“It smells lovely and clean.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say this, or something like it, when they walk into a lemon-scented office, but I think it’s important to note that whilst something may smell lovely, it’s smell has no bearing whatsoever on its cleanliness. Conversely, I’ve heard potential clients remark that “it doesn’t smell clean,” as if a floral scent in the air somehow proves that the surfaces and floors have recently been cleaned.
The reason for these assumptions is clear: we’ve all become accustomed to the heavily perfumed cleaning materials commonly used in the home, and have made the link between scent and cleanliness. The problem is, of course, there is no direct link. Just because your workplace smells like beeswax, a lemon meringue or a spring meadow, it doesn’t mean it’s clean.
Unless your cleaning products also have a sanitiser or bactericidal ingredient in addition to the scent, wiping down surfaces only serves to spread the bacteria around more evenly, and does nothing to increase cleanliness. Only materials with sanitising agents can really clean surfaces, by which I mean both lifting dirt and killing the bacteria that cause sickness and disease.
Heavily scented cleaning products, whether bactericidal or not, also have the propensity to trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals, and may cause irritation in high concentrations. There has been a recent trend in using limonene based products, particularly the ‘lemon gel’ surface cleaners.
Limonene, which is extracted from citrus peel, is a natural, organic, bacteriostatic cleaning agent with good solvent powers and strong citrus smell. Unlike other cleaning agents, the strong smell doesn’t come from a scent added to make it smell clean, it’s the smell of the active ingredient itself. Limonene based products can be useful, but because they don’t kill bacteria (just prevent them from multiplying and spreading) and can leave a tacky or slippery residue if over-applied, as well as a smell that might be too much for some people.
It is much better to use cleaning products that are low on scent for all these reasons, and because scents and fragrances can mask odours that may indicate other problems like unchecked bacterial and fungal colonies growing in hard to reach places, or even pest infestations. Cleaning products should contain effective anti-bacterial agents to ensure surfaces are thoroughly sanitised and left sparkling clean and germ-free, as well as mild solvents to remove grime and greasy residues where bacteria can multiply.
Whilst a little fragrance never hurt anyone, don’t assume that a pleasant (or overpowering) smell of cleaning agents means that a place is clean.