is it weird to have an essential oil diffuser in my office?

A reader writes:

I recently purchased an essential oil diffuser for my house, and I love it. I would like to purchase one for my office too but am concerned it might be perceived as weird or new-agey. What do you think?

I don’t have anything else unusual in my office. If it helps, I am in a medium-sized city in the Midwest and recently noticed that my son’s kindergarten teacher was using one in the classroom.

I think it’ll come across as eccentric to some people (but not “let’s never work with her again” eccentric), neutral to others, charming to a small few, and annoying/problematic for others (more on that in a minute).

And it depends on what the scent is. If it’s, say, patchouli or anything else that proclaims “I’m fermenting tofu in the mini-fridge under my desk, and tomorrow I will be adding a beaded curtain to my office doorway,” the number of people perceiving it as eccentric will rise considerably. If it’s something like citrus, you’ll probably raise fewer eyebrows.

But totally aside from how people will perceive it, I think you probably should stay away from it. Unlike, say, a piece of artwork that you hang on your wall, scents waft and impact other people. An increasing number of people have fragrance sensitivities, and you could end up causing a coworker migraines, respiratory issues, or other physical discomfort. Or you might just annoy people who don’t enjoy the scent.

I’m all for making your work space more homey, but when you’re talking about modifying the air other people breathe, I think you’ve got to err on the side of caution.

That said, if you’re really dying to do it, you could ask around among your coworkers and see if anyone objects (as well as consider how often you have outside visitors in your space). But I’d rather see you keep it at home.

{ 404 comments… read them below }

  1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    They sell oil diffusers at Pier One and Bed Bath and Beyond. It won’t be too new age. It will probably be annoying, either to people with fragrance issues or people like me who are just really picky about scents and have to spend any length of time in your office.

    1. Alison Read*

      Oh please, please do not do it. Even the residual scent on your clothing might give me an instant headache and make my eyes water if we shared an elevator.

      Patchouli is one of the worst!

      1. Anonsie*

        Yes, another vote for no scents! I have a new coworker and I’m allergic to his aftershave. I feel nauseous every time I’m near him and I’m terrified that it’s going to get worse or that one day I’ll have to tell him about it.

    2. Ihmmy*

      “people with fragrance issues” – there are lots of us with this. Of varying severity. I can’t speak for others but I always feel like a bother when I ask someone to tone down their scented products. Someone in this office (who has been here longer than I have) can have anaphylactic reactions to certain scents so we’re pretty well scent free. Save for the general public and such. Anyway – OP please avoid scents when possible.

      1. Cruella DaBoss*

        People I work with think it’s funny that I have a “fragrance issue.” (I call those issues “allergies” by the way.) They make jokes about it. However, I am sure they are not laughing when I am out because my “fragrance issue” has rendered me unfit to work. It is not that I don’t think they smell nice. Even the oils that are supposed to promote good health set me off. It’s just that if I can’t breathe, I can’t work.

          1. Anonymous1*

            Not true! I’ve had an anaphylactic reaction to lavender essential oil that has been confirmed by an allergist.

          2. Shop Girl*

            100% not true. I worked at a health food Co op and we had these little diffusers. I would start to sneeze and wheeze. I think saying stop whining is insulting. I wish I could just whine the smell

          3. Sarah*

            Telling someone to stop whining when they are describing a situation where they cannot breathe is extremely rude.

            I have had some extreme reactions to some fragrances, and I would give anything to will away how terrible it made me feel (and I especially would like to not have vomited all those times).

        1. Jason*

           “I am sure they are not laughing when I am out because my “fragrance issue” has rendered me unfit to work” – I will absolutely guarantee you they do laugh. I will also guarantee you that (whether they it admit it or not) your immediate supervisor is less then please with you missing work for this “fragrance issue”. Sorry to sound so harsh, but if any of my direct reports regularly missed for this reason, I would have serious concerns about their commitment.

    3. edj3*

      I don’t have issues with scent; I do have issues with particulate matter in the air (reactive airway disease). It doesn’t matter what the particulates are, my lungs get in bad shape. Please don’t bring in an oil diffuser.

    4. GreenTeaPot*

      A few years ago, I had a masseuse friend come in and do chair massages in our office (non-profit, small female staff, stand-alone building). The scent from her diffuser lingered for days. It was pleasant, but strong. Not everyone will be able to handle it.

    5. KarenD*

      Agree with the others. I had to take a co-worker to the emergency room when someone thoughtlessly brought in potpourri with a scent she is (highly) sensitive to. By the time we got there she was wheezing; her airway was more than half-constricted, to the point where the ER staff scolded us for not calling an ambulance.

      The scary thing was that that was only her third or fourth reaction to a scent that’s fairly common in home fragrances. It can sneak up on you, and fast. She has to carry an Epi pen now and new employees are sternly warned about scented products.

      1. Evan Almighty*

        Plug-ins are carcinogens… toxic… and akin to formaldehyde. They may smell “nice” to some, however, for people who use essential oils and other 100% natural products, we get instant headaches from synthetics like that.

        1. Susanne*

          Essential oils and 100% natural products are made up of chemicals, too, you know. Everything’s a chemical. It’s just that if I say I’m wearing a fragrance with linalool, a-terpineol, y-terpineol, isoborneol, linalyl acetate, geranyl acetate, and octnene-3-yl acetate, someone will say “oooh, Teh Chemicalz!” but if I say I put a drop of lavender oil on my wrists, those same people would say “oh, how lovely, it’s 100% natural, and that’s different.” It’s amazing how many people are so gullible in not understanding that just because something is named a Lovely Name You Can Pronounce, that doesn’t mean it’s not full of “chemicals.”

  2. Artemesia*

    I am not super sensitive to scents in general — but many perfumes give me a headache. One of my worst times at work was when we had a Middle Eastern colleague for several months who bathed in cologne that lingered in every hallway he walked through. It was like the worst teenage boy with axe body spray. I felt as a woman that I couldn’t approach him about it and the men who had brought him in were not willing to do so — I had to lock myself in my office to not have a headache from this stuff.

    Lots of people are bothered by scents — from a little stuff sinus to full blown headache. I’d avoid anything perfuming in the office especially if it is strong or leaves the office for the corridor.

    1. Jerzy*

      Not sure you had to add that he was Middle Eastern. I worked with an all-American guy who also bathed in cologne daily to the point where, even in a large, open-office floor plan, I could tell when he was working in the office as soon as I opened the door from the lobby. Bad taste knows no ethnicities.

      His scents would regularly make me feel sick, and more than once triggered migraines for me. Fortunately, he often worked in the field.

      1. True*

        Yes, she didn’t need to, but that can be a cultural thing. I went to graduate school with a lot of middle eastern people and it was quite common that they wore a lot of perfume/cologne. Not all, but many, to the point where it is perceived as a cultural norm.

        1. Jerzy*

          I’ve known lots of people from Iran, and I can agree to that point, but it doesn’t seem relevant to the rest of the comment, which is why I pointed it out.

          1. LawBee*

            Well, it can be relevant. I lived in a neighborhood that was primarily Middle Eastern for a little over a year, and the men wore a very distinctive scent, and they wore a lot more of it than is standard American culture. Asking people to change their cultural norms can be a touchy thing, even if it’s for something health-related for someone else.

          2. potato battery*

            I think it also may be relevant to why, as a woman, she didn’t feel she could address it with him directly. (But I do agree with you more broadly that often details like that get mentioned unnecessarily, and often in a racist way.)

      2. MsChanandlerBong*

        I shared a cubicle with someone who insisted on using a banana-scented air freshener. I’m sensitive to a lot of smells, but I’m especially sensitive to chemical banana. I had a headache and spent my breaks puking the entire time I worked there.

        1. jhhj*

          I am entirely perplexed about why anyone would WANT a banana-scented air freshener. I like bananas fine, but that sounds horrible.

          1. NotherName*

            Wouldn’t just eating a banana every day and throwing the peel in the trash can have the same effect?

            1. MsChanandlerBong*

              I actually would prefer that. I have no problem with fresh banana or banana baked into foods, but anything synthetic–blech.

          2. Murphy*

            Right? I can’t even throw a banana peel out in my office trash can because the smell is so off-putting.

        2. The Optimizer*

          I think it was meant to bring understanding to the comment about not being able to approach him because she is a woman. I did not take it to mean wearing too much cologne was a middle eastern thing at all.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            I used to be completely afraid of confrontation, plus it was a bad work environment from the start. I was also too busy trying to get my supervisor to “approve” the accommodation I requested (everyone else had a multi-line phone with about 10 volume levels, and they gave me a cordless phone with two levels; I had to hang up on people because I literally couldn’t hear a word they were saying, and I had no way to adjust the volume appropriately).

      3. Artemesia*

        If he had been a caucasian American, I would have just asked him to tone down the cologne. It is important that he was Middle Eastern and a distinguished visitor because of the cultural differences as well as the gender related cultural differences. I would not have lived with it if I had not been concerned with the embarrassment or potential international incident that correcting him might have created.

        1. LabTech*

          Hold on, I don’t think it’s fair to assume he would be sexist and therefore not listen to your suggestion (what I’m assuming you meant by “gender-related cultural differences,” but correct me if I’m wrong), which is a racist assumption to make. E.g. Because he’s of a certain nationality, that he would have a certain view with respect to gender.

          Now, if your interactions with said colleague gave you a sexist vibe, then sure – assume he is and plan accordingly. But assuming he’s going to treat you differently because of his nationality is not a fair assumption to make.

          I say all this as a first generation Arab, Muslim man who self-identifies as a feminist.

          1. potato battery*

            I can’t speak for Artemesia, but I can see how one could be generally uncomfortable commenting on something as intimate as personal grooming habits with someone of the opposite sex, which is a discomfort that might be exacerbated by different cultural norms around gender. But the “distinguished visitor” part seems particularly important as well.

          2. Lili*

            At one of my company’s trainings, we went through a mini-cultural sensitivity training. Essentially it said pretty typical stuff: what one culture perceives as different or wrong, another culture may come to an opposite conclusion and we need to respect that. They gave some examples and one of them was eye-contact. According to the training, Americans like eye-contact, whereas eye-contact between genders is a “perceived sexual invitation” in Middle Eastern cultures. If even eye-contact is an issue, I wouldn’t want to confront him either.

            I trust your experiences far more than the generalizations and stereotyping that the training offered, but that is the information (rightly or wrongly) being put out there.

      4. Lisa*

        I think the Middle Eastern description is relevant in that she followed up with being uneasy to follow up with him “as a woman” – being hesitant to reach out against what she perceived to be a cultural gender boundary. I’m not saying she is or is not correct in her assumptions but I think that was the intent of using the label – to add that additional clarification of why she didn’t speak up directly to him.

      5. A Manager*

        She mentioned where he was from as an explanation of why she didn’t feel she could approach him to ask him to stop wearing the cologne. I don’t think she was trying to say Middle Eastern men wear more than anyone else.

      6. INTP*

        I assumed she added that to convey that there was an additional cultural element that made it touchier than asking an American (or local to wherever you are) colleague to lay off the fragrances. It can be a different conversation when someone is knowingly skirting the cultural norms in ways that are controversial or even considered rude versus when someone has no idea that what they’re doing could be considered offensive at all. Both because the conversation is so unexpected and requires a lot more explaining, and because it can be more embarrassing when you’re already self-conscious about all the ways you inadvertently violate social norms in a foreign culture.

      7. Wendy Darling*

        In college there was a (white) guy who had a crush on me and always tried to sit near me in the classes we had together. He also doused himself in aftershave to the point that it made my eyes burn and set off my asthma, so I’m pretty sure he thought I was the biggest jerk on the earth because I was constantly running from him.

      8. Elizabeth West*

        We have someone here who wears a lot of cologne. I can smell it in the elevator when he’s been on it. Lucky for me, I don’t have any fragrance issues; it’s just blergh. I’m not sure who it is because I never see them–I only smell them!

  3. Katniss*

    Oh please, please don’t do this. Fragrance issues are a thing and it’s miserable to live with, and in my experience most diffusers are a bit too strong, especially in a closed environment. And at least for me it’s not something I can just walk away from: once I start to get that headache/stomachache that comes from certain strong scents, I’m stuck with that nasty feeling for hours, even after I’m away from the scent itself. At the best you run the risk of making people dislike going in your office because they aren’t fans of the smell, at worst you may risk someone feeling sick all day.

    1. Amber T*

      +100000 here too. It might be bearable if you’re in your own enclosed office (but like Katniss said, people might not stop by anymore), but if you leave your door open or work in an open space, please please please don’t.

    2. Solidus Pilcrow*

      it’s not something I can just walk away from: once I start to get that headache/stomachache that comes from certain strong scents, I’m stuck with that nasty feeling for hours, even after I’m away from the scent itself.

      So very true. One time I walked into a store that had a large potpourri section and it sparked off a 3 day migraine.

    3. The Optimizer*

      I think it was meant to bring understanding to the comment about not being able to approach him because she is a woman. I did not take it to mean wearing too much cologne was a middle eastern thing at all.

    4. The Optimizer*

      I am very sensitive to scents. I get migraines if forced to be around them, especially things like air fresheners and cheap perfumes. Being around something like this day after day would certainly cause me to feel ill and prompt me to uncomfortably have bring up the subject to your manager if we worked together. If you were my direct report, it would be gone the first day I noticed it.

      Please don’t!

    5. M-C*

      Many things sold as ‘essential oil’ are actually full of insecticides and other toxic substances. It’d be good for you as well as everyone else to check that what you’re using at home is in fact only essential oils, and not laced with undesirable chemicals. Odor maskers are a major source of the nastiest kinds of indoor air pollution.

      But OP even if you were using the purest, most organic oils of all, please please don’t do that at the office. There are way too many people running around with allergies, and you cannot begin to guess to what, or to accommodate everyone. Not to mention the blends labelled as ‘essential oil’ are complex mixtures who’re sure to set off wheezing in just about everyone. How would you feel if your coworkers starting bringing their large, smelly rottweiler to the office? What you’re proposing is the equivalent for many people.

      1. Blurgle*

        Essential oils are completely unregulated. Many of them aren’t what they say they are; they contain all kinds of chemicals, some of which might not even be legal to use in the US or Canada.

        I might not fire someone who brought in essential oils – only because I might not live long enough to do it.

        1. potato battery*

          One of the fun things about US cosmetics regulation is that the ingredients in your lipstick or face cream or whatever need to be clearly stated, EXCEPT when it comes to fragrances. Writing “fragrance” is perfectly legal, with no further clarifications.

    6. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      At my old job, everyone had those scentsy warmers in their offices.

      I am not sensitive to smell usually, but I used to hate being trapped in a closed-door meeting when someone had one going.

      1. Older not yet wiser*

        Scentsy… Ugh! A coworker did a “catalogue party” and everyone surrounding me bought very strongly scented hand lotion. Such bad smells. I couldn’t wait until they used them up. (Not allergic, just don’t enjoy strong, unnatural, chemically scents.)

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I really like patchouli and sandalwood and spicy incense fragrances (such as dhoop–I have something like six boxes of the stuff), but I cannot stand fake food candle smells. They smell awful to me, and if I’m crampy or have a headache, they make me feel sick. So even if no one in the office had a sensitivity, someone is bound to just plain hate whatever the OP chooses.

