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customers checking out at grocery store with fumes in the air

#Asthmaproblems: When They Rearrange the Store on You

I do my best to avoid the cleaning products aisle when grocery shopping. Fortunately, as I do not do the majority of shopping, this is a choice I can make. Cleaning products are an asthma and headache trigger to me, so I do my best to avoid what I can to steer clear of that potential double-whammy.

Recently, the grocery section of my nearby Real Canadian Superstore (which goes just by Superstore colloquially, for the record) rearranged. This is not only problematic because they removed the middle gap in the aisles allowing you to free yourself from the confines of the inner aisles a little easier (wherein now you get trapped because you aka I no longer know where things are!), but also because they made a very not-asthma-friendly move.

AsthmaProblems: When they rearrange the store on you

We typically check out at the self-checkouts. On busy days, the line extends toward the aisles. Except for, excuse me Superstore, WHY DID YOU MOVE THE FREAKING LAUNDRY PART OF THE AISLE TO THE FRONT END NEAR SELF CHECKOUT?

grocery store aisle of cleaning products

Also, “air care” is the biggest lie I have ever heard, given it is code for chemicals you spray in the air to make it smell better. GOODNESS, JUST BAKE COOKIES, PEOPLE. They at least are not (typical) asthma triggers! (And also delicious.)

So now, in order to go to the self-checkout, I exist in a stage of half-breathing, turned awkwardly not in the direction of the line to maximize my “airspace”. The unfortunate thing is that while the cashiers know what they are doing, I still continue to find self-checkout faster.

What does it take to make a more asthma-friendly store?

Some stores are meant to be not asthma friendly—like, you know, the garden center if you have allergies or Bath & Bodyworks/The Body Shop/those sorts of stores. While there is little if any way to contain the scented aisle to itself, stores can be more asthma-friendly by placing these sections in avoidable areas to shoppers—for instance, right now, this very Superstore has its shampoo/conditioner and hair products in a front corner of the store, easily avoidable (but generally an area the scents do not overtake the entire radius). The corner approach would be easy enough to implement for the cleaning items too—heck, they could even go in the same area and just call it cleaning products, regardless if you’re cleaning your clothes, dishes, and countertops or hair, face, hands, and body.

While I understand it’s nearly impossible and certainly impractical to isolate the fragrant products as much as I may like or need, considering store arrangement can certainly be helpful. For instance, how many department stores have you been to where you have no choice but to enter past the perfume counter—typically obnoxiously located by the mall entrance? Again, placing these products in a more avoidable area could make a huge difference for many people!

Not only now do I have to be confused when at the grocery store due to the rearrangement of random items I want, I have to keep my guard up to ensure I avoid the items I don’t want to be exposed to! It’s always something with asthma, isn’t it?!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • KaraOhki
    11 months ago

    I also avoid the cleaning/laundry aisle. I can’t use ordinary laundry detergent or fabric softener. Even unscented. I’ve learned to make my own, and no longer break out or wheeze. Unfortunately, two of the components needed, borax and washing soda, are in the laundry aisle. I have to send someone to get them! I can’t even step into the soap aisle at Walmart to get my unscented soap. Last time I sneezed for hours.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    11 months ago

    Hi KaraOhki and thanks for your response and comment on this topic. Do you think wearing some sort of barrier mask might help to protect you from this trigger when present? Leon (site moderator)

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    11 months ago

    Hi KaraOhki – I agree! That’s the worst isle in the store. Sometime even an aisle or two over you can smell it. Our Target recently moved all the natural laundry products to their own area. For me, this has made a big difference.
    -Lyn (site moderator)

  • cathie
    11 months ago

    So true….and just think, we can speak up for ourselves and try to avoid the problem areas but young children stuck in shopping carts can’t remove themselves or avoid the aisles if they are wheeled into them. I wonder how many children’s attacks are caused by parents inadvertently exposing them to these strong smells.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    11 months ago

    Hi cathie and thanks for your comment to this article. You do make an interesting point. I’m hoping that once a parent knows their child’s triggers, they will try to avoid exposing the child to the particular trigger. But I wonder the same as you do!!
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Shellzoo
    11 months ago

    I don’t usually have problems in stores but I remember shopping at a grocery store that was having a Seafood Extravaganza and getting a whiff of the seafood while shopping and ended up wheezing. A couple of days ago I was shopping at the local Walmart and went down the cleaning aisle and thought much more scent and I would have trouble but I managed to get what I needed ok. Usually I know where to shop and what to avoid but you never know when your store will hold a seafood extravaganza…..

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    11 months ago

    Hi Shellzoo and thanks for your post. It sounds like, by staying vigilant, you can exert some control over your shopping methods to avoid those pesky triggers. As you said, one never knows about a ‘seafood extravaganza’. I got a good chuckle out of that one. But it can also be a serious concern. We appreciate your input. Leon (site moderator)

  • TracyLee
    11 months ago

    I used to call grocery shopping my “weekly dodging bullets event”. If I managed to avoid all the things Kerri mentioned, there was still the strong smelling cleaners used at the checkouts and the dryer sheet fragrances from other customers. Oh yes, and let’s not forget all the “comfort dogs” on long leashes that wind around my legs while waiting in line. And of 3 grocery stores, 2 have “designer fragrance” emitted through their HVAC system that is supposed enhance the shopping experience. (For groceries??)

    I’ve given up and now wear a snugly fitting washable silicone mask with replaceable P100 filters every time I go to the grocery store. Most other shopping is done online.

    My oldest mask is at 5 years and doesn’t show any wear. Because the outside of the P100 filters pick up the fragrance, I use them only for stores (not for dusting at home, etc.) Because I’m filtering fragrances, not particulates, I rarely need to replace the filters. One reason I have 2 masks is so I always have one ready with new filters. I compare the ease of inhaling/exhaling between the used and unused.

    Except when I bend my head over the shopping cart, the mask reduces all fragrances to none or negligible. I get stared at and funny comments, but breathing takes priority and I’ve developed a “thick skin” out of necessity.

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator
    11 months ago

    It sounds like you have a system for shopping down that works great for you. Thanks for sharing your experience. I usually wear a similar mask when mowing the grass, and don’t worry about what others think. Like you say, breathing comes first. John. Site Moderator.

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