrances that are close to body perfumery, making the end user feel comfortable without even noticing the aroma.”

According to Bossaert, fragrance fatigue is not an issue where the perfume is diffused at regular intervals, such as every 15 minutes. “If the diffusion is steady, we will retain a sense of wellness and comfort whether we are actually conscious of smelling the fragrance or not,” she said.

“Making an association between an environment and a particular smell can be a good thing – such as in olfactory marketing where we use coffee, pastry or roast chicken aromas to tempt people to eat or drink at a venue.”

The intensity of the smell should vary according to the environment, she says. “In a hotel reception area, for example, we aim to provide a discreet perfume that will stay in the background,” she said. “The purpose is to create a sensation of wellness without necessarily knowing why.”

Prodifa offers a range of fragrances that can be diffused via dispensers with solenoid valves along with aerosol and battery products. “Our top-of-the-range perfumes have become our customers’ first choice whatever the environment – and this includes the sanitary sector - because people don’t want ‘toilet perfumes’ anymore,” she said.

Constantly coming up with new fragrances that trigger positive reactions from the public is the most interesting challenge a fragrance company has to face according to Hyprom’s marketing and communication director Dorothée Dinner.

“This is one of the keys ways in which we can stand out from the competition,” she said. “We have worked for more than 30 years in the industry to create fragrances that fit current trends.”

She says every fragrance has its own function. “For example, our green tea fragrance is popular with spa customers whereas people in retirement homes respond more readily to our more classic, fruity scents,” she said.

Ensuring the aroma remains in the background rather than overpowers a room is a matter of expertise, says Dinner. “It also requires a dispenser with programming capabilities that can adapt to the circumstances and take into account the size of the room, the frequency of delivery and the ventilation,” she adds.

Latest Hyprom products are BLO2 for washrooms and BLO2 Life for living areas. These are said to produce a light airborne fragrant mist using no propellant gas.

Fragrance fatigue is a real issue and the only way to overcome it is to rotate fragrances, according to Dinner. “You can’t improvise when producing air care solutions: it takes time, resources and above all, passion,” she said.

The aim of washroom fragrancing solutions in the past was simply to mask unpleasant odours says Vectair’s managing director Paul Wonnacott. “However it is no longer simply about the perception of a washroom being clean and fresh – it is about the whole user experience,” he said.

“Stronger scents such as citrus, sandalwood and musk tend to be associated with washrooms since more powerful fragrances are more effective when tackling unpleasant odours.”

He said hospitals and care homes also needed to mask unpleasant odours. “However the patients, residents, staff and visitors in these environments are exposed to scents for longer than in a washroom where people go in and out,” he said. “So fresher scents such as eucalyptus, mint and linen are often associated with these types of facility.”

Simply attempting to mask a bad odour with a fragrance will not solve the problem, he says. “It is important air fresheners are installed in the right place and are properly programmed to avoid there being long periods without a fragrance,” said Wonnacott. “Some venues like to use air freshening dispensers that provide ‘always on’ or consistent fragrance if their venue is particularly busy, or programme extra bursts of fragrance at specific times.

“However, fragrance fatigue can be an issue in venues where people spend long periods of time such as offices or hotels. The way to combat this is to provide a few different fragrances over time – either by changing refills, using different but complementary aircare systems or utilising a system which provides two multi-phasing fragrances in one.”

Impact of geography

Vectair’s new Professional Passive Program provides fragrancing without the need for batteries, aerosols, solvents or propellants. The range incorporates two urinal screens, a toilet bowl air freshener clip and a passive air freshener dispenser and the same fragrance can be used across all four products to provide a harmonised ambiance.

According to Wonnacott, customers will be alerted to a scent that is not too overpowering or heady on a subconscious level resulting in a positive impact. “Using a dispenser that is suitable for the room size is important, and programmable dispensers work well where fragrance output needs to be controlled,” he said.

“Scents can also become lost in large spaces such as hotel reception areas or airports. Luckily, new technological advances have helped to solve this problem.”

Designing a fragrance that is popular with the public entails listening to customers and evaluating the latest trends, he said. “Having been in the aircare sector for more than 30 years we listen to feedback from our huge customer database which will be impacted by geographical location,” said Wonnacott.

“Different countries prefer different fragrances – for example strong, heady scents such as oudh are popular in the Middle East whereas fresh scents such as linen and lavender go down well in
the US. Seasons can also determine fragrance choices with lighter scents being preferred in the summer and warmer scents in the winter.”

But to return to our original question, how do air freshener manufacturers avoid creating a fragrance that makes a room “smell like a toilet”?

The answer is to avoid the use of cheap, synthetic fragrances on the citrus, lavender, pine and floral spectrums says Prodifa’s Séverine Bossaert. “Synthetic fragrances provide a poor quality aroma and are often associated with toilets since they’re not pleasant,” she said.

AM Services Nikki Phillips has two suggestions: avoid the use of bleach cleaners and eliminate the use of overpowering air freshening systems. “Bleach has historically been associated with clean toilets, but people are beginning to perceive that a strong bleach-like fragrance often masks a dirty washroom,” she said. “And when a fragrance is delivered in the form of a short, sharp jet of overpowering air freshener it can result in a facility ‘smelling like a toilet’.  This issue can
be overcome with the use of more subtle systems.”

SMW’s Clément Janin has another take on the issue: “Even in a washroom, why use a washroom-type fragrance?” he said. “There are other strong fragrances that are also appealing and it is not simply a matter of mixing a good scent with a bad one since this could result in an overall bad smell. Instead one should add odour-neutralising molecules to the fragrance to eliminate bad smells while leaving behind a pleasant one.”


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