    7. peanut butter kisses*

      There are several stores I can’t go into because of the scent problem. I would be a regular at Bed, Bath, and Beyond except that they go overboard selling their fragrance stuff and anything from the store has that odor linger on it if you can even tolerate the smell long enough to run in and grab what you need and then check out. The main entrances to department stores with their cosmetic sections are awful as well. Awful offal.

  4. Sutter*

    As a former employee of a popular home fragrance retailer in the US and a current employee in an office, I cringe every time I think back to saying a diffuser is “perfect for the office” in order to make a sale. Fragrances are super not appropriate for the workplace, with the possible exception of something very light in reception areas and waiting rooms where customers flow through.

    1. Kyrielle*

      And even there, companies have lost my business because I walked in and the reception/waiting area had a perfume I didn’t like or was sensitive to. I’m not dealing with that if I don’t have to.

      1. Amber T*

        Cheers. My old doctor’s office had something very strong in the waiting room. I made a suggestion to one of the nurses about changing the scent or getting rid of it and got an evil glare. Wasn’t very sad when I moved and starting going to a different doctor instead.

      2. Ihmmy*

        agreed, there are several retail stores that will never get my business because they have strongly scented products right at the front of their entry way and prevent me being within a 10m radius of them.

        1. blackcat*


          I am grateful that most department stores put fragrance on a different floor from clothes. I can hold my breath while I walk around the make up/fragrance counters and make it up the stairs. I can’t shop on the same floor as fragrances. Stores that are only 1 floor or insist on having their sales people SPRAY CUSTOMERS WITHOUT CONSENT (WTF! Dead customers are not repeat customers) do not get my business ever.

        2. ZuKeeper*

          “Cinnamon” scented pinecones in the entry way of a certain store. I’m sure they moved them out there because their employees were complaining! Yuck.

    2. Sutter*

      After thinking on it and reading the replies, I’m amending my comment so the last sentence reads, “Fragrances are super not appropriate for the workplace.” Period. (I guess the retail brainwashing still hadn’t worn off completely when I wrote that.)

  5. caryatid*

    yeah…only do this if you can get full buy-in from your coworkers. i say this as someone who worked in an office where we had to get a consensus on soap and lotion scents in the bathroom.

    i’m not sure what your role in the office is, but if you are the boss or head person in the office, your employees might feel like they cannot veto the diffuser if you ask them, so i would keep that in mind too.

    1. Adonday Veeah*

      And remember the dog post? Even if you get full buy-in you can’t know if the new person you hire next month is someone who will be able to tolerate your scents.

      1. Bob*

        I’ve been in similar situations where I started a new job and all of the co-workers had signed off on something one person really wanted to do and now, as the new person trying to fit in, it was 100% my call whether to strike it down. That’s not a great position to put someone in. When it comes to the workplace, I go with the sentiment that if you have to question yourself (whether scent, dress code, behavior, etc), the answer is almost always don’t do it.

      2. Ama*

        Or sometimes the coworker might think it will be fine and then discover a sensitivity. I used those plug-in “hot oil” scent things in my home for years before I finally realized that they were making my sinus headaches exponentially worse. I’m not sure whether my sensitivity increased or it was always there, but until I figured it out I would have happily told a coworker “sure, no problem” if they had asked about using any kind of oil diffuser in a shared workspace.

      3. INTP*

        Or if there’s someone currently in the office who is going to be affected by the fragrance but is afraid to say anything because of past experiences with being treated as though they are ruining everyone’s fun by having an allergy.

    2. INTP*

      As someone with allergies, I might feel afraid to veto the diffuser even if it weren’t a superior asking. A lot of people are seemingly offended by the concept of accommodating allergies in general, or are supportive in theory but rationalize why the person is being excessive the second someone’s need for allergy accommodations affects them, or just treat you generally like you’re ruining everyone’s fun. (Let’s say I was not at all surprised by the update to the dog office post.) If this were a big cultural fit workplace I would be afraid of subtle social retaliation even from a peer.

  6. BananaPants*

    You can get a small essential oil “inhaler” to keep on your person or in your bag. I have several of them; they’re chapstick sized and have an absorbent wick inside a plastic tube with a cap on top. You put a number of drops of the oil onto the wick and then close it up, and when you want to smell the scent you uncap it and hold it near your nose. I like to sniff a citrus EO blend to pick me up from a mid-afternoon slump and that totally fits the bill without offending those around me.

    I would be leery of using EOs in a diffuser in the workplace. People can have fragrance sensitivities or even allergies. If a coworker started doing this I’d be worried they were going to start trying to shill MLM oils in the workplace or something. A lot of EO users get very evangelical about them…

    1. Katie the Fed*

      This was my thought too – anyone trotting out essential oils raises a huge MLM flag.

      1. BananaPants*

        I buy mine from a non-MLM company and have been pleased with the prices and quality. I got the EO “inhalers” from there, I think they’re like $6 for four or five of them, and you can buy extra wicks for when you want to change the essential oil used. They’re discreet and don’t scent a large area the way a diffuser will.

        95% of people I encounter who are into essential oils are SURPRISE! selling for DoTerra or Young Living. They’re crazy expensive and folks who sell them tend to make wild claims about treating medical conditions, and recommend unsafe use of the oils.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      My sister-in-law recently started posting on Facebook ‘helpful household hints’ about essential oils. She’d post one hint about every two to three days or so, and it seemed like general sharing at first. Then I gradually clued in to the fact that she is, in fact, selling essential oils for some MLM. She’s almost as bad as the Jamberry friend now.

      1. True*

        Ugh or the Rodan and Fields or Stella and Dot friend…
        I moved to a new town while in graduate school and I was asked to come to a party and I was like YAY PEOPLE LIKE ME. I get there and it’s a jewelry selling party. And I was SO broke. I got heavily guilted into buying something I couldn’t afford and still to this day hate/resent that piece of jewelry.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          The fact that they aren’t up front about what you’re being invited to galls me. It sucks to feel happy that someone views you as a potential friend, only to find out that what they view you as is a potential mark.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I once was invited to a potluck that turned out to be an MLM pitch party!

            I was so mad. If you are going to make me sit through your pitch (or someone else’s pitch so you can earn hostess perks) at least have the decency to feed me and give me wine.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I have absolutely no hangups about getting up and leaving one of those things if a “friend” springs it on me.

              I did agree to go to a Mary Kay party at a coworker’s house once–she was trying it out to see if she wanted to distribute, and as I do like a few of their products, I went. I won a little makeup bag in a drawing (and still have it–it’s a great bag). But the rep who hosted the party spammed the SH*T out of me in email after that. I had to block her! When I told my coworker, she was appalled. She ended up not doing it anyway for other reasons.

              Never again!

        2. TootsNYC*

          Please, please, get rid of that piece of jewelry. It’s a little piece of evil in your home. Find somewhere it can go; I promise you’ll feel better.

      2. Kairi*

        GAH Jamberry. I accidentally accepted an invite to a Jamberry group and my phone blew up with notifications. It felt like Farmville invites all over again!

        1. Cruella DaBoss*

          I hate Jamberry. Seems like everyone I know is selling them. Despite costing as much as a good manicure, they are extremely cheap. The one I tried did not make the day. I have no idea how anyone keeps them on. I will stick with a classic, professional manicure. They never go out of fashion.

          1. Feline Fine*

            I sell Jamberry on the side and I try really hard NOT to spam my friends. I love the product and on me lasts 2 weeks (polish maybe lasts an hour). It’s not for everyone and that’s why I don’t want to jam it down their throats. I hate being sold to too!

    3. Windchime*

      We have people at work who have these things–not in my room, thankfully, but I have to pass through their room to get to the lunchroom or the conference room. One person’s “pleasant scent” is another person’s migraine trigger.

      Someone upthread mentioned stinky dog. Some of those musky scents smell like wet dog to me, but most just smell like bug spray. I know this is just me and my inability to appreciate scents, but I dread walking through that room when the Stink Machine is going. I have to join the chorus of people who are asking you to continue to enjoy the scent at home and not at work.

    4. Emily*

      I have a reed diffuser in my office. It’s a little glazed ceramic pot with a dozen or so reeds sticking out of it, and the pot is filled with mostly glycerin with a few drops of lavender essential oil. Basically the reed drinks the oil and moves it from the bottom to the top of the reeds through capillary action, and then the part of the reed that is exposed gently scents the air. I add more glycerin/oil about every six months. To me it creates a very light, barely noticeable lavender scent that helps with the sense of calm I have tried to cultivate in my office. (I also have a gently babbling water fountain, a salt lamp, an ionizer, and a floor lamp that puts of natural spectrum light to use in lieu of the overhead fluorescents.)

      I’m a little worried now that it might be offensive to my coworkers. My office is private and nobody sits near my door, and I’ve always though of reed diffusers as being much more subtle than electric/flame ones that burn the oils, enough that I didn’t think it would harm anyone. But now I’m second-guessing because so many people here are saying no oils ever no matter what.

      Does anyone here with a scent sensitivity have experience with reed diffusers? Are they too much as well?

      (I can also assure you that I don’t sell essential oils or have any particular interest in them as a broad class of products. I just really find lavender to be a calming scent. I use lavender in my car as well to calm me while driving.)

      1. Beth*

        Yup, even something that you think is light and barely noticeable gives me a horrible headache. I had to have our admin stop using reed diffusers b/c it was too much for me.

      2. DropTable~DropsMic*

        I wonder if you could use actual lavender flowers instead. They’d smell similar, look pretty, and probably wouldn’t bother people as much. (I know fragrances give me a headache but I’m usually fine with plants/flowers.)

        1. Sarah*

          There’s the pollen effect to consider for that, though… I know I start sneezing after I’ve been in the same room as fresh flowers. Dried flowers are fine, but dried flowers don’t have any real scent, so probably wouldn’t work here.

      3. VioletEMT*

        I had to ask my manager to get rid of her reed diffuser or move our one-on-ones to a conference room. Took a lot of nerve to work up to it, but it was aggravating my asthma and giving me a headache.

        I felt bad, though, because she’d gotten the reed diffuser to cover up the mysterious and foul odor that frequently wafted through her hallway. Eventually our team moved offices and everything settled.

      4. Meg*

        As someone who has to deliberately buy fragrance-free beauty products, I would consider even “mild” scents too much for the office, especially something like a reed diffuser that creates a constant scent.

        1. Koko*

          Thanks for the feedback everyone! I also am sensitive to perfumes and always buy unscented products, but clearly it can get much worse!

  7. AnonyMiss*

    When I worked in administrative/government law, we did actually issue an opinion banning all scenters in county offices; whether it’s a Glade plug-in type stuff, an expensive wickless candle, a regular candle, or oil diffusers. We cited ADA issues with people possibly being sensitive to scents, as well as safety hazards when it came to anything that gave off heat (electronic warmer, actual lit candle, etc.).

    I think we over-exaggerated the safety risk for electronics (although you can never be too careful with a lit flame!), but I definitely agree with the scent issue. I’m not necessarily getting any headaches or other issues from it, but I find it distracting. Granted, something fairly neutral like ocean breeze or fresh linen is a lot less offensive, but when you venture into the realm of gingerbread spice, citrus, patchouli, etc., it can become an attraction force stronger than the spreadsheet you’re staring at.

    1. Amber Rose*

      A coworker used a maple scented plug in once.

      It smelled like someone replaced the air with pancakes. Even nice scents are gross if you shove your face in them and that’s what this was like. It was awful for everyone.

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      For me, faux scents like “ocean breeze” or “fresh linen” are far from neutral. I can handle pretty much any flower or plant generated scent (except for, more’s the pity, freshly-cut sweetpeas and plumeria) but all the standard “it smells like a fresh spring day!” chemical scents make me nauseated.

      It’s so bad that if I hug someone who put on a lot of deodorant that day, I’ll end up mildly nauseated for hours.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Oh yeah, the fresh laundry ones are ew.

        But in general, there just isn’t anything I’d want to smell every single day without fail. I change up my personal perfume and home scents constantly, because I get sick of things. I wouldn’t want the whole office to be stuck on plumeria for months on end.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Another +1 to the “ew, fresh laundry”. I only use unscented laundry detergent and I don’t use dryer sheets at all (and have no static problems – dryer sheets are really not necessary, IMO). So what smells “neutral” or like “fresh laundry” to you does not smell neutral at all to me – it smells like scented laundry detergent, at best.

          I use Charlie’s Soap as my laundry detergent and I love their tag line: “If you want flowers, go pick some!”

          1. Schnapps*

            I am a fan of Nellie’s myself. Maybe that’s a Canadian thing? And I use vinegar as a fabric softener with a few drops of tea tree oil for freshening.

            1. Dynamic Beige*

              Tea tree oil for freshening? I may have to try that. I use vinegar as a fabric softener too and I have to say, don’t notice any difference. It seems to me that static is a problem if you over-dry the clothes. I’ve never heard of this Nellie’s, they sell some sort of hypoallergenic/non-toxic/safe for septic tanks etc. stuff at the grocery store but I can’t remember what the name is.

              I recently started using essential oils for various things — a few drops of eucalyptus in the bath seems to help my sinuses, lavender for itchy bug bites, a bit of peppermint in the hot chocolate. Cheap thrills!

          2. Connie-Lynne*

            I used to have static problems because of the dryness, but I started adding vinegar to my final wash cycle to keep my hang-dry laundry from getting all crunchy, and it seems to have helped with dryer static, too.

              1. Connie-Lynne*

                Indeed it does! No more crunchy chones for me since I started adding about a quarter cup to the final rinse!

          3. Rana*

            Yeah, that’s how it is with us, too. We use 7th generation’s free and clear, and not being around laundry fragrances has made me much more aware of them when I do encounter them. I make detours around the laundry detergent aisle at the grocery store, just to avoid being overwhelmed by them.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I’m allergic to some detergents, for example whatever was in Cheer–we had to stop using it when I was a kid because it made me break out. The laundry aisle is a sneezefest for me if I hang out there too long.

              Arm & Hammer is okay. I haven’t tried the 7th Generation stuff.

      2. MsChanandlerBong*

        Ocean breeze would kill me. I also have a major problem with French vanilla, anything made to mimic the smell of baked goods, and anything marketed as “tropical.” I burned a coconut-and-vanilla tart from Yankee Candle last year, and I couldn’t breathe for days. I swear I had vanilla burned into my lungs.

      3. Sarah*

        Yeah, everyone’s hate-scents are different. I usually think those ocean/spring/”clean” scents are just super synthetic smelling. I also can’t stand “sweet” scented things, especially the ubiquitous Brown Sugar Vanilla, although both brown sugar and vanilla are delicious. I used to have a friend who loves BSV lotions and candles and whatnot and I also tossed the stuff she gave me for holidays because I didn’t even want to open it.

  8. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    I really wanted to put one at my desk. I love essential oils and use them all the time at my house. However, thanks to this blog, I am more aware that people can have serious reactions to different smells, so I’ve decided to keep my diffusers at home.

    I do occasionally apply them topically, but I try to keep usage minimal because some of them have pretty strong smells (think: peppermint).

    1. Sadsack*

      A person that works in my office cafe sometimes uses anis essential oil. It is very strong. I am not around her very often, for which I am grateful because, wow, that would really be a problem.

