Can Febreze cure nose pollution?

Thursday, April 9, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Now that Procter & Gamble has brushed our teeth, softened our fabrics and given us fatless potato chips, the company is going to help us smell good. Or maybe not smell at all, which is even better.

It's about time. Pine, lemon, vanilla, perfumes in every overpowering floral scent. Not to mention cigars. It's worse than noise pollution. In fact, I'd rather listen to a snare-drum concert than stand in a humidor or a place that promises aromatherapy.

This new product is supposed to kill odors. Not cover them up with something that smells almost as bad. Kill them. Eliminate them forever.

Seat of the pants

P&G calls it Febreze. And although I have nothing but admiration for the hometown consumer goods giant, I can't help wondering how they came up with that brand name. Focus groups, a blizzard of memos and career-changing meetings in the huddle rooms would be my guess. This is not a company that flies by the seat of its pants. Why did they pick a name that sounds like an easy-listening radio station or a flu symptom? This is only the first of many questions I have about this product.

So I went to see P&G's Drake Stimson, the earnest and thoroughly likable young man who has been spritzing Febreze around the country for more than three years.

My first question, of course, is: Will it cause anal leakage? He looks startled, then grins, "It's not toxic, but we do not recommend that it be taken internally."

Well, let's say you have told your husband that you've quit smoking. And let's say that he says something completely insensitive, such as "Again?" Would it make you sick if you gargled with it?

"I don't think it would make you sick, but, really, it's just for fabrics."

OK, I understand, but when should we use it? Is it preventive? Or remedial? Before we enter a teen-age boy's room, should we fog the area with Febreze?

Can we use it defensively? Can we just spray it right on little old ladies in the elevator who have bathed in Youth Dew perfume? Can we dump a bottle of it on the college student wearing enough patchouli to suffocate an entire busload of people?

Mr. Stimson says he doesn't think that would work. But he says a game warden in Arizona swears it will get rid of skunk odor. Which is nearly as bad as patchouli.

How about automobiles? Does this signal the end of decorative pine trees hanging from rear-view mirrors? "We hope so," he says. Me too, and I hope they send a complimentary canister to every cabby in New York City.

Will it work on aromas that some people find inoffensive such as liver and onions or White Castle burgers or anchovy pizzas?

"I haven't found an odor it hasn't removed," he says patiently. He gave me a sample, which I sprayed on a wool jacket that smelled as if I had spent the evening in a roomful of cigar smokers. Which I had.

He says its own slightly outdoorsy scent disappears when Febreze dries. Which it did. And the cigar odor would be gone. Which it was. Not to make too much of this because as even Mr. Stimson says, "It won't cure cancer," but for $1.59, I can pretend I don't have a dog. If somebody smokes a cigarette in my house, I won't have to make her feel like a criminal. I'll just spritz after she leaves. Where was this product when my mother was buying Odor-Eaters by the crate for my brother's basketball sneakers? "We hurried as fast as we could," Mr. Stimson says. Febreze should be on grocery shelves this summer.

And the name? "It just sounds fresh. Like a breeze. And it travels well," he says. Aha. So we're not going to just keep this to our clean-smelling Cincinnati selves? "It is being test-marketed in the UK and France."

So, today smelly sneakers -- tomorrow the world. Or at least the Paris Metro.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

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