We're a good month or so away from spring—and spring flowers and fresh spring air. If you're anything like me, your house is starting to take on all the smells of a winter full of cooked dinners, soggy boots, and a few too many people cooped up inside for far too long.
Rather than pull out the store-bought scented candles or those cloying "air fresheners" that pollute your indoor air with phthalates (synthetic-fragrance ingredients that, researchers are finding, interfere with reproductive hormones and even promote childhood obesity), head to your kitchen. These all-natural air fresheners are as organic as you want them to be, and can be made in virtually no time!
Pottery Bowl Oil Lamp
Metal screw-top bottle or jar lid (1–2" in diameter)
Large nail and hammer
3–6 inches of narrow braided candle or lamp wick
Pottery bowl (about 2" deep)
Organic vegetable oil
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Hammer your nail through the center of the jar lid (it helps if you do this on a block of scrap wood), making a hole just large enough to fit your wick; you can buy lamp wicks or make your own from recycled materials (see below). Push one tip of the wick through the hole so that about ¼ inch is exposed above the lid. Pour an inch of oil into your pottery bowl and float the lid, with most of the wick dangling below it, like a tiny boat. After a few minutes, the wick will have soaked up some of the oil and you can light it. If the flame is too tall, blow it out and use sharp scissors to trim the exposed wick so it's a little shorter; if the flame isn't bright enough, blow it out and pull the wick through the lid a little more.
Vegetable oil lamps are pretty safe, as cool vegetable oil doesn't burn easily and if you drop a lighted match or wick into one, the oil will smother the flame. Olive oil burns cleanly and even adds a mild aroma. For a stronger natural fragrance, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil when you fill the lamp. Or infuse the lamp oil beforehand by simmering it with dried herbs or spices on the stovetop for half an hour, letting it cool, and then straining it before putting it in the bowl you're using as the lamp base.
Make-Your-Own Wicks: Recycle an old cotton T-shirt or use scraps of heavy cotton kitchen twine to make homemade wicks either for your oil lamp or in the candle recipe to follow. Since untreated cotton will sputter, burn too fast, and put itself out quite rapidly, you'll need to treat it first: Dissolve 1 tablespoon of table salt and two tablespoons of borax in a cup of boiling water. Then saturate your lengths of 100 percent cotton twine (or even an entire ball of it) or strips of 100 percent cotton fabric (cut flannel to about 1" wide, thin sheeting to 2" wide) in the solution, then hang them to dry. Once dry, use them as your lamp wick following the instructions above.