    2. Shan*

      Agreed! I like candles and I’m not at all sensitive to scents (actually the opposite, my sense of smell is really poor), but this blog has helped me realize how bad those can be for some people. I get migraines from time to time and I’m so miserable, I can’t imagine having them just from a candle or fragrance nearby. I’d rather err on the side of caution and leave them at home for me to enjoy :)

      1. Blurgle*

        People aren’t sensitive to scents because they are strong or because they don’t like them. People are sensitive to scents because the molecules in the scent trigger an immune response when they are absorbed in the nose.

        People with no sense of smell can have problem with scents. It isn’t a matter of “not liking it”.

        1. Kathlynn*

          I think Shan was talking about the preference side of sensitive. Not the allergy/asthma side. Like being a picky eater vs food allergies. Though I admit, in this discussion, the terminology can get confusing or be confusing (as to which a person means).

        2. Sarah*

          It’s not always an immune response either. It *can* be a matter of not liking it, psychologically, because the problem in some cases isn’t inside your nose or blood vessels but in your nervous system and the way your brain interprets the smell. I have a couple smells that make me want to puke for Pavlovian reasons, and that doesn’t make the threat of running into the bathroom and vomiting any less real.

          (To wit, I once became violently ill for unrelated reasons about an hour after eating at a particular restaurant with a distinctive smell, and even though I know what caused it intellectually, it permanently put me off that restaurant. I can’t even walk inside one anymore without becoming nauseous. If someone brought takeout from that place for lunch, I would have to excuse myself and wait for the scent to dissipate before I could keep working.)

          People’s brains can form really strong neurological links between certain types of stimuli and physiological reactions, and smell –> nausea is one of the most readily-formed links. When you have a history of your brain thinking something is toxic to you, the association can last a lifetime even if you know intellectually, as I do, that the thing is *not* toxic. So I guess my point is “not liking it,” as a thing your brain does, is also a valid reason to really, really strongly not want to be inundated by a pervasive smell in your workplace.

  9. Nerdling*

    As an example of others who might be put off by something like that, one of my coworkers is currently pregnant. She’s had to stop wearing her own perfume because the smell was making her nauseated. A scent diffuser in the office would have her in the bathroom all day, every day or taking off precious leave that she needs for maternity leave so she’s not puking everywhere.

    By all means, scentify your own space. But please don’t mess with anyone else’s. (Also, bear in mind that you may have colleagues request not to meet in your office if you do that now due to your own diffuser, and that’s not an unreasonable request on their parts.)

    1. Maria*

      +1 regarding pregnant women.
      When I got pregnant, I could not stand the smell of ANY perfume, including the ones I owned and loved! I had to throw out scented lotion, shampoo, shower gel etc, and buy unscented stuff instead. And I made my husband skip the perfumed after shave/EDT, because scents made me so terribly nauseous.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Freesia made me sick when I was pregnant with my oldest. He’s now 18, and I still can’t stand the smell of it.

    2. The Optimizer*

      Scents do travel, however, and even with an enclosed office I would think they would still be detectable outside that door.

      Do it in your own home or car but not in shared spaces.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        At my old job everyone had those scentsy warmers…my office was in between two women who had very different scent preference…The scent creep was horrendous.

        1. HM in Atlanta*

          Oh yes, the conflicting scent battles that create an entirely new and disgusting smell. Also, the scent escalation as they each try to drown out the opposing scent.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            One was tropical and one was a “woodsy” scent. Basically my office smelled like someone tested every air freshener on the shelves at once.

            1. Sarah*

              I once witnessed a fascinating example of how terrible the Victoria’s Secret perfumes are when I stood in line while an unattended child sprayed 3-4 pumps of every single perfume in order into the air near the cash registers. The resulting mishmash was *better* than some of the original scents because you couldn’t pick out any distinctive notes. I was glad to get out of that store before the odor spread, though.

    3. Katniss*

      It’s so weird what will make some people feel ill when pregnant. When I was (I did not keep it) I first realized what was going on when I smelled my mom’s glass of white wine from across the room and needed to go throw up. I don’t drink at all anymore, but that whiff of it was 10 years ago and until I quit drinking I never again touched white wine.

    4. MsNarwhal*

      +100000 for the pregnant ladies
      The woman who shares a cubicle wall with me wears really strong perfume. Before I got pregnant, I barely noticed it, but now I’m on the verge of asking her to stop wearing it because it bothers me so much. The fact that she suddenly smelled so offensive was one of the first clues I was pregnant. One day she smelled like flowers, the next day she smelled like flowery acid. And poop. Pregnancy does weird things to you.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      Oh yeah, good point. When I worked at the cafe, we had a group of meter maids who came in regularly (they were both men and women; that’s just what we called them all) and one of them got pregnant. She could not stand to be around onions. We had to make sure her sandwich didn’t have even the tiniest bit of onion. Her colleagues were nice and left onions off theirs when eating with her.

  10. Chicken*

    I don’t think it’s weird at all, but I nth the comments to be careful about scents. One of the high-ups in my company has a diffuser in her office, and it’s VERY strong. I’m a couple doors down from her and luckily I can’t smell it from my office, but it hits me every time I walk by her open door. It’s actually a very pleasant, natural scent – just too strong!

  11. LiteralGirl*

    My office-mate was using one for a while. He didn’t ask first, but knows that I’m not really sensitive to scents. I did, however, let him know which of the scents that he purchased were acceptable to me.
    Yeah, just ask first.

    1. Solidus Pilcrow*

      Keep in mind that a scent may be acceptable *in theory*, say the people don’t mind vanilla in general, but the individual chemical composition may cause problems. I’ve had several scented candles that I liked the smell of in the store, but then they gave me a headache once I used them. This is stuff I bought for myself; it gets geometrically more complicated when you add other peoples’ preferences and sensitivities.

      1. Blurgle*

        There’s this mindset that people complain about fragrance because they don’t like it. The body’s immune response doesn’t care if the fragrance smells good or bad.

        1. potato battery*

          I think sometimes people do just not like it, though. And I do not say this to minimize allergies, just to add that some non-allergic people also object to scents. There are scents I cannot stand but to my knowledge I am not sensitive (though maybe I am, who knows?)

          1. TL -*

            Yeah, there are scents that give me headaches and then there’s anything with “midnight” in the name or lemon-scented. No, thank you.

          2. Rana*

            Yeah, there are scents I just find disgusting to smell (a lot of the weird artificial ones, like faux mango or all the various “breeze” kinds) but that’s different than the sort of throat-closing sensation I sometimes get if I walk into a place selling a lot of scented candles. That’s scary, not gross.

          3. M-C*

            Yes, I’m not violently allergic to any food I know of, but just the mention of an anise candle further up made me instantly nauseous. I couldn’t possibly get any work done when bathed in anise smell..

        2. whingedrinking*

          Even if it is a matter of “not liking it”, that’s still a legitimate issue. I don’t think anyone here would hesitate to say that you can’t just pump whatever sounds you want into the air around you without thinking about how it affects your coworkers, whether it was heavy metal or whale song. Scents shouldn’t be considered any different.

  12. Kobayashi*

    My parents got one for their house and I visited over the holidays. This one gives off a bit of a mist. I happened to be coming off of a bad cold and had lingering but still dreadful sinus issues. The diffuser bothered me, and because they had company over, it was on a LOT. I finally did ask them to turn it off on the last day, after the company had left, and they were good about it (since I was in obvious sinus distress). So keep that in mind. People who have allergies are fighting a cold (and not able to stay home – which I think people should if they can), might also be impacted by it. (Turns out she gave me one for Christmas, and I have yet to plug it in, since I’m still dealing with the lingering sinus issues).

    1. Artemesia*

      I occasionally burn a pine scented candle at home to mask cooking odors from elsewhere in the building and I would occasionally use a Christmassy candle in my office to freshen it up a bit — but the thing about candles is that once you put them out, the scent dies down. Those diffusers are relentless. (of course candles will also burn down the building so one shouldn’t use any that are not in glass containers.

      1. Schnoodle*

        As someone who is allergic to pretty much all trees and grasses, I can tell you that even a candle can set off a sinus infection. I tried a Christmas tree candle for my fiancee’s first treeless Christmas with me and spent the holiday on antibiotics.

  13. Bwmn*

    In addition to the general comments of why it’s bad – I think the reality of most of our office spaces is that often a lot more people have access to them than we necessarily think. Our offices recently had some work done over the holidays where assorted contractors needed to move around our office furniture, unplug devices etc. Someone had some kind of scent dispersal unit in their office that they usually control very judiciously.

    During the work, the device was unplugged and placed in a way where all of the oils spilled out all over the radiator and now that area of the office reeks. And in this case, the person who scheduled the work to happen was the person who’s office had the spillage.

    How your office is cleaned, how maintenance is done, who may need to go into your office when you’re on vacation – all of these situations are times when controlled scent can be altered.

  14. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    I’m a teacher and I think that fragrances don’t belong in the classroom any more than in offices. One of my coworkers has a diffuser in her classroom. She has a warm, vanilla-y fragrance, and most of the time that I’m in her classroom it’s quite pleasant… except when I already have a bit of a headache. Then it immediately skyrockets my headache into much more severe territory. It’s too bad because 90% of the time it’s nice…

      1. Ad Astra*

        I’ve never heard a scent described as cloying but now I realize why I hate most artificially scented products. Cloying. Wow.

      2. Nina*

        Yeah, artificial vanilla is a harsh one, and this is coming from a person who loves scented things. As you say, it’s cloying and very saccharine. It’s like they amplify the natural scent by 1000.

        Weird/dumb story: as a teen years ago, I bought one of those cutesy fluffy Clueless-style pens, but I noticed that it had a faint chemical odor to it. So I spritzed a little vanilla body spray on it, figuring the vanilla would kill the odor, leaving a nice fragrance behind, right? Wrong. Now the pen just smelled like vanilla and chemical solvent, which did not go well together. After a day or so, I couldn’t stand either smell. Both the pen and the body spray went into the trash.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I’m a teacher and I felt the same way until the first year my classroom was filled with Axe-drenched and Bath and Body Works dripping eighth graders. I used to spray the area around my desk with citrus or pine before and after school just to keep my sanity.

      It’s obviously such a fraught topic; I do have an essential oil roller ball that I use when I need a break. I recommend purchasing a pocket-size or portable version and avoid the diffuser.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Ha! A good point. Middle school classrooms can also sometimes acquire other unpleasant smells, especially when you’re dealing with kids going through puberty who haven’t learned that it’s time to start wearing deodorant…

      2. LizB*

        When I worked in a middle school (as a counselor/tutor, not a teacher), I declared my office a “Scent-Free Zone” and put up brightly colored signs asking students not to use perfume, body spray, or scented lotion in my space. Before I put the signs up, I had kids dousing themselves with perfume or slathering on incredibly strong-scented lotion every ten minutes. Afterwards, there were still a few kids who walked in right after putting something on, but for the most part I could breathe okay in my office. (I also kept a bottle of UNscented lotion on my desk, for kids who needed lotion and only had the stinky stuff with them.)

      3. Michaela T*

        I went to an all-girls high school where the Bath and Body Works lotions were very popular. One teacher had to ask us to stop using them before and during her class, you could actually see her breaking out in hives from all the perfumes.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I’m cringing in reminiscence of my own middle school days, when we not only all wore scented lotions (…and different scents, which I’m sure led to an amazing melange…) but reapplied them on the regular as our own noses got numbed to the scent. Our poor teachers!

      4. Rater Z*

        Back when I was 18-19 years old, I was working in elementary school libraries. This was back when students went home at noon for lunch. (The good old days…) One afternoon, I was hearing the boys complaining about how some of the girls smelled but didn’t think much about it until I got a whiff of them. Seems that a few of the 8 year old girls were home at lunch, got into a mothers perfume to the extent it was like they took a bath in it, then came back to school. Talk about strong. Fifty years ago now, but I can still smell it.

  15. Sibley*

    Please don’t. Also, refrain from or keep perfumes and all related items very light. While we’re at it, cool it on the fancy hand creams, soaps and air fresheners.

    Thanks, the person with scent sensitivities whom you may send to the hospital.

  16. phedre*

    Please don’t do this! I hate hate hate the smell of scented candles and oil diffusers – they frequently give me headaches. Once in a while I’ve found a very subtle scented candle that doesn’t bother me, but that’s very rare. Most of the stuff they sell smells overpowering and sickly sweet to me. Same with scented lotions – if it’s subtle I’m ok, but if it’s Bath & Body Works I’m not a fan because their stuff is very saccharine smelling and makes me feel sick.

    1. Talvi*

      This. One of my roommates (of all of four months) gave me a scented candle for Christmas. While that is a nice thought, I also know that I will never be able to use it because the smell was already giving me a headache. I’m not about to experiment with it lit. (Tangentally, for lotions, I’ve found exactly one that I like – because it smells like actual peaches, not like some artificial scent that is supposedly intended to smell like peaches but really doesn’t. I was pleasantly surprised.)

  17. Jerzy*

    I don’t even like air freshener sprays in the bathroom, which I know is common practice. It doesn’t make the place smell less like BMs. Now it’s just BMs covered in artificial flower scent. Ew!

    I’m someone very sensitive to smells. I’d be ok with peppermint or lavender scents (since they’re also good at fighting migraines, which, for me, can often be induced by other strong scents), but not much of anything else, and I bet you’d find people who liked everything except those scents. It’s like music in a shared space. It’s going to be nearly impossible to please everyone, and not everyone may feel comfortable telling you they’d be bothered by it, even if you asked ahead of time.

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      A lot of United Airlines flights keep this repulsive faux-baby-powder scented spray in their restrooms. I don’t know what they’re thinking, encouraging people to spray stuff around *in an enclosed environment like a plane*.

      I’ve only ever been on an airplane flight once where I smelled a bad human smell coming out of the lavatory, but I won’t fly United any more because of all the bad chemical scents coming out of their potties and into the rest of the plane.

      1. GigglyPuff*

        From what I understand, many flight attendants use the little packets of coffee to get rid of bad smells fast. They tape/hang them up inside the bathroom door.

        Unfortunately my mom learned about that the hard way because of the person who used the bathroom before her.

        1. Nina*

          I read somewhere that fragrance testers keep bowls of coffee beans nearby to “re-set their sense of smell” so to speak, because after a while, they can’t smell anything at all from having tested so many different fragrances.

    2. ReanaZ*

      Yeah, I never understood the bathroom ‘fresheners’ either. Definitely makes the smell worse, not better. Gross.

    3. Meg Murry*

      Yes, what is even worse than air freshener to me is when people spray Lysol in the bathroom to mask the odor. It doesn’t actually mask the odor, it just adds another layer of scent on top of it, and the atomized product lingers in the air for quite a while. If I walk into a bathroom where someone has recently sprayed Lysol and get a face full of it, my throat starts to close up and I can’t breathe. It’s an awful, awful feeling. Do I like the smell of BM? No, no one does. But BM+Lysol is 1000 times worse to me.

    4. Toasted Souls of the Damned*

      From a comic I saw somewhere…”I sprayed Febreeze in the bathroom and now it smells like shitrus”

  18. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

    Oof, I sell essential oils and even I would say steer clear of a diffuser in the office. You can make up an inhaler or a rollerball to rub on your wrist so that you get the nice smells, but others around you could be negatively affected by the scent you’re using.

  19. SerfinUSA*

    I use a USB diffuser that I learned about from another coworker who uses one. We’re in an open cubicle farm with 5ft tall walls, and it’s almost impossible to smell unless you enter our cubicles. We both use them for respiratory/sinus essential oils, so maybe they dissipate faster than perfumey types.

