The febreze is suffocating me...
March 28, 2013 10:27 PM   Subscribe

How to get a roommate to stop spraying so much air freshener when she is probably spraying because of my cats?

I just moved to a new city and moved in with someone I didn't previously know. I have two cats and roommate knew about them, was fine with them...except roommate comes home every night and DOUSES the apartment in febreze. There are three bottles of it in the living room, two are the type to spray on furniture and things, and the other is air spray “for pet odors.”

Roommate has never lived with pets before so maybe she didn’t realize what she was getting into. Or maybe there is something more I can do to get rid of pet odors, but I've lived with several other people with these cats and haven't had a problem. I scoop the cat box twice per day and it’s in my bedroom, I vacuum and dust daily, etc, but I think there will always be some evidence of pet smell that I probably don’t notice since I’ve had pets my entire life. Or is there more that I could be doing that I’m just not thinking of?

I’m in my room right now with the door closed and the window open and can still smell the stuff. On top of the febreze bomb there are usually multiple scented candles. I hate air fresheners, they give me a headache and I just hate the smell. I'm also worried about whether this could be a health concern for the cats. It’s not just a squirt here and there, she walks around with the sprayer going for like 20 seconds at a time with the air freshener, and probably uses half a bottle of the fabric spray.

My cats don't have any kind of health problems that would cause them to produce any more odor than normal.

I’m not sure what else I can do to de-cat the apartment(other than moving...I’ve been here for less than a week and she has my security deposit) but I also don’t know how to talk to her about the febreze since I just moved in and she obviously has the right to spray as much as she wants.

I think she also might just like air fresheners because she had several candles burning when I came by before I moved in. The candles are fine and don't bother me but the febreze is just terrible. I think there is a coating of it on everything.

How do I bring this up? I'm terrible at this sort of conversation and would end up saying something like "you knew I had cats when you invited me to move in here."

Or is there some extra thing I can be doing to cover pet odors so that she doesn't feel the need to febreze it up every night?
posted by fromageball to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would just bring it up, point blank.

"Do you smell my cats?"


"Do my cats smell bad to you?"


"Do you feel like the apartment is starting to smell like cat?"

I would probably follow up that super frank conversation opener with lots of concessions and support and "please feel free to be honest with me" and "let's work together to have an apartment that smells OK to both of us".

I would not bring up the febreeze thing explicitly, or say that you have a problem with her use of air freshener. You will sound like a weird psycho who on the one hand introduced stinky cats to the apartment but on the other hand refuses to allow anyone to do anything about it.

This advice comes courtesy of once sharing an apartment with two roommates, one of whom had moderately smelly cats and the other of whom absolutely could not abide any cat smell whatsoever. I was neutral, but often found myself in the middle of "OMG her cats smell SO BAD" and "does [otherroommate] think my cats stink or something?" conversations.

Also, I don't have experience as a cat owner, but as a pet owner in general, I'll say that neighbors can often have a very rosy idea of having an animal around which doesn't necessarily correspond to reality. They can also often not be terribly patient with said reality. This really sucks, but I don't know what can really be done about it.
posted by Sara C. at 10:36 PM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

You could bring it up as a health concern for you and her (don't bring the cats into this). Breathing in that amount of chemicals cannot be good for you. See what she says and if she mentions the cat odor, you can go from there. Maybe do some internet research on alternative odor control methods and see if she'd be willing to try any of those.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:39 PM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Or is there some extra thing I can be doing to cover pet odors

Yes! Try Freshwave. The stuff is amazing. I don't know how it works, but it seems to absorb rather than cover the odors.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:39 PM on March 28, 2013 [20 favorites]

I think you are possibly jumping the gun with trying to figure out her reasons for spraying Febreze, and that's generating a lot more angst about talking to her and making you feel defensive before she's even told you the cats are a problem. Just start with bringing up the Febreze. "Hey, Febreze gives me headaches, is there something else we can do?" and see where the conversation goes. Maybe think about some things that would get rid of or cover up odors that won't give you headaches--an additional air filter, coffee beans (I've heard those cover up odor), etc.

(I moved into a new place in the wintertime and it was cold and over the first week, no one turned the heat on. I assumed it must be for budgetary reasons and I mentally prepared all sorts of arguments defending my right to turn on the central heat even if they didn't want it on. I tensed up and worried. Then I brought it up, and my housemate was like "oh, I hadn't thought of turning it on for some reason because I kind of tend to run warm, but go ahead.")
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:39 PM on March 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: "Hey! I've noticed that you like to use Febreze multiple times per day. Is it something you do out of habit, or are there smells that you're smelling but I'm not?"

