I had a friend over this past weekend. As we were catching up, I started making some tea. He paused for a second and sniffed the air before looking around and saying, “Your apartment smells really neutral.” Most people probably think this is a strange remark. I mean, it is a strange remark. But my friend knows me well, and he knew I’d appreciate it.
One thing about me: I love hosting people at my apartment, but I sometimes get a little self-conscious about my living situation. I have two roommates. Two men. So it’s three men living in a pretty small apartment. We keep the place quite clean — really, we do! — but it’s still three men living in a pretty small apartment. Sometimes we don’t take the recycling down as soon as we should, or someone cooks a particularly aromatic meal that tends to linger. I credit my apartment’s noteworthily “neutral” smell to an unexpected source — a hospital-grade odor eliminator that I use as a room spray and air freshener.
I first learned about it when I was visiting my parents about a year ago. My mom had placed a bottle of something called Hollister M9 Odor Eliminator Spray on top of the toilet. She learned about M9 at the hospital where she works. A nurse tipped her off to it. They have boxes of it in a supply closet, and they use it in doctors’ examination rooms to freshen up between patients if necessary. Always an innovator, my mom decided to try a bottle in the bathroom. (For the record, she did not take a bottle from the supply closet. She was actually quite surprised to find it available on Amazon.)
I’ve been using it for a while now and I’m still impressed by how well it works. You usually just need one or two pumps. A fine cloud of unscented mist comes out and within about ten seconds … nothing. No garlic or mildew or bathroom odor. Just neutral air.
It’s so effective that I started worrying that it might be too effective. It’s a hospital-grade product, after all, that one site claims can neutralize the odors of necrotic tissue. Even though M9 is available on sites like Amazon, CVS, and Walmart, the manufacturer, Hollister Incorporated, is not a consumer-facing company. They specialize in medical products related to ostomy care — so pouches, skin barriers, tubing, and odor-eliminating drops and sprays. The company obviously has odor-eliminating credibility, but since the way my mom and I have been using it is definitely “off-label,” I wanted to speak with someone who could help explain exactly what this spray is, and how it works.
I reached out to Robert McGorrin, a professor and researcher at Oregon State University who specializes in food and flavor chemistry. According to McGorrin, when it comes to odor-eliminating sprays, there are generally two approaches. One option is to “cover up the odor with a heavy fragrance,” he says. That’s the method typically employed by the aerosol sprays you see in your local drugstore. The other way is to destroy the odor through a chemical reaction, “converting it to an odorless form.” This is how M9 works. While McGorrin wanted to make it clear that he is not a trained toxicologist, he did say that most ingredients in this spray are found in other consumer products, which was a relief. He also explained that some industrial products avoid the consumer market not because they’re unsafe but because “consumers tend to be very casual with things they buy in the grocery store.”
But not me. I respect the M9. Like my mom, I use it around the house. Also like my mom, I tend to store it in the bathroom. That’s where I find it most effective. I can only speak for myself, but from my experience, the $14 eight-ounce bottle lasts a really long time. Not bragging, but I’ve had mine for about a year and it’s still over 75 percent full.
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