    Aroma2go is the brand name.

    1. AMG*

      cool idea–I’ll have to remember this. I love all of the fragrance-y things (hand cream, EO diffusers, candles, etc) but never use them at work because of sensitivities like those posted here.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I was coming over to say the same thing. My cube mate has a tiny diffuser and no one would know it is there. I don’t smell it or hear it because it is so small. The puff of vapor that comes out barely goes a foot from the source. I can be in his cube and still not smell it unless my face is right in front of it.

    3. edj3*

      I said this upthread, but it’s not the smell that’s harmful to me (unpleasant maybe but not harmful). But those diffusers add particulate matter to the air and that is harmful because I have reactive airway disease. Please don’t use them at work.

  20. hbc*

    I have no fragrance sensitivity whatever, and even if you had an office full of people like me, you still shouldn’t. The human nose gets insensitive to smells over even brief periods, so you’re going to think you’re putting out a gentle hint while people walking by your office are going to feel like someone poured those oils directly into their sinus cavities.

    Even if they like the smell in theory, it’ll be too intense and distracting, and you’ll be making people uncomfortable for the first few minutes in your office as they adjust.

    1. Sarah*

      I came here to say this, too. OP, if some kind of scent during the day is a *must*, use it sparingly in a form where you apply it once and then it fades away, so you actually smell it and can use as little as possible. The personal scent inhalers mentioned upthread are a good example, or something like a single spritz of air freshener you spray while everyone’s away at lunch or with your office door closed. If you use a scent continuously, as from a diffuser, it will not only build up over time, but you’ll think it’s WAY less strong than it actually is.

  21. the_scientist*

    Essential oils are really popular right now (I blame a few MLM companies that sell them), so I want to point out what I’ve seen happen a few times- that proponents of essential oils will often make the argument that these scents are “natural” and therefore more tolerable than air fresheners or perfumes that have “artificial”, “chemical” scents. My heavy use of quotation marks should reveal how I feel about that- they might be “natural” but they are still strong scents in an enclosed area that might be too much for your coworkers, so I don’t think it’s a great idea in an office. My grad school roommate had an essential oil diffuser from Young Living and man that thing was amazing. I loved it, but I still wouldn’t put it in my office.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Heh, I got told that (ThisBrand) of wax tarts were better than whatever I was already using because they were all natural and because they melted at a low temp so they didn’t release Chemicals(tm) into the air.

      Ahem. If an odor is coming out, chemicals are being released.

      And for the love of pete, nobody tell me this stuff will cure cancer. It smells nice, but about the worst medical condition I’ll use oils for is a headache.

      1. Shell*

        Sigh. The point of fragrances is that the molecules are volatile; I really don’t give a crap if the fragrances are synthetic or natural. (Though I do admit natural fragrances generally smell more appealing than synthetic to me, allergies aside.)

        I occasionally use a diffuser at home–it’s a cold-mist diffuser, rather than the Young Living nebulizers that smell much stronger. I think the water dilutes the smell more. But dilute or not, I’d never bring one to the office, it’s such a bad idea.

        1. fposte*

          Right. The natural/”unnatural” thing is generally a red herring (and I’ve heard people talk about their wonderful natural essential oils of things that you can’t get a natural essential oil out of :-)). A lot of people just don’t like getting smacked in the olfactory bulb, period.

          1. JMegan*

            I hate the idea that “natural” is automatically better than “chemical.” (And also that they are mutually exclusive, as Kelly L points out – plenty of chemicals are also natural.)

            Bleach is a “natural” smell too, and so is skunk. And body odour, and marijuana, and all kinds of other things that I’d really prefer not to have to smell during my work day. Total red herring*.

            *I imagine herring would also fall into the category of “natural and also unpleasant.”

            1. LawBee*

              ha, I actually don’t mind the smell of skunk spray. :D I think it’s because I live in an area with lots of marshes, so that sulfury smell reminds me of home.

            2. Liane*

              And then there’s these all-natural, healthful things:
              Hemlock, which really cured Socrates of a few medical conditions, like breathing & having a pulse.
              Assorted snake vemons.

            3. Connie-Lynne*

              OMG, the whole “natural” vs “chemical” thing.

              I’ll admit that I don’t get nauseated from smells coming directly off of a growing thing in the same way that I do from smells coming out of a spray bottle or a diffuser, but that’s got nothing to do with the natural-ness of the chemicals generated, and everything to do with the particular smells, and maybe the concentration thereof. If there were a plant that smelled like fake ocean breezes while it were alive, I guarantee you smelling that set of chemicals would probably make me just as sick!

      2. Ineloquent*

        Yeah, my aunt convinced my grandparents to use essential oils to help cure my grandfather’s cancer. It was not very effective.

      3. Kyrielle*

        Yep. I’ll use them for a sinus condition occasionally, and I’ll use them to help me relax / destress (which actually does help with something worse than a headache, but only because it’s stress-mediated)…but that latter is very explicitly for my personal reaction to the scent.

        And oh for the love of little green apples not where I inflict it on other people. I’m SUPER grateful for this post, however, because I had _not_ heard of the inhaler thingies and those will be handy for me when I want to smell Super Awesome Scent and not worry about whether $Coworker or $Friend experiences it as “oh by all that is holy my head is exploding now” scent. :P

    2. Solidus Pilcrow*

      For I always counter the “it’s natural, it can’t be bad for you” crowd with “radium, arsenic, and asbestos are all natural, too.”

          1. That's What The Cat Said*

            But the question remains, what does poison ivy smell like? I don’t necessarily like picking wild roses but the essential oil costs enough to run a small country.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          Foxglove (digitalis), Deadly Nightshade, opium (poppies). A bee sting can kill someone who is allergic to them.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        Not to be weird, but I love you right now. I’m so going to save that one for the next time I have to attend a holiday meal with my FIL’s wife. I am convinced she is going to lead that poor man to a premature death with all her natural nonsense. Seriously, she has him drinking geranium oil, which I am pretty sure is not a good idea. When he had back surgery (he had to have several vertebrae removed because he got a staph infection that ended up rotting away the bones of his spine), she kept asking the doctor if she could rub oils on his back and then put a heating pad on to help them soak in. The doctor said no. She wouldn’t let him drink any water from the hospital, either; she brought in cases of Fiji water and stacked them all over the floor. I’m sure the nurses were glad to see him check out.

        1. NotMyRealName*

          Geranium oil is in most everything so it’s probably not doing any harm. It’s on the EPA’s Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) list and is exempt from residue tolerances in food that most pesticides are controlled under.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            I use a few essential oils at home, so I think they’re generally safe. I just get worried because he has high blood pressure, and now the doctor says he has a problem with one of his heart valves, and she actively discourages him from seeking medical care. She thinks oils and crystals and such are the answer to everything.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          Not to be contrarian, but Fiji brand water is one of the few bottled waters that I’d be able to drink if it were me, and I’ve gotten some weird looks from that. But I’d most likely be fine with tap water, so even I would not be that person at the hospital.

      2. Rubyrose*

        I have a friend that has decided that small amounts of turpentine is ok, based on a Harvard educated MD who has a Web presence and no longer lives in the US!

        1. Connie-Lynne*

          Wait. Sniffing turpentine? Like huffing? Or ingesting it?

          I mean, either one sounds bad. I’m just curious.

      3. GOG11*

        My boyfriend is allergic to certain berries. It doesn’t matter how delicious, nutritious and natural a blueberry is if you’re allergic to it.

    3. Annoyed Chemist*

      Here’s my rant on the subject, as someone’s who’s business card carries the title “Chemist” and studied both chemistry and chemical engineering in college.

      One of the definitions of chemical is “a substance (such as an element or compound) that is made by a chemical process”. Essential oils are made by concentrating a substance by distilling it to make it more concentrated. Distillation is a chemical process. Therefore, essential oils, are, by definition, chemicals.

      One of my hugest pet peeves is when people use the term “chemical” to mean “a substance made in a lab instead of by plants/nature” Even the substances made by plants or animals are produced by (bio)chemical processes and are therefore chemicals. If you want to avoid synthetic ingredients (made in a lab) instead of bio-made materials, be my guest, but don’t turn up your nose at “chemicals” in favor of your “natural” product.

      Also, as someone who is very sensitive to scented products, my first though when I saw the title of this post was “Weird? Somewhat. Rude/insensitive/annoying? To me, yes.”

      1. Shell*

        I was going to type the same rant but you beat me to it, so let me heartily second your rant (as another person who has a chemistry degree).

      2. Kyrielle*

        Yes this! I do not have a chemistry degree but heartily agree with your rant all the same. :) Then again, I like helpful synthetic chemicals also, so I am definitely not in the target populace of that whole concept in the first place. (Thank goodness.)

      3. GG*

        Ugh. I actually know this, yet still keep making the mistake (in my other reply to this post, even).

        Thanks for the reminder to watch my wording better.

      4. Liane*

        I don’t have a chemistry degree, but I do have a zoology degree which required chemistry courses, and I’m a pretty decent bench chemistry tech. And I agree with you.

      5. potato battery*

        I am also a chemist, but I would argue that distillation is a physical process, not a chemical one. (I kid, I kid! Your broader point is SPOT ON.)

      6. AS*

        Distillation is a PHYSICAL process. That is extremely different from a chemical process.

        It is a bit pathetic that you are a chemist and do not know this.

        1. Sarah*

          Mmmmm ok but the processes that the plants’ cells used to make the essential oils *are* chemical, so the point stands.

  22. Ghost Town*

    Please don’t. Unless your office is sealed off from your coworkers, it will undoubtedly impact them. While fragrance aversion is on the rise, to me it still feels like being the one kid who didn’t want to have class outside in college. “We’ll do it if everyone agrees, but not if even one person says no” condition, but all the classmates or colleagues really try to wear you down.

    And, even if the scent is lovely, not one that bothers me/your co-workers/not too strong, I’d eye roll a bit and brace myself for an MLM pitch. If you’re new/unknown to me, I’d probably steer clear of you in places like the break room for this reason alone.

    1. Jenn*

      Oh god, this reminds me of the time my thesis advisor wanted to have our weekly group meeting outside “because it’s so nice out.” It was spring. The trees were in full pollen. And we sat under one of them with our lunches for the meeting. There was pollen in my lunch and I was miserable. About halfway through the meeting, one of the postdocs turned to me and asked “Um, you’re dying out here, aren’t you?” I nodded, snottily. We never had the meeting outside again, but I certainly didn’t feel like it was my place to veto it when the higher-ups wanted it.

      1. Ghost Town*

        Oh, the pollen…
        Outside meetings are never as nice as you think it would be. Too hot in the sun, or too cold b/c it is too early in the year and people are just stir crazy and itching to get outside. But for me, the kicker was that it was never comfortable. I sat in chairs with a back for a reason, and spending 45-60 minutes on slightly damp grass, hunched over a book and notebook were not conducive to concentrating.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Slightly off topic, I’ve had multiple boyfriends just not understand why I don’t like dining outdoors. Thaaaaat would be because my hair is always blowing into my mouth (even if it’s tied up) while my napkin is blowing down the street and I’m trying not to look at the bird poop on the table and also it’s probably hot or cold.

          1. Jen S. 2.0*

            OMG, this. I have NO idea what eating outside is supposed to be adding to my food experience. (And I hated having class outside, too. Ugh.). I’m not outdoorsy and I HATE being hot, and everyone wants to start sitting outside at the exact temperature that I think it’s too bleeping hot for that.

  23. Dasha*

    My coworker had a small one and people complained about the smell, personally, I liked it but I know some people are super sensitive to stuff like that.

  24. GG*

    What Alison wrote here?
    “An increasing number of people have fragrance sensitivities, and you could end up causing a coworker migraines, respiratory issues, or other physical discomfort. ”

    Raises hand! And thank you, Alison, SO MUCH for being aware of and raising consciousness on this issue.

    Aside from everything everyone else above has also said on the topic, a lot of people aren’t aware that the vast majority of scented products don’t use naturally occurring fragrances. Instead they’re chemically synthesized, and there’s actually a lot of research out there that they’re really bad for everyone, not just people who have known issues. But unfortunately there’s no labeling or regulation on this kind of thing, even when the ingredients have been shown to be toxic/carcinogenic.

    Please, for your health as well as ours, just don’t do it.

    1. Mockingjay*

      I would be wary of using an oil diffuser in the office. I tried using one in an old musty office once; it was impossible to control the amount of scent [STRONG] and I gave myself a headache – no doubt due to its mystery chemical ingredients.

      Timely anecdote: My yoga instructor brought in essential oils last Saturday. We had a nice discussion on the uses of oils – how they can enhance experiences (exercise, meditation), but also the problems the scents (pure or blended) can cause for individual users. She also made the point that most essential oils sold contain only 3 or 4 percent natural oil; the rest is fillers and petrochemicals. Labeling laws allow products with such low percentages to be sold as “natural” or “pure.” She noted that price can be an indicator of quality (not always) – 100% pure oils are usually quite expensive per ounce.

      I found the tiniest dab on my wrist lasted quite some time and wasn’t discernible to anyone but me; still, it’s not something I would use daily because I was conscious of the scent during each movement.

  25. MsChanandlerBong*

    Please don’t use one in the office. Someone is bound to be sensitive to the smell. Also, my in-laws use a diffuser at home, and they don’t realize it, but they reek of essential oils at all times. The scent seeps into your clothes and hair, which may not be seen as too professional when you have to attend meetings or work events.

  26. Amber Rose*

    Perfumes and scents ruin my life. I once spent almost a week sleeping 15-20 hours a day, just passing out at random, because husband plugged a Febreeze thing into the wall. I didn’t make the connection until he managed to wake me up long enough to go to an appointment and I started to recover after breathing fresh air.

    That’s an extreme example obviously. Usually scents just trigger migraines and give me the sniffles. But neither thing is good at work, and you never know how stuff like that will affect someone.

  27. mina*

    Oh, how I hate strong scents. One co worker here has a Scentsy that wafts out a pine fragrance. It makes me sick – headaches, trouble breathing, and the skin on my face kind of prickles, like lots of little stinging nettles are attacking me. She was completely not receptive to my request that she not use it. Best she would do is turn it down. So many other scents she could use if she wanted, but noooo. She has to use the one that makes me ill.

    So please, just don’t.

  28. Jaaane*

    Also on Team Don’t Do It here, but wanted to point out that some workplaces have policies around scented products so it’s worth checking that out before you buy another diffuser.

  29. A Non*

    Oh dear, yeah, allergies/sensitivities can be fun killers, especially for the people who have them! I look forward to the day we figure out the human immune system enough to fix it.

    If you’re really enjoying scents, would wearing a light perfume be a good option? That would keep it more limited to you.

  30. Lia*

    I have no scent sensitivities, and I use aromatherapy oils fairly often — but only rollerballs/inhalers at work. Just too many people out there who can’t handle the scents and I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.

    Also, um, I love patchouli, but never wear it at work.

  31. Aunt Vixen*

    I think lighting incense would be weird and new age-y; essential oil diffusing seems more yuppy to me.

    And I don’t think having a diffuser in your office is a good idea. Even people who don’t have particular sensitivities to scents need to be allowed to curate their own exposure to such things. (My personal anecdote is to do with the time I had to move away from a nice lady in my choir because that day, and only that day, some product or other – lotion? deodorant? hair spray? – was hitting my migraine-comes-soon nerve.)