Roommate delivers reply. Maybe it has to do with the cats. Maybe it doesn't.

"Oh! Well, here's the thing. I'm 100% allergic to air fresheners like Febreze and since I moved in I've had some really terrible headaches. Could you perhaps switch to another form of air freshening? Candles seem to be okay -- I'd be happy to buy you your favorite brand so you have them on hand when you need them. The Febreze use needs to stop though."

Roommate replies again. Maybe this time she brings up the cats.

"Ah, I wish you would have just told me right away! I am so sorry. So far I've done XYZ to mitigate any possible smells. What could we do INSTEAD OF FEBREZE to make things better?"

If she gives you ANY pushback, like "you need to get rid of the cats" or "this is not what I signed up for", you may need to say...

"Wow, this is really a surprise. I was not aware that this would be an issue we can't resolve easily. I'd like to figure out a compromise for both of us. What could we work out? Oh, you're not willing to compromise? Okay, I'm going to need my security deposit back since it looks like I'll be moving out. Please cut me a check tonight and I will start looking for other living arrangements tomorrow. In the meantime, please stop using the Febreze so that I can focus on vacating the apartment in a timely manner. Yeah, I'm serious. Thanks."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:40 PM on March 28, 2013 [36 favorites]

Febreeze and other air fresheners are carcinogens. Super dangerous for everyone in the household.

Not to freak you out, and I think you will get some awesome answers in this thread, just thought I would give you a little science to back yourself up with!
posted by jbenben at 11:05 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

scented candles are also bad for one's health. maybe there are some that are more natural though that are also scented. i haven't researched that far but i believe unscented soy and palm(?) candles are good.
posted by wildflower at 11:17 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't be coy and try and skirt the Edge of this, use a script similar to(or directly from) these birds of a feather's post above.

I've been in fairly similar roommate conflicts to this kind of stuff, and you're only priming the pump of bullshit passive aggressive drama by not addressing it head on. Be cool, like that script, but bring it up directly. Do not try to Trojan horse the conversation or sneak up to what you want from the rear. This is not the time for that.
posted by emptythought at 11:29 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just curious, how often do you clean the litter and what do you do with what you scooped?
posted by dottiechang at 11:59 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you sure your cats are only using the litterbox?
Also, most of the multi-cat homes I know have more than one box. That might help.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:07 AM on March 29, 2013

What kind of kitty litter are you using? My house stinks unless we use the super pricy odour absorbing kind. It makes a huge difference.
posted by third word on a random page at 12:56 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you consider how she constantly uses all those candles plus multiple spray products when you've lived there for ***less than a week***, that suggests she might have been more than a bit obsessive about them even BEFORE you moved in, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the cats.

I'm sorry, but it sounds like your best plan is simply moving --- between the overwhelming stench, the carcinogens jbenben mentions, and the basic fire hazard of the constantly-burning candles..... move.
posted by easily confused at 2:53 AM on March 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

A former housemate of mine had given up smoking and was pet free when I moved in. She started to smoke again and acquired a puppy down the pub (boxer mix, she didn't know the first thing about dogs or training them) shortly after I moved in...anyway, between the cigarettes and the dog not being housetrained it occurred to her that the place may be smelly and that the solution was plug in air freshener.

She, being a smoker again, could not smell the stuff unless it wasn't set to the highest setting. And I got overwhelmed by it as soon as I opened the door - it was plugged in the other end of the house. It was absolutely overwhelming and horrible for me and physically irritating so I turned it down, she turned it up, I turned it down again...just a symptom for how the living situation was not working for me - I should have moved out asap but was looking for a more comprehensive solution that entailed moving to another part of the country and finding a new job so I stayed far too long.

It strikes me that your housemate probably is not, or not only, reacting to having cats in the house. She probably just likes air freshener and 'nice' smelly things. As with perfume, you become immune to things you smell all the time and either need to use more and more or accept that you can't smell the nice smell any more. She seems to go for more and more...just use These birds of a feather's script for a conversation - that gives you the option of finding out if any part of this is a response to cat smells and if there is some middle ground whilst also allowing you to make it clear that the status quo does not work for you and get out of there as soon as you can.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:31 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd discuss without acrimony. I used a shit ton of plug ins in my house because when I moved in it smelled like old man. I had headaches, allergies, etc and never really put it together until a friend of mine said, "Jesus, this place stinks to high heaven, unplug this shit!"

I have two cats and the Breeze System is pretty stink free (unless someone drops a deuce.)