  32. Sunshine Brite*

    I both love my essential oils and diffuser and am pretty sensitive to scents. I need to have control over it and only use it sometimes. If someone in my office used it I would be pretty peeved since I lean towards a few standards that don’t bug me. Even when I use it at home, I need breaks from it sometimes because it fills my home office too easily. Even the little dabbers a friend had during grad school felt like too much for me sometimes. I’d leave them at home for the most part and use sparingly in personal use levels in the office if at all.

  33. K.*

    Reading “patchouli” gave me flashbacks to my 9th grade English teacher, who was a good teacher but wore a lot of patchouli oil every day and it made our eyes water. I can’t stand the smell of patchouli to this day.

    I’m on the “this will irk more people than you think it will” train. Keep the diffuser at home.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I like it, but when I lived in Santa Cruz, there were a lot of people to whom I wanted to say, “Dear, patchouli is nice, but it’s not a substitute for a shower.” >_<

  34. Lanya*

    I have synesthesia, and I can be very negatively affected by some smells, depending on what the scent is, combined with my stress level at the time.

    Being very aware of “scentsitivities”, the only time I ever brought a scent diffuser to work was the time that we had a skunk nesting next to the HVAC unit in the basement of our building. Even patchouli would have been better than that smell, which lingered for months.

    1. Lanya*

      Additionally, I am allergic to pumpkin/squash, and I’ve found that I have a really bad reaction to pumpkin-scented oils/air wicks that contain real pumpkin extract. That was an unpleasant experience.

  35. KH*

    Throwing in with the rest of the folks saying please, please, please, please, please no.

    I don’t think diffusers are weird or hippy or new-agey or whatever. I do think they’re a terrible idea for any place other than your own home or car. (And even then … some people way overdo it.)

    Please don’t do this in your office.

  36. Tricksie*

    Please, please, please don’t! I am actually changing pediatric dentists because they started using an scent infuser thing in the office and I cannot stand it. It gives me a headache and makes me feel sick. I can’t imagine how people with asthma or serious allergies deal with it!

  37. Bend & Snap*

    Giving this one a hard no. It’s just inconsiderate. There’s a woman in my office who burns a strong candle and it’s awful.

  38. Jane*

    I agree with all the caution here, but to offer one anecdotal data point, I have pretty severe sensitivity to almost all scents. I use unscented EVERYTHING, air fresheners give me severe headaches and make my throat swell, I can’t even walk past a perfume counter without feeling sick for the rest of the day. But I have no trouble at all with essential oils like peppermint, lavender, or lemon. I use them at my home in my baths and as air fresheners. I don’t sell them and I think people who try to convince you they have any benefit other than smelling good are nuts, but I would never put them in the same category as perfume.

    1. ReanaZ*

      But just because you’re not sensitive to essential oil scents doesn’t mean no one else is. I would absolutely put them in the same category as perfume for ‘don’t do it or be extremely cautious’ rules.

      Actually, for people who allergies or intolerances to certain scents, essential oils can be worse than fake ones. I’m intolerant to cinnamon; my friend is horribly anaphylactic allergic. Both of us feel someone ill (me headachy, her sinuses) around fake/heavily chemical cinnamon smells or candles, but real cinnamon oil will put her in the hospital and give me a full-blown migraine if I don’t leave immediately.

      There’s a woman at work who sprays plants with cinnamon oil in water (I think it’s a bug repellent thing?) and I have to physically move to the other side of the office when she does.

      Essential oils aren’t any safer than chemical perfumes. For some of us, they’re even worse.

  39. AnonAcademic*

    I love perfume, scented candles, potpourri, etc. but for some reason essential oils are the only scented thing that gives me a headache. I have a perfume with patchouli notes that I love (Tom Ford White Patchouli), and if I wear too much even that gives me a headache. I have a friend who wears heavy essential oils and if I’m in close quarters with her too long I also get a headache. I’m not sure what it is about the oils in particular but judging from comments above, I’m far from the only one!

    1. A Non*

      I love that your comment about being bothered only by essential oils is right after Jane’s comment about being bothered by everything that isn’t essential oils. There’s no winning here. :-)

      1. Jane*

        Ha! It’s true. And it can be hard to understand or fully believe unless you experience it too. I would react to a peppermint scented candle as if someone is trying to kill me, but can’t fathom someone being bothered by peppermint essential oil.

        I totally believe the above poster though, which is why it’s better to avoid all scents in an office if possible, or at least ask first.

    2. Jenn*

      For what it’s worth, a lot of natural essential oil blends use patchouli as a base note or fixative, so you could just be reacting to patchouli across the board. It’s a pretty polarizing scent: people either love it or want to run screaming in the opposite direction. I think other fixatives are typically more expensive or difficult to acquire in a non-synthetic form.

      1. Gary*

        This. We just like to breathe regular air.

        Why do we have to feel bad about this? I feel like this should be considered normal.

        Personally, I don’t mind smelling things that are actually present in their natural proportions. If I’m walking by a bunch of lilacs, I should smell lilacs, because there are lilacs nearby. If you like that smell, go find some lilacs and smell them. If you insist on concentrating essence of lilac (or whatever) and smothering all ambient smells with your concoction, please do it where it doesn’t affect me. I’d much, much rather smell the ambient smells (even the unfortunate ones) than the amplified perfumes and fragrances people seem to think are necessary.

    1. Anon On This One*

      I know, and it makes my inner contrarian want to stand up and say something. But it’s too difficult to contain scents and even if people just don’t like smells and that doesn’t seem like a big enough deal, there are plenty of those people who are downplaying their sensitivities. So when someone says, “Oh I don’t like that smell” they might actually mean that particular scent is making them feel sick. And it’s too much of a PITA to try to find something that offends the least number of people, so safe bet is to just leave it at home.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Nope! Not everybody, or no one would ever ask these questions, try to do it, or get defensive when it comes up. Lots of people like scents.

      And I get that…I have scents I _adore_ and don’t get to use nearly enough because they might trouble someone else.

      And there are a lot of scents that trouble me, so I’m not about to let me “I want to smell nice thing” override someone else’s “I want to breathe / not have a pounding headache / stay out of the hospital.”

      I’m fortunate (and so are the people around me) – allergy shots have somewhat helped my allergies, so my response to things based on any of the many plants I’m allergic to are now less severe; I had _childhood_ asthma that went away, which allowed me to safely *get* the allergy shots without being in a hospital setting for quick response, and which also removes a whole level of unfun response; and I don’t get migraines. (On the other hand, a bad response to a scent can still leave me battling sinus issues for more than a week afterward, since I have weirdly-formed sinuses and once they start clogging up it gets ugly fast. That’s always fun. But it’s not nearly as miserable as asthma was, nor as I understand migraines to be, and it doesn’t stop me from breathing, so. It could be worse…and for some people it is.)

      I love me some lilac and carnation (in spite of being mildly allergic to lilac, actually). But I seldom wear them and never heavily, and I wouldn’t diffuse them in a public place like an office. I don’t want anyone else to suffer just so I can have my much-liked smell.

    3. Anonsie*

      “These days”? My dad is allergic to most scents and is in his late 60s. (Plus side: I grew up in a scent-free house, and had support in avoiding scents outside the house when it became clear that I also have scent issues. And the “sorry, we have to change our detergent ASAP, I’m getting hives when I wear my clothes” announcement got zero push-back because our family knows that this stuff is real).

    4. Observer*

      Maybe. But, liking something doesn’t give you a license to make things actively unpleasant for other people.

    5. LawBee*

      And everyone’s kids have food allergies, etc.. But you still have to accommodate, because that’s the right thing to do. I’m not even going to say “it sucks”, because being hospitalized or dying because of a bad reaction is worse than not being able to wear my favorite perfume.

      1. Tau*

        Whereas I’m sure I’m not the only allergic/asthmatic who saw this post, imagined the possible outcome if this were a coworker of mine, and immediately jumped to leave a comment going “No! I beg you, no!”

    6. misspiggy*

      Ever think about why that could be? You could assume that people are getting ever more self obsessed and exaggerating preferences to get attention, or you could explore the other possibilities. These include the idea that as medicine progresses, inbuilt vulnerabilities that would have killed many people now just lead to us having a fairly miserable time, and annoying the luckier members of the population with our requests for accommodation.

      1. Observer*

        I think that there are a couple of other things at play, as well.

        For one thing, buildings are much better insulated than they once were. That means that everything that gets released into the air in a building stays there. So, someone with a mild sensitivity might not even notice it with a bunch of open windows or in a drafty room, because there is air turnover. But, when there isn’t and the HVAC is inadequate (or doesn’t exist), it just sits and builds up. This can also shift people’s baseline of what tips them over into trouble.

        Google “sick building syndrome”. Link to Follow.

        The other thing is that it may be possible that we’ve reduced people’s immunity by TOO carefully shielding them.

  40. HR Recruiter*

    I’m going to go on a hormonal rant because that’s what pregnant woman do. I’m currently suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme morning sickness). Please don’t do anything smelly at work if the smell could carry over to other people’s work areas. I have coworkers who decided my office smelled (water leak on really old smelly carpet) while I was out so they sprayed SEVERAL air fresheners. Little did they know I was out for hospitalized morning sickness. When I returned the smell sent me into a vomiting nightmare.

    1. RIT*

      I hope you get relief soon. I also had HG with one of my pregnancies, but at least it let up after my first four months. Nightmare is the right word for it.

    2. Hiding on the Internet Today*

      Take good care of yourself, I had that through my entire pregnancy and it was so hard. I worked from home 4 days a week(!) for a few months until I could start taking the anti emesis drugs. I had to eliminate so much from my life because it made me sick. (Meat. Caffeine. Pants. Riding in cars. Solid food for a while there.)

      I think if someone had soaked my workspace in air freshener I would have dissolved into a vomiting nightmare followed by a nervous breakdown.

      1. Neruda*

        Sympathies from a fellow HG sufferer! I’m currently 24 weeks pregnant and needed 9 weeks off work. Thankfully I am doing a lot better now. Put anything with a strong scent in my way from weeks 7-13 and I would have vomited too. It’s no fun.

        I hope you start to feel better soon.

    3. BananaPants*

      You have my sympathies! I had severe nausea and vomiting in both pregnancies, worse the second time around. With #2 I was queasy before I even would have thought to take a pregnancy test and was vomiting several times a day every day from 5 weeks until 24+ weeks, then several times a week right up until I delivered. I got very skilled at being able to puke while driving and didn’t go anywhere without a spare shirt and a gallon Ziploc somewhere on my person. I never needed to be hospitalized, thankfully, but my work performance suffered. I didn’t lose quite enough weight for it to be true HG, but my OB had to call it HG so that my insurance company would cover enough Zofran to keep me functional.

      It is so exhausting to be severely nauseous literally every waking minute for weeks and then months on end. The littlest scent could set me off – things that bothered me one day were fine the next. A coworker with a strong cologne or an EO diffuser would have sent me sprinting for the bathroom.

  41. Cautionary tail*

    Adding to the avalanche of Don’t Do It comments.

    In addition to headaches, my throat closes, I can’t breathe, I sneeze continuously for hours and it takes about two days of clean air for me to recover.

    Don’t Do It.

  42. jaxon*

    This is pretty funny. I recently moved to a new space at my workplace and there’s a fellow with an office nearby who basically treats it like a private room in a spa. There are all manner of plants, wall hangings, special lighting he’s brought in, etc. And there’s always a diffuser, right by a humidifier, so the place honestly has the air of a tent in the Amazon.

    I had already worked with this guy, and when I saw his office, I was not surprised. It isn’t unpleasant, exactly, but I think it tells people more about him than he intends.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      LOL There’s a woman like that here, too. Although I don’t smell anything in her office. But she’s got the reed diffuser, cool air humidifier, lots of interesting things on her desk, candles, etc. It’s not unpleasant at all, but, like you said, it tells people more about her without her saying a word.

  43. Chocolate lover*

    I’me one of those people who can be sensitive to smell, potentially causing headaches and even worse, nausea, sometimes very intense. I would never step foot in your office (I have a coworker who used an electric candle for a while, and I left her office several times because I couldn’t take it, then finally told her to come to my office if she needed me), and unless you sit very far away from other people and never open your office door, the smell is going to drift into other people’s spaces, so there’s really no avoiding it.

    As Alison said, altering other people’s air is a big deal.

  44. RIT*

    Please, please, please don’t bring diffusers or air fresheners or scented fake candles or bowls of potpourri (etc) into a shared office space.

    There are more of us scent-sensitive folks out there than many people realize, and while I can only speak for myself, I know I’ve certainly learned my lesson about trying to politely advocate for myself. It’s a really-real thing, and can be debilitating at its extremes.

  45. Bostonian*

    It seems like the commenters are pretty universally against the idea (and I’m not a big fan, either), but I wonder if anyone has suggestions for alternatives to make an office feel homier that wouldn’t bother coworkers. For example, I drink a lot of herbal tea at my desk, because I like the warmth and coziness of it, and the flavor/scent is part of that. Some of the fruit ones do have a pretty strong smell in the first couple of minutes, but it goes away pretty quickly as the tea cools. I had a coworker who brought in a nice lamp from home and used that almost exclusively, instead of the overhead fluorescents in her office. Getting a couple of plants can make an office feel much less sterile. And if the problem is that the office feels stale or musty, a small fan might be a better option than scents.

    1. mel*

      Having a Himalayan sea salt lamp on a warmer could add a homier feel in addition to the air purifying benefits they supposedly have. They also don’t give off a scent, so that’s a great atmospheric addition, with the calming light it gives off when lit, I think. :)

    2. Chocolate lover*

      That would be a great topic to bring up in the open thread!

      I have a plant, some artwork, personal photos, including mixed media/altered art frames/collages I’ve done.

    3. Kyrielle*

      Tea isn’t as big a deal, IMO, because it fades fast – just be aware and ditch a flavor if someone is actively allergic/sensitive and lets you know.

      If it’s not too noisy, a little tabletop fountain can also help. A little bit of art or kitsch can help if you like it. (I have a lovely photo of a waterfall on the coast, in sunlight, as well as a trio of photos from around town; none is larger than 5×7 for the actual photo, but I like to see them.) And I keep page-a-day calendars on my desk with themes that make me more comfortable/interested/thoughtful. (Two this year, which may be overkill; usually one.) I have a little art magnet with a phrase on it that sticks to the metal of my window frame too (would also stick to a cubical wall if I needed it to, provided sufficient metal, but otherwise I might need a hook to hang it).

    4. Older not yet wiser*

      We have a Kuerig at work and a few coworkers like the flavored coffees – like French vanilla or caramel.. They smell really strong (and bad – to me) for a couple of minutes. But the smell dissipates pretty quickly. So I don’t think tea or coffe scents are problematic. Diffusers or candles are continuous so more of an issue.

  46. Ellen Fremedon*

    So you’re saying the beaded curtain is a bad idea, then? Because I’ve seriously been considering putting one up in my cube doorway– I’m set up with my back to the door and my screen facing out, at a T intersection, so everyone coming down the corridor is basically looking straight into my cube, over my shoulder, at my work. The constant feeling of being stared at is really starting to get to me.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Eh, I think it was mostly a joke about turning the place into a psychedelic hippie den. :) It would probably depend on what the curtain looked like and how much other people decorate their cubes in your office culture.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I hear you. After years in a real office with a door, I got booted to a cube, and not only that, but I got a “special” one that only has 3 foot walls on one side and is open to a window on the other. The beaded curtain wouldn’t even help me because people can see my monitor by looking over the wall quite easily. I’m also right on the path to my dept. manager and EVP’s offices, so I get a lot of traffic wandering by. Stop looking at me!

      All that to say I still wouldn’t try a beaded curtain. I think you might be able to get away with a piece of cardboard or a regular curtain that you pull aside and make it about you not wanting to be disturbed, or needing privacy to work without interruption for deadlines. I don’t think you could leave it in place all the time for the reason that people looking over your shoulder weirds you out (even though I know exactly how you feel). You might try a mirror on your monitor too, so you can at least see who is back there.

      1. azvlr*

        With short cube walls like yours (and mine), this wouldn’t work, but a less “far out” privacy idea would be a Japanese noren curtain if you had taller cube walls. There are several inexpensive ones available on the internet. One nice thing about them is that they don’t go all the way to floor, so passers-by can see you are in your cube. To me, this says “leave me in peace” rather than “keep out, I’m doing freaky stuff in here”.

    3. Kyrielle*

      I had one coworker who decorated her whole cubicle in “island” theme and had a woven style “door” that could slide aside. It was partly because she brought her dog to our (dog-friendly) office and the door kept the dog from wandering. It was still off-putting and I always felt uncomfortable and enclosed entering her space, but I’m not sure how much of that was the door and how much was the netting “roof” that was not high enough (because the cubicle wall height wasn’t) unless I ducked slightly. :P

      Another coworker with a dog just leaned a low baby gate across his entrance and that never felt awkward at all, but also provided no privacy to speak of.

      And another person had a half-height sliding panel too tall to step over but too short to give her privacy…it felt weird sliding it aside and entering her space, a little.

      Depending on how often people have to visit you / help you with something, a barrier may or may not make some of them uncomfortable, basically.

      I take it there’s no way to rearrange so you don’t have your back to the T intersection?

    4. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      I sit in an open floor area. Les Nessman had a great idea with the duct tape, but facilities get mad whenever I try to put some down.

  47. Minion*

    Hi, OP,
    I love scents and fragrances and I used to use a Scentsy warmer in my office at my old job. I had a coworker complain because of her allergies and I admit I was one of those people who secretly thought, Suck it up, it’s just a light berry scent. I have since come to realize I was an ass. My employee at my current job has severe allergies and any type of chemical smell affects her and she suffers for days sometimes just because the janitor used too much bleach, so I’m now very careful even with perfumes, or strong smelling shampoos or lotions. As much as I love the smell of a black raspberry vanilla wax tart melting away in my warmer, I don’t do it anymore.
    That said, the oil diffusers may not be as strong – so maybe it’s okay? I don’t know, I’ve never used one, but I’d err on the side of don’t do it.

    1. GlamNonprofitSquirrel*

      Dear Minion: Thank you for this. I used to do “natural” candles and oil difusers in my office (which has full walls and a door) when I finally clued in that one of my team who was asthmatic was having a hard time breathing in my office.

  48. Angela*

    I’d avoid smells due to allergies, asthma, migraine sufferers, etc. I have migraines that are triggered by just about any smell. It’s as if my body just rejects smelling things after awhile, so I wouldn’t even be able to say a light scent that wouldn’t cause me a headache by mid-afternoon.

  49. Menacia*

    I agree with the other posters, diffusers are a hard sell due to their affect on others. I actually have a diffuser in my car that plugs in and is not overwhelming (my car, my rules). I also have oils that I put on my wrists, so I can enjoy the scent without offending anyone. I only use the all natural oils because I find too many (think Yankee Candle) to be way to harsh.

  50. Ad Astra*

    Besides all of the legitimate “what if people are allergic/sensitive?” points, I also think you’re better off leaving a completely neutral impression on your colleagues when it comes to smell. Obviously I don’t want my coworkers or clients to remember me/my office as smelling bad, but I also think it’s suboptimal if they remember that I/my office smells amazing. For some reason, smell is one of those senses I’d rather not think or talk about at work.

    1. potato battery*

      Your comment just made me think, also, that this would be one of those things, like baking for your coworkers, that could seem a little too “girly”. I think there are much bigger problems with scents than with brownies, but I think both can give a certain impression that might get you taken less seriously, depending.

  51. Mena*

    This type of thing would immediately set me off into sneezing and wheezing and leave me begging you to remove it. Some people cannot tolerate these types of things AT ALL.

    Please consider the impact on others around you and enjoy this at home.

  52. Like the smell*

    I know everyone is complaining about this but I had a manager once who had one of those Wall Flowers from bath and body works. She had a large office and kept her door closed most of the time and as far as I know it was never a problem for anyone. I really loved being in her office because it smelled lightly of apples.

    Now the office also allowed dogs so in general people weren’t too sensitive to things like that.

  53. Purple Jello*

    No! Don’t do it! Even if I am not allergic to the scent and LOVE it, if I’m having a nose sensitive day or suffering from migraine or non-migraine headache, it will be extremely irritable. There are enough other scents in the office over which we have no control, please don’t introduce any non-necessary. Please don’t.

  54. Justcourt*

    What are people’s thoughts on other smelly things? For example, I am a big fan of tea and an old co-worker tried to have tea banned from the office because of allergies and headaches. That same co-worker didn’t want a lot foods in the office, as well. I’m not talking microwaving fish or popcorn. He didn’t want people to eat tuna sandwiches, oranges (or any citrus), licorice, onions, Top Ramen, etc. He also didn’t want people consuming garlic at all, even off site, because he could smell it on them.

    My co-worker was obviously an extreme case, but I’m wondering what’s reasonable to restrict? Perfume is pretty easy to restrict, but what about certain shampoos or laundry detergents/fabric softeners?

    1. Kyrielle*

      I’d say it’s going to depend partially on the reason, and partially on the other person. “No scented products” is a good bet if someone has very bad sensitivities/allergies…but then that gets spendy at times, and moreso if there are some things another employee can’t put on their skin.

      Causes major physical misery? (Migraines; strong allergic reactions, including any that can trigger asthma, put the employee in the hospital or even make them wonder about it, etc.; things that make them feel like they’re going to pass out or actually do so; etc. etc.) Get that out of the office, any way you can, if you possibly can.

      Causes irritation or discomfort? I’d say do your best, but don’t necessarily go to the ends of the earth for removal.

      If someone told me they really hated the smell of my jasmine tea, or that it caused them mild discomfort, my reaction would depend on the person. If I have to work with them regularly in person, then with some sorrow my tea would go home (and I’d ask if any of my other alternatives troubled them, and hope that some of them worked, because I really really like my tea). If I rarely if ever have to work with them in person and their office is nowhere near mine…I’d probably keep drinking my tea. (I also use a covered mug, so I could in theory seal it if they stopped by unexpectedly, though that wouldn’t instantly dissipate what was in the air.)

      When I was in college, I had a roommate who peeled and ate an orange in our room every morning. I now eat oranges in small amounts, but at the time it was threatening to set off my fading-but-not-gone asthma. She was absolutely not understanding. I learned to be out of the room very early in the morning, and this was one of the few things I Really Did Not Like about her. But it is a real thing, that really can trouble some people.

      With your old co-worker…I’d be tempted to ask which ones cause misery (“allergies and headaches”) and which he merely dislikes. There may in fact be nothing in the latter category, in which case you have a real problem where the needs of the office and his needs collide awkwardly (because that is a lot of things to take out), but there also may be – hard to know.

      I’m not sure how you navigate it when it’s hugely restrictive to the other employees, to the point where it impacts their lives (including finances, etc.) in a significant negative way. :|

    2. Chocolate lover*

      That definitely is extreme.

      Some employers I’ve visited, like some hospitals, are completely scent free, which has included shampoo/soap/laundry detergent or anything else scented.

      I once supervised someone who’s scent was making me sick to my stomach. I don’t know if it was her shampoo or detergent or what, but I finally had to tell her that we had to keep the door to my office open when we met and that she had to sit further away from me, and at group meetings, I made sure to sit nowhere near her. Since I couldn’t pinpoint which product was bothering me, I wasn’t about to ask her to switch all her skin care products/toiletries.

    3. Hiding on the Internet Today*

      The more control you want to have over people’s outside lives, the better reason you need for it, I think.

      For general scents, I’m comfortable with getting rid of them because of a vague “someone” might have an issue. It’s not a big deal to skip perfume and air fresheners. When it gets to controlling food, I’ll get cranky unless there is an individual with a serious health need. If one of my coworkers carries an epi pen for it, I can eat it at home. If whole grain bread is offensive to you… Don’t watch while I eat my sandwich?

      Shampoo and laundry detergent is between the two. Obviously, health problems trump my love for Tide Free, but its going to depend on how much wiggle room that part of my life has and how closely I need to work with you. And we may end up doing a lot of work by email.

      Your ex coworker sounds over the line, btw.

    4. LawBee*

      sounds like he was a Super Sniffer. My mom is like that – she can smell things that no one else can, and she can’t believe that no one else can smell the fish that was cooked three days ago.

      1. Rater Z*

        I still have trouble believing that my wife can smell the cigarette someone in a car three lanes over is smoking. But, it’s the same way at home…every thing stinks to her and and I quit trying to cook something when I get home from work at 7am because she swears I am burning it before I even turn the stove on. The microwave does help.

        I have fun visiting the mall because she can’t go with me. She can’t walk more than about fifty feet even with her walker (and she doesn’t like feeling closed in there), so I visit all the candle stores. I just tell them my wife is allergic to odors and I stopped in to sniff. They tell me to go ahead and sniff all I want. Some of the candles are so great I wish I could take them home with me. A few years ago, there was a baked potato one that was to die for and I couldn’t buy it. Haven’t seen it since.

    5. Sibley*

      It’s difficult to get unscented products sometimes. For laundry, it’s easy – multiple brands have unscented, and you just don’t use fabric softener (or use vinegar). Deodorant and shampoo – I can’t manage it, just find something that doesn’t cause a problem. Soap/body wash – hard, but you can do it by sticking to Ivory or dove sensitive skin. I’m sure there’s others, but those are the ones I know.

      Household cleaning products are tough. If I stick to lemon I’m ok, so that’s Mr Clean or Lysol liquid for floors. Bathrooms and kitchen I’m screwed, I just plan to have an asthma attack while cleaning those or try to get someone else to do it. Windows are easy, I make my own cleaner with vinegar. Dishwashing soap is also one I just find the least offensive scent.

      But can you imagine what we smell like to someone who’s not used to all the artificial scents? I’m sure we stink terribly.

      1. Justcourt*

        My biggest issue would be shampoo and lotion. I have eczema on my body and scalp. I don’t even get dandruff from it because my scalp goes right to bleeding, cracked skin. The only shampoo I can use is Neutrogena.

        The skin on my body isn’t as bad, but I haven’t found a scent free lotion that works as well as Shea butter, which is the only lotion that keeps me from developing patches of eczema.

        I had a medical reason for not switching products when my co-worker asked, but I know other co-workers didn’t want to switch from using brands they liked. One co-worker who was kind of miffed at being asked to switch didn’t have a medical reason for using a particular anti-perspirant, but she said other brands didn’t work for her.

        I can see where employers strictly enforcing scent-free workplaces would be impractical beyond banning perfume.

        1. Temperance*

          I can speak to your coworker’s issue: total TMI, but I’m a stinky person and not all deodorants/anti-perspirants work for me. The unscented kind just don’t work; I need clinical strength and lightly scented (well, not sre that clinical comes unscented). The other ones just quit in the middle of the day, and it’s gross, but I’d rather irritate one person’s ultra finicky allergies than stink up the place.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I might try the shea butter; my favorite right now is Gold Bond’s eczema lotion.

          Also, many products that say they are scent free actually have some ingredients that are either fragrance-related or similar. I usually know because when I use those lotions on my hands (where the eczema is), it burns like fire.

          1. Nina*

            Wow, I had that reaction to a lotion recently, due to an eczema flare up. Figured I was safe but it burned like hell and my hands blistered. And it was fragrance free! No idea they were related.

      2. Xarcady*

        I don’t use scented products in general, mostly because I don’t like clashing scents. I have yet to find lotion, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, and laundry detergent all with the same scent.

        But finding products that work can be difficult for some people. Finding unscented products can be difficult. Detergent and lotion are fairly easy to find, but shampoo and other hair products can be tough. Finding products that work and are unscented is even harder.

        So expecting no scents at all in a workplace is a tall order, until manufacturers of all these products start making better unscented versions.

        If a co-worker had an allergy, I’d try to adapt as much as possible. If a co-worker just didn’t like a smell? Well, I don’t know who is microwaving the odd-smelling mac-and-cheese every day at 11:30 in my office, but the smell is making me gag a little. This is probably the first time a food smell has made me feel this way. But the smell is gone in about 20 minutes, so I am just toughing it out.

    6. Alienor*

      I think it’s more than fair to ask people not to eat things that are going to put you in the hospital (e.g. peanut butter), but if it’s a case of them liking something you personally find gross, that’s another story. As an example, a few years ago there was someone in my office who would bring in frozen raw hamburger patties and cook them in the microwave. I haven’t eaten meat since I was a teenager and I hate the smell of cooking ground beef in particular, so this was absolutely nauseating for me. But, I wasn’t allergic to the smell and it didn’t cause me any health problems other than gagging inwardly, so I put up with it until they either got another job or found something else to bring for lunch (can’t remember which came first).

      1. L McD*

        Oh god that sounds horrifying. The smell of plain ground beef cooking is one of the absolute worst (and who could sit down and eat a rubbery gray microwaved burger anyway?) This will haunt my nightmares.

    7. Temperance*

      I would say that your coworker is ridiculous, and policing what people eat (beyond asking them not to microwave fish – I will always hold a strong hatred for the nutjob that used to zap her fish every morning at 9:15 ON THE DOT) goes above and beyond allergy concerns. Just .. wow.

      I think restricting scented lotions makes sense, but your other examples is overkill, unless you work in a hospital or medical office.

      1. Oilpress*

        Microwaving fish in an office should be a felony. How about trying any of the millions of other meals out there? Stay clear of seafood in the office, thanks!

    8. I'm a Little Teapot*

      He didn’t want any of his coworkers ever to eat anything with garlic, even off site? NOPE. You don’t get to decide what your coworkers do and don’t eat in their own homes. (Leaving aside the possible cultural minefield.)

    9. AcademiaNut*

      I think it would depend on how feasible, and how reasonable the requested restrictions are, and how serious the consequences.

      Wearing perfume and scenting your office, are entirely optional and easily cut out. Eating, bathing and washing your clothes are mandatory, and so harder to control.

      Banning a single category of food in the office (like peanuts) due to an potentially fatal allergy is fairly reasonable, as long as it’s recognized as not fool-proof. Banning people from eating peanuts outside of work is not. Asking a coworker to not use a particular problematic tea is probably okay, banning all tea is not. Expecting people to not eat garlic, ever, is both impractical and way over the top, even if someone does actually get migraines by being near someone who ate garlic 12 hours ago.