I think if you're willing to try something, your roommate should be willing to try something too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:23 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

It might not be the cats at all. Some people just really, really like that stuff. Their own noses get so used to it that they don't realize they're going way overboard, and they lack enough empathy to care how it's affecting anyone else. The aggressive marketing doesn't help, either.

I shared an office with someone like that. Absolutely nothing anyone did would get her to stop. She acted like it was some kind of civil rights issue anytime we tried to broach the subject. I ended up having to find another job.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:33 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses! I will look into the Fresh Wave and Breeze. I use Scoop Away or Tidy Cat now with deodorant and scoop the box at least twice per day. I also burn candles sometimes myself, just not the strongly scented ones.

I don't think her air freshener use is entirely because of the cats, I'm just trying to prepare myself for talking to her about it since the cats could be my contribution to her feeling the need to use it so much.
posted by fromageball at 5:52 AM on March 29, 2013

I bought a HEPA filter for about $100 from Target before my brother (allergic to cats) came to visit. Since then I've moved it to the litterbox room where it runs on high continuously and I noticed definite improvement. And we are not half as dilligent as you on scooping and vacuuming, I think you're going above and beyond to keep the smells down!
posted by ista at 6:22 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

These Birds of a Feather's script is great, but please don't say you're allergic to something if you're not. Saying that you're really sensitive to it and it gives you headaches should be enough (and if it's not, then your roommate is being unreasonable.)
posted by punchtothehead at 6:57 AM on March 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

here's more proof how unhealthy Febreze actually is -- the Environmental Working Group grades it an F or a D, depending on the variety. I think letting her know it gives you headaches is perfectly reasonable.
posted by changeling at 7:45 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ask her if the cat odor is a problem, and let her know what you've already done to mitigate the potential odors. It's been my experience (both having pets and having friends with pets) that you kind of get used to the way your pet smells and don't notice it as much as other people do.

Tell her that the air fresheners and the scented candles give you a headache. You both deserve to have a stink-free apartment. Is she a smoker? Does she smoke cigarettes or other things in the apartment and is trying to cover up the scent?

A potential compromise is investing in a HEPA filter. It will help keep the potential cat odor, dust and dander at bay. It might help cut down on the air freshener stink too, although I'm not sure.
posted by inertia at 8:19 AM on March 29, 2013

>It's been my experience (both having pets and having friends with pets) that you kind of get used to the way your pet smells and don't notice it as much as other people do.

To nth this, I don't notice any cat odor in my house at all, until I go away for a while; when I come back, I really notice it for a few hours. Not ammonia or litter, just furry catness.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:34 AM on March 29, 2013

How often do you completely dump and replace the litter?
posted by massysett at 2:40 PM on March 29, 2013

I already replied, but i didn't really get in to it much. And it bugs me to see so many people approaching this from "hmm, well maybe your cats do stink" rather than just realizing that people who overspray air freshener this much are, regardless of the cats or not, creating a far more miserable situation and place to be than just a place that smells like cat.(and this is coming from someone who doesn't own a cat and absolutely HATES the smell of cat pee/poop, or even just cat. hates hates hates).

I really think the focal point here isn't "well lets get more info on the exact parameters of the cat situation" here, especially since she said she cleans it twice a day, which is more than anyone i know.

The real issue here is the air freshener, full stop. If it's even close to the level's fromageball is describing, which is plausible to me having been in several houses like that, then it's completely neurotic and unacceptable. This is really a case of "person doing unreasonable thing in response to normal thing", and it bugs me when i see anyone going "well, maybe they have some relatable reason for this ridiculous over the top passive aggressive response?" uh, no.

I don't think her air freshener use is entirely because of the cats

I'm with you on this, because i don't either. I think the cats will, however, be an excellent scapegoat when you bring this up with your roommate. I'd definitely avoid mentioning the cats at all, and, as i recommended before go straight for the air freshener. If you bring them up at all she'll see it as the perfect straw to grasp at.

I know people like this who just spray all their stuff with it. I've dealt with it to the point of not being able to eat dinner in the house because it was making me physically ill.

I'm just warning you, it's going to come down to the fact that they just like how it smells as a few people here have suggested. While it sounds nice to think it might be some passive aggressive jab at the cat smell, after sleeping on it and reflecting on past experiences i really think it's just going to be someone who likes going overboard with it.(and, full disclosure, i currently live with someone like this right now. They still don't understand why i don't like it, but are fortunately considerate enough to not use it when i'm home)

I feel like you might end up just having to completely dump and replace them.
posted by emptythought at 5:20 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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