      Actually getting an entire office full of people to use genuinely scent free products for laundry and personal care is too far unless it’s a specialized environment, and employees are told this as part of the hiring process. I’ll note that unscented products are *not* generally scent free, so this takes a fair amount of expense and work not just for their employee, but their whole family.

      What is more reasonable is controlling the sensitive employee’s environment. Give them a private office with a door, provide them with an air purifier, and maybe a small fridge and kettle so they can avoid the common lunch area if food smells are a problem. Arrange for them to attend meetings via Skype rather than in person. Let them know the cleaning schedule for the bathrooms, so they can avoid them right after they’ve been cleaned.

      I’d leave a job if they tried to ban me from ever eating garlic.

    10. Justcourt*

      Thanks for all the responses. It seems like my thoughts on this are aligned with what everyone is saying, but I sometimes like to check my views to see if I’m being unreasonable.

  55. IT_guy*

    If you can guarantee that all of your current and future employees, as well as all of your future customers/vendors/whatever have no problem, then ok.

    Otherwise, I would suggest you don’t.

  56. Purrsephone*

    No. Just no.

    I am not allergic but I despise and loathe scented products. Cat litter, soap, deodorant, lotion, dishwashing liquid, anything at all … I cannot handle it. It doesn’t have to be allergies. It can just be a strong dislike. But it really doesn’t matter why. Use it at home but never force it onto others.

  57. So Very Anonymous*

    I’m on Team Don’t Do This. I get migraines. I work in a cubicle farm in a closed space with terrible air circulation, and I curse internally every time someone cleans their desk with heavy-duty cleaning products (the fumes! the windows that don’t open! the doors that we can’t prop open!). I don’t feel comfortable objecting because, well, cleanliness, but sometimes I have to leave the space to get away from the fumes when this happens so that I don’t get sick.

    1. Xarcady*

      A former co-worker had some sort of issue with germs. I sat right next to her, in a small office with 4 people and no cube dividers. She cleaned her desk daily, as well as things like her stapler, scissors, and pens. She borrowed my stapler once, and apologized as she scrubbed it with a disinfectant wipe before using it.

      I don’t really have any issue with scents, but the products she used were highly scented, and I always timed getting my morning mug of tea with her cleaning, just to get away from the smell. That didn’t help with those random times during the day when she’d feel the need to clean, because someone had leaned on her desk or something. But those cleaning sessions were shorter and didn’t involve cleaning everything she touched.

      I suggested some unscented products at one point, but she felt those specific products didn’t get things clean enough.

  58. Tau*

    I’m not sure there’s really a need for another comment saying “don’t do this”, but feel I have to nth it anyway…

    I have asthma. The main trigger is strong scents, smoke, chemical fumes, and the like. Breathing in something like that for a few minutes can leave me coughing for hours. It’s otherwise very mild, so hardly anyone knows about it and I’m pretty certain none of my coworkers realise this is an issue – but using any kind of scent diffuser or air freshener or the like in a space where I have to spend lots of time would quickly make life unbearable for me.

    1. Kathlynn*

      Pretty much this. I range from just coughing to being unable to breath, when I’m exposed to an allergen. And while the “unable to breath” stops shortly after exposure, I’m still coughing for a good while after words.

      On that note, if you see someone wearing a dusk mask at say a gas station, don’t assume they are “contagious sick” they might just have asthma/allergies, and the task they are completing triggers it. I have to wear one when I clean the oven or bathrooms (single occupancy), else I will have an asthma attack. After cleaning the oven, it stays on, so that I won’t be exposed to any lingering chemicals in the air. I also put it on when cleaning glass if the particles could fall on to my face, after experiencing an allergy/asthma attack from over exposure to windex. Or if I’m serving ice cream after having my asthma triggered (which is rare), and still coughing a lot, I’ve put on my mask as a courtesy to my customers (also, holding in a cough, it’s really uncomfortable).
      I don’t like wearing it, but my lungs/health are more important then any incorrect thoughts customers may think. But the constant looks are uncomfortable.

      1. Sibley*

        for glass – mix your own cleaner with vinegar and water. Works great, and doesn’t cause a problem for me. that what was used before Windex, and it’s pretty gentle on lungs.

        Also, consider baking soda and water for some kitchen cleaning. It helps me, but is longer to clean.

        1. simonthegrey*

          I do almost all my cleaning with vinegar: mop the floors, scrub out the tub, clean the counters, etc. I use a small amount of bleach for cleaning toilets and sinks. That’s all. I’m not allergic per se, but I’m hypersensitive to certain kinds of smells and can’t stand windex or any other kind of commercial cleanser. Also, I tend to think it is better for my cats. :)

        2. Kathlynn*

          This is at work, so I don’t have control over the cleaning products we use. Otherwise, I would totally do this.

  59. Nicole J.*

    “An increasing number of people have fragrance sensitivities, and you could end up causing a coworker migraines, respiratory issues, or other physical discomfort.”

    Offering this for what it’s worth – this is me. It’s not life-threatening or anything, but nearly all scents like that – candles, oils, air fresheners, a whole raft of cleaning products, cigarette smoke, body sprays, and most flowers (even things like daffodils but especially lilies and lavender) make my eyes water, send me into constant sneezing, and bring on headaches. Even standing behind someone wearing aftershave/sprays in a queue is torture.

    I’m also conscious that my sneezing fits don’t give a great impression of me to others – people ask if I’m ill, or get annoyed by the sneezing sounds. I completely get that, but it’s not something I can help.

  60. SaraV*

    Also in the Don’t Do This camp…

    I had a co-worker develop severe allergies to scents. Strong enough, she could break out into hives. Our smallish team was situated near the office door, so a lot of traffic passed by us. Anyone that used a strongly perfumed product could set her off if they walked pass. I was her cube neighbor, and as such, knew exactly where her epi-pen was in her purse, and was instructed to slam it into her thigh if she went into anaphylactic (sp?) shock.

    She was eventually moved to the farthest corner of the office with the least amount of traffic. Even so, if I felt I was “extra smelly” on a day (too much shower gel or lotion), I’d try to ask her questions through phone or IM.

  61. Jean*

    One more here in the Don’t Do This camp…
    …also in the For The Love of All That is Holy, Hurrah and Hooray that Other People Share This Opinion camp…
    …also in the Tickled Pink that Scent-Free is Finally Becoming a Mainstream Attitude camp…

    Why I am I so belligerent on this subject? Because I’ve watched two dear individuals develop mid-life asthma. In one person’s case, the bouquet of triggering chemicals includes citrus oils (a key ingredient in many perfumes and way too many home and industrial cleaning products). Other asthma-attack-inducers include residual cigarette smoke and residual fragrance from scented laundry detergents and dryer sheets.

    It’s rather dramatic listening to someone you love try to suck in oxygen when their airways are closing up. Also lotsa fun watching the same person simultaneously turn into a wilted dishrag because no oxygen = no energy.

    As a result of all this I’ve become a militant (although usually polite) activist on behalf of Unscented Everything.

    So far I’ve largely escaped the midlife onset asthma myself (one of the dear folks is a genetic relative) except for a gradually worsening cat allergy. Which also puts me into the I Love Animals, But not In the Office, Please, camp…

    Gracious! Sorry to raise such a stink, ha ha. Rant over now. I’ll escort myself out.

  62. Katrina*

    I’m team No. Those things are meant to scent some major square footage. They’re just not practical in a 12’x12′ office, and it’ll be like walking passed Abercrombie in the mall.

  63. Shannon*

    Please, don’t.

    Strong scents tend to give me a headache. No, it’s nothing as dramatic as a migraine, and I’m lucky for that. However, strong scents don’t make me a happy camper.

    If you’re trying to mask a bad smell at the office, speak to your boss about it. If you want to bring the diffuser in because you like it, please, just don’t.

  64. Bill*

    I’m on the ‘No’ side. I don’t have bad allergies, and am not particularly susceptible to weird scents, but one of my coworkers brought in an oil diffuser and it made me miserable. I got headaches, had trouble breathing, and got terribly congested. We work in a cube farm, and she was right next to me, with the diffuser between us. Eventually, she moved it further away and started using half as much oil as it called for, and things got better, but not great.

    I have to say that I don’t think that this is an area where you should “ask around among your coworkers and see if anyone objects”. I like to be able to personalize my cube, and I think others should be able to do so as well. Because of this, I didn’t feel like I could say no when my coworker first suggested it. Given my reaction to it, though, if someone else brings one in, I’m going to ask them not to. This is not a position that you should be putting your coworkers in.

  65. Melissa*

    My office isn’t scent-free, but we are all asked to be conscientious of our coworkers when anything with scent is involved (lotions, hand sanitizer, surface wipes, food, etc.). Unless you’re working alone and don’t have clients/customers coming into your office, I don’t think any scent is work-appropriate if it doesn’t fade away fairly quickly. Oil diffusers are definitely out IMO.

  66. Banana Stand*

    I had a coworker who brought a two pound box of incense into our very conservative law office and plopped it on her bookshelf. Even though she didn’t burn any of it, the whole place — including down the hall and around the corner — smelled like a head shop. It was bizarre; I think a coworker clued her in. She fell squarely in the “office as living room” camp.

  67. Rachael*

    I would strongly advise against it. If someone had a diffuser in their office I would not be able to go in it due to headaches, face turning red, stomach upheaval. I wouldn’t make a big deal, I would just meet in conference rooms.

    I tolerate scents in the office because I don’t feel my allergy is severe enough that I should be keeping people from their vanilla scented lotion (gross! lol).

    Luckily for me, most people ask about my red face and press me to tell them about my allergies and are pretty accommodating.

    However there are still those people who insist on spraying hairspray at their desks…

  68. L McD*

    Just because I haven’t seen anyone else mention this, sometimes it can just be an issue of sensory overload too. I’m not a chemically sensitive person usually, but I do have a keen sense of smell and bad ADHD. If someone brought in a noticeable scent to my workplace, even something I liked, it could still become really irritating and distracting to me over time. I can get into a really bad, jittery, totally unproductive and distressed state when sensory issues kick in, and it would be really difficult to explain because of the mental health stigma.

  69. BritCred*

    A colleague once had a lotion bottle on their desk which they used frequently. Something like Jojoba oil and something else. That alone was enough to at times cause me to feel unwell due to sinus issues and scent overload.

    I use scented candles and incense at home and even then sometimes it gets too much. I certainly wouldn’t use it in the office. You may well be able to ask around and find no one cares but I really wouldn’t be thinking of this as a good idea.

  70. Former Retail Manager*

    For the multitude of people here who hate scents of any sort/get migraines/are allergic, etc., I would like to know how you all feel about bathroom air fresheners? And I don’t mean Poopourri. What do you do? How do you cope with this issue? At the office? Are you okay with the smell of lingering poo? While I am sarcastic, I’m not being sarcastic now……seriously, when strong scents bother you, what’s one to do about the potty situation?

    1. GOG11*

      I have allergy (among other things)-induced asthma and bathroom air fresheners (at least the ones I’ve encountered) trigger asthma attacks for me. I’m definitely not a fan of bathroom odors, but when it’s a choice between my lungs being inflamed, constant, intense coughing, and my airways potentially closing or having to smell “lingering poo,” I unfortunately have to pick the latter. At work, luckily we can leave the external door to the restroom closed with the fan on until any odors dissipate. At home, there are only two of us in my household and maybe we just aren’t very stinky? It hasn’t been a problem.

    2. SuziS*

      I get migraines from many scents. I would much rather have the smell of lingering poo than have to take a sick day because I got a migraine. It’s a no brainer for me.

    3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      No scenty things in the bathroom; we use the fan.

      The office bathroom had fresheners but they aren’t strong enough, so it’s a mixture of floral scent and lingering poo (ew).

      Oddly enough, I use essential oils to manage my migraines. Peppermint oil to the temples works wonders, as does a balsam blend I have for tight muscles in the neck, scalp, and head. Navratna oil is a miracle for a good pounder – cover your hair and scalp and wrap in a towel.

    4. Rachael*

      As for scents for my own home, sometimes I hit the goldmine and find one that doesn’t bother my head/sinuses or make my face red. But, I’m one that will suffer in order to make my house smell clean. Fabreze and most cleaners really bother me, but I use them anyway because I don’t want my house to smell stinky. I just have to be careful because I will go into coughing fits and have chest problems if I go overboard.

    5. GG*

      Personally, I’d rather just smell the poo, and at home I don’t use anything. But some people at work get *horribly* offended if they notice any poo smell. But the spray they had in there was one of those “powder fresh” ones, which are just the worst for me – any exposure at all (even from the other end of the office) and I feel like the stuff is coating my lungs and I have a hard time breathing. (It’s not that I *can’t* breathe, like with asthma. It’s that it’s such a disgusting sensation that I find myself unconsciously taking shallower and shallower breaths trying not to get it in my lungs.)

      Anyway, it got bad enough that I had to raise the issue with my manager. I now supply the office (reimbursed, not out-of-pocket) with the *one* air freshener I can tolerate – it uses only natural citrus oils and no synthetic ingredients. Though having to go down that aisle in the store to get it? Seriously, I hold my breath and run in and out, and even then I feel like crap for several hours from exposure to all the other stuff in the aisle.

    6. Janice in Accounting*

      Our family uses matches. Light one, blow it out, drop it in the toilet. It doesn’t cover the smell any better than Lysol does but it at least doesn’t smell like chemicals.

    7. Nicole J.*

      For me? Open the window, shut the door, go back 15 minutes later to shut the window. Or use an extractor fan.

    8. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

      The sulfur from lighting matches actually dissipates a lot of the more unpleasant aromas. I light a match or two in my own bathrooms (and turn on the fan) and when neighbors linger in the hall (my apartment door is in a pod of 4 entries) with perfume that wafts in and takes over my living room, I walk around my apartment lighting a few matches. Bathroom air fresheners tend to smell the fakest of the fake. I can’t control my miserable reactions to scents, and they run the gamut and only seem to be getting worse (both the scents and my reactions to them). Because really, I would prefer not to be this scentsitive and just go about my day and let people go about theirs!

  71. SunnyLibrarian*

    How weird. I have just gotten into this too and thought about this. There are necklaces and pendants you can buy and wear the scent (think Rosemary’s Baby!). They don’t seem to be super strong and you can pull it up to your nose when you need some calm in your life.

  72. Erin*

    I’m on the “no” bandwagon. I’m the last person in the world who this would bother or offend, but just knowing how people are, I’d say it’s not worth the risk. People in offices complain about the slightest temperature increase or decrease, food smells in the break room or at their desks, the cleaning people putting a garbage bin back in the wrong spot…anything and everything.

    My coworker who has an office across from my cube put out some kind of pepperminty smell around Christmastime and everyone who walked by the office commented on it, favorably or not. It will Get Noticed.

    That said, if you work in a fairly small office it would definitely be fine to ask around first as Alison noted.

  73. Jiffy*

    I vote for “burnt microwave popcorn” fragrance! Loved by all, especially the Fire Department…oops

    1. Rater Z*

      At one place I worked at many years ago (in the last century), the second floor men’s room was right above the break room where they would microwave popcorn. I can remember my boss talking about going into the men’s room to use it and coming out hungry.

  74. Jetta*

    Why didn’t people have fragrance issues back in the 80s and 90s? This may be an unpopular opinion, but it is darn near impossible to setup a workplace, or anywhere else, that doesn’t bother someone’s sensitivities. Peanuts, gluten, caffeine, fragrance, where does it end. Note that am not a scent wearer, I’m happy if folks bathe before coming in. That unwashed funky scent s the worst of all.

    1. Erin*

      Yes. It’s true. You have to take these on a case by case basis, because they do legitimately affect some people strongly, but looking at it as a whole…yes, I think in general as a society we should suck some of this stuff up.

      1. Jetta*

        That’s all I’m saying, some of this should just be sucked up as a part of being in community with other people.

    2. Rana*

      Seriously? It’s about not being an asshole. Simple as that.

      True, some people can make issues out of anything, but for most of us, it’s a very small sacrifice to think of other people when we make our choices. I’m not harmed by taking Wakeen’s gluten allergies into account, nor Jane’s peanut allergies, but their lives are made orders better by my small efforts.

      Where does it end? When we stop pitting people’s vague aesthetic preferences against other peoples’ reasonable expectations of being able to live, eat, and work without being physically damaged in the process.

      1. Jetta*

        Rana, you are a asshole for calling me one because my opinion differs from yours. Who are you to judge “vague aesthetic preferences”. THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE ARE NOT ALLERGIC IN THE OFFICE!!!!! If you are physically damaged, you qualify to work at home under ADA.

        I think of others every day when I shower. Suppose water broke me out. Should you just smell my funk? Sorry, many of the complaints are not valid health concerns but are preferences. No one’s preferences are better than anyone elses. In my home I will bend over backwards to accommodate my guest, but the workplace doesn’t owe that because everybody cannot be accommodated. You are trying to be a bully and I ain’t having it.

          1. Jetta*

            I replied to Rana, who unnecessarily threw the first stone. This is not a personal matter, it is an online discussion. I am on many blogs and NEVER resort to name calling because that is usually the sign of a weak argument. It is hard to not respond in kind when someone disparages you like that. If it happens again, I will just ignore and report t to you. Sorry.

        1. Observer*

          If you are physically damaged, you qualify to work at home under ADA.

          Frankly,this sounds like trolling.

    3. Kyrielle*

      Some people did. At that time, I was younger and still had my childhood asthma, and we had to take care not to go to many places like…stores, some doctor’s offices, etc. Because I could end up having to use my rescue inhaler and hoping not to turn blue.

      I’m really, really glad the world has gotten more considerate of these sorts of things. (I’m equally glad I no longer have asthma so severe as to face that result.)

    4. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

      I ask this a lot because *I* didn’t have fragrance issues growing up in the ’80s and ’90s. As with gluten and peanuts, etc., I think a lot of it has to do with more and more additives and co-located manufacturing. I wish I could suck it up to be in community with other people, but this past Christmas morning I had an unexpected allergic reaction to the trash bag my mother pulled out for the used wrapping paper. My parents never used to use scented bags and they recycle and occasionally compost so why is the trash stinkier? I would never have anticipated it but it was full-on attack, and really made that hour in the living room miserable right in the middle of a good grown-up family holiday moment. As much as my mother loves me and I her, she was not thrilled about relocating the bag to the other side of the room, and I was miserable staying anywhere in the room unable to get the smell out of my nose (but I stayed!).

    5. Bangs not Fringe*

      Where is the proof that people did not have fragrance issues in the 80 and 90s? I personally inherited my “fragrance issues” from relatives… one of whom was working in factories during WWII, and one of whom was teaching school in 60s-80s. My own “fragrance issues” were alive and well in the 90s! They didn’t just manifest from thin air. Some of these things just “weren’t talked about”.

      What we didn’t have were web platforms where these workplace issues were being discussed.

  75. Jetta*

    Oh, when I started working, people could SMOKE at their desks! Imagine that. I hate cigarettes and hated the smoke, but had to cope as best I could until the times changed. No one is entitled to a workplace free of everything that bothers them. Some people would probably enjoy the fragrance sticks freshening up the stale office air.

    1. RIT*

      “I hate cigarettes and hated the smoke, but had to cope as best I could until the times changed.”

      It’s not as if the ‘times’ just spontaneously changed one day when everyone woke up and said, “Hey, let’s ban cigarette smoking in offices today!”

      1. Jetta*

        No, and it took years and years of suffering on my part. But where does it end? Paint the walls a different color because I suffer from depression and the gray walls depress me more? I don’t like body smells, including bathroom odors, they offend me. So should I get a private bathroom? They use vinegar to clean the bathrooms where I work, and the scent is so strong it will knock you out. I grin and bear it. Like the present gluten-free craze, all sorts of people are going gluten-fee and claiming sensitivities they never knew they had. Now, everybody is so opposed to even the lightest use of anything scented. Get over it. The workplace cannot accommodate everybody being a speshul snowflake. If your health issues rise to the level where you can obtain medical certification of the deleterious effect that scents have on your health, obtain this certification and apply to work at home under the Americans with Disabilities act. Otherwise, the whining should cease, it’s a bad example to young people who already think the world should revolve around them.

        I may be in the minority here, but I like nice scents. Pile on expected.

        1. Observer*

          Actually, your example of cigarette smoke is a perfect example to counter your attitude. Second hand smoke is a killer – quite literally. Yet, for years anyone who objected was treated like a “speshul snowflake”, even though no one used that term. And there are STILL places where people are expected to make the choice of being unable to ear a living or unable to take basic health precautions (ie avoiding inhaling an extremely well documented list of lung irritants and carcinogens.) Because, as you put it, ” The workplace cannot accommodate everybody being a speshul snowflake.”

          I don’t believe that it’s realistic to expect totally scent free work places. But the fact that you “like nice scents” does not over-ride the fact that some people do NOT like those scents, even if it’s just because they don’t think that they are “nice”. What you like does not get to over-ride what someone else likes. And vice versa – but you are the one bringing the scent it. When the balance is between “I like” and “Makes me sick”, there is just no contest.

      2. JoJo*

        I remember the smokers screaming bloody murder at any suggestion that they refrain from filling the air with smoke.

        1. RIT*

          While I’m young enough to have never worked in an office where smoking was allowed, I can say from personal experience that’s exactly how some people react when politely asked to remove desk air fresheners, tone down perfume, etc.

          I shouldn’t have to share my medical history with a co-worker to get them to take their blasted bowl of potpourri home. And that’s ignoring the folks who will still insist I’m just being a baby because I “don’t like it”. :/

        2. Rater Z*

          I used to go to work with an open pack in my pocket and three packs in my hand. How many I actually smoked depended on how many cigars I smoked that night. In 1978, I landed a job where I couldn’t smoke at work but I don’t remember having any problems not smoking there. One of the owners smoked, the other didn’t so they just made it a non-smoking place. In 1980, I suddenly completely stopped smoking. As I put it, I went from three packs a day to zero in three seconds flat. In 1983, I got married to a non-smoker. In 1984, I picked up a part-time job where quite a few around me were smoking and when I went home, my wife would ask me if I was smoking. 35 years later, I still want one sometimes. I support non-smoking laws but would never support a law outlawing smoking completely. I’ve read enough about what prohibition was like.

  76. Jetta*

    Hate the smell of lingering poo, I hold my nose if I must go after such an inconsiderate person. There are ways to prevent that.

      1. Jetta*

        Yes I know my stance is not politically correct but I have worked in offices for 40 years and never have there been so many speshul snowflakes. If I had a health issue because of office scents, I would have no problem wearing a respirator or working at home. Be responsible for your own health.

          1. Jetta*

            OK, but what about Rana calling me an asshole first? I Please tell me exactly what is uncivil and disrespectful and I will address it. Thanks.

              1. Jetta*

                Oh, since she was replying to my post I took it personally. Mea culpa. She did use the “physically damaged” phrase first though. I was speaking back to that, would never refer to anyone that way as I have health issues myself.

              2. Jetta*

                I’ll move on to other less controversial topics if you unmoderate me. Lesson learned. really am a nice 60 year old lady who has been working too long.

  77. Anonsie*

    So here’s a thing: I just noticed there’s someone else also commenting as Anonsie in this thread (that or I’ve had a stroke and don’t remember).

  78. GG*

    Unless I missed a reply (totally possible) I don’t think anyone’s answered a question that’s popped up at least a few time so far. To paraphrase… “Why are there so many more people with scent sensitivities today than there used to be?”

    Because we’re being exposed to more and more scents.

    It’s been long documented that scent is the sense most closely tied to memory. So scents evoke emotional responses. So manufacturers have discovered that (barring the scent-sensitive) scenting their product makes them sell. So we have stuff like scented candles and Downy Unstoppables and Febreeze and all other manner of scented product to the point that it’s almost impossible to find unscented these days. (If you read the labels, you’ll find fragrance even in “unscented” products. It’s insane.)

    1. Blurgle*

      Ugh, it’s relentless. I shampoo with Dr. Bronner’s baby soap because you can’t find a shampoo that doesn’t contain either perfumes or soy products.

  79. Jetta*

    BTW, I never used any scent enhancing products in my cubicle, and don’t wear scent either. I like nice scents but never pushed them on others. I work 9 out of 10 days a pay period at home, so its really a non-issue for me. But for those with issues, I here you. I hated noise pollution, as my work is highly analytical and the woman on the other side of the divider listened to hip hop music. I prefer quiet, so it bugged me. I agree that people need to be more considerate of others in the workplace.

  80. Panda Enthusiast*

    I’m totally not the granola/patchouli/beaded curtain type, but I will admit to having a diffuser at home in my bedroom. I normally dislike fragranced things, to the point where I actively seek unscented lotions, deodorants, and soaps. But, in the midst of a months long bout of depression-induced sleep disturbances, I was ready to try just about anything to help me get a good night’s rest. Turns out a little bit of lavender scent is quite relaxing (but yeah, Ambien works a lot better…hehe). Anyway, the thing that would scare me most about having a diffuser/oil at work is that those oils are STRONG. If I use any more than one teeny little drop of the lavender oil at a time, my room absolutely reeks of the stuff in that awful, cloying Bath and Body Works kind of way, but so much stronger. You can almost taste it in the air. And the Eucalyptus oil? Any more than a drop of that, and it’s like a Vicks Vaporub explosion times a million. Barf. Imagine the drama if you spilled a bottle of the oil at work. I suspect there would be many unhappy campers.

    I don’t think you should be discouraged from making your workspace more comfortable, though. I’m just a low-level peon (and a socially awkward engineer at that), so take my input with a grain of salt, but I love when people have quirky stuff at their desks to make them happy. Like my little stuffed panda, or my cube neighbor’s bonsai tree. Now that would be a good one! Very zen, not smelly at all, and compact to boot. :-)

  81. Jetta*

    “I love when people have quirky stuff at their desks to make them happy. ”

    Yes, I believe in personalization of the non-intrusive sort. I have fragrance items in my home, don’t use them much because my guy has fragrance issues.

  82. BEES*

    I have a small oil diffuser at my desk, but I don’t put any essential oils in it. It’s basically acting as a small humidifier in my office, which is super nice for me because our office is so, so dry. Anyway, not really what you’re asking OP, but if you really really want it, it might be worth trying running it without any oil in it and seeing if you find it nice, even if not as nice as with the scented oil.

  83. Jetta*

    You may want to ask your employer to place HEPA air filters in strategic locations, or to provide individual filters for those with the most severe sensitivities. I had a friend who smoked and you could not smell anything in her home because she used one of these.

  84. Gary*

    Please, please don’t put a diffuser in your office. I beg anyone reading this, don’t do it.

    I know people love their “scents,” and those of us who hate them are “scent sensitive.” I personally think this is backwards. Our noses are there for a functional reason, not just to be tickled all day. I use my sense of smell as a real sense that gives me information about the world around me. Air fresheners and oil diffusers are like blasting white noise at me. It’s like walking into an office with blaring music or pulsing strobe lights. Working in it is hideous.

    That’s not even mentioning the “aromatherapy” aspect of it all. If these oils are medicinal and therapeutic, why would you think it is Ok to medicate someone against their will? “Oh this one helps you sleep. This one gives you energy. This one helps you digest. This one is for *whatever.*” So I’m just being dosed with sedatives and/or stimulants at the whim of whoever is running the diffuser? Great…..

    If you can keep it to your own space, that’s one thing. Where I work, I can’t escape it. Don’t be the person to ruin someone else’s entire work day because you think smells are neat.

  85. Amber Gray*

    I use the Tierra Essentials diffuser…it also can be used as a night light or light can be turned off. Uses tap water and only 2-3 drops of an oil or blend of oils. It can be set for 4 or 8 hours….I set it for 4 hours to fall asleep and stay asleep. I love this diffuser. You can use any kind of the essential oils citrus etc.

  86. leigh*

    The workplace is about production and performance. Once you impact one’s ability to be productive you are impacting the workplace and need to be called into the HR office and spoken with. Plug ins have NO place in the work environment. Perfumes and colognes are for going out not for work. If you have a policy about scents then you need to enforce the policy, if not develop one. If you allow a employee to impact and affect another employees health and not protect them, this could be cause for a lawsuit.

  87. Wendy*

    Do not, do NOT, DO NOT use essential oils in your office!!!! First of all, not everyone enjoys the smell, even if they can tolerate it. Second, many people have sensitivities or even allergies to things that are aromatic. In a closed office, the air cannot clear out well and people can become sick. We have a new coworker who uses them to “alleviate anxiety”. When she started using them, several people complained about headaches or feeling dizzy, another moved her office across the hall because she didn’t like the smell, & I’m severely allergic to salicylates (what is used to make Asprin). This is a naturally occurring compound that is highly concentrated in essential oils. When she started using them, I felt paralyzed, developed a rash, my lungs started closing & my tongue burned. We didn’t know at first what was causing my nor everyone else’s symptoms, but soon figured it out. My reaction was extreme compared to my coworkers, but it told the boss that the girl needed to keep them out. I also have been polite but firmly direct with her about being allergic and not being able to be around them. Now she sits in her car and smells them, but when she comes back in her clothes are saturated & we all still react. This afternoon I was so drunk from her stuff that I could barely see to drive home. It’s to the point that I’m looking for another job as we do not have any other locations in our building to move to and the coworker who moved across the hall to get away from them won’t give up her space. We are all fine when she doesn’t use them or if she’s not there, but when she is & she’s using them we react. Please DO NOT use this stuff in an office & force it on others because you never know who may be adversely affected by it.

  88. John*

    I wouldn’t do it. I stopped diffusing in my house. I used to diffuse lavender all the time and now when I wake up I feel like my lungs are filled with fluid/irritated (breathing in deep I go into a coughing fit), headache and muscle soreness. I have tried other oils and get the same effect after one year of use. And no, I do not have an underlying medical condition and I am not sick. I am in the military, run a 7:00mile and considered excellent health by physicians, diffusing oils messes me up pretty bad and I honestly can’t believe I started diffusing this crap to sleep better. I say everyone stay away from this, too many problems are coming to light concerning oil use.

  89. Leigh Christiansen*

    Your office is a work environment. Most companies have policies to protect staff against offensive odors. Where it may not be offensive to you it maybe to someone else or worse cause a medical condition such as migraine to occur.
    And it is medical situation for them if this occurs.

    DON’T cause animosity in the work place or impact anyone’s’ ability to be productive at work Leave your scents at home- this includes perfume, cologne, body or hand lotions as well as candles etc…….

  90. Quickbeam*

    You can get a personal aromatherapy container that you can breathe in occasionally. I use one at work. I work with many scent aversive people and it isn’t an issue.,

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