Although generally one recites a Beracha before smelling fragrant substances such as fruits, perfumes, plants and spices, one does not recite a Beracha over fragrant substances which are used mainly as deodorizers, to neutralize foul odors. For example, no Beracha is recited over the fragrant spices placed near bodies awaiting burial, which are intended to neutralize the foul odor produced by the body’s decomposition. Similarly, no Beracha is recited when one uses hand soap or deodorant, or when spraying an air freshener in a restroom. All these products are intended not for the purpose of producing a pleasing fragrance, but to neutralize offensive odors, and so no Beracha is recited when smelling these products.
The Halachic authorities debate the question of whether one recites a Beracha if he uses such a product with the specific intent of enjoying its fragrance – for example, if somebody sprays deodorant or air freshener, or smells hand soap, because he wants to enjoy the pleasant scent. The Hafetz Haim (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, 1839-1933), in his Sha’ar Ha’siyun (217:16), cites the Peri Megadim (Rav Yosef Teomim, 1727-1793) as ruling that one does not recite a Beracha in such a case. If a product is made primarily to be used as a deodorizer, then, according to this view, no Beracha is recited before smelling it, even if one’s intent is to enjoy the smell, and not to neutralize an odor. The Peri Megadim distinguished this case from that of one who smells an Etrog, who indeed recites a Beracha, even though the fruit was not grown for the sake of smelling (but rather for eating). As opposed to an Etrog, which is produced for eating but can also be used for its fragrance, a deodorizer is produced specifically to eliminate odors, and so it is excluded from the Halacha of Birkat Ha’re’ah (the Beracha recited over pleasant fragrances). Rav Yaakob Emden (Germany, 1697-1776), in his work Mor U’kesia, disagreed, and maintained that the determining factor is not the intent with which the product was made, but rather the intent for which it is used. Therefore, if one uses a deodorizer to enjoy its scent, then the product’s intended purpose is immaterial, and a Beracha is required.
Hacham David Yosef, in his Halacha Berura, notes that the Ritba (Rav Yom Tob of Seville, Spain, c. 1260-c. 1314) required reciting a Beracha in such a case. Nevertheless, Hacham David’s father, Hacham Ovadia Yosef, ruled that we must follow in this regard the famous principle of "Safek Berachot Le’hakel" – that we do not recite a Beracha in situations of uncertainty. Therefore, if someone smells any substance intended to be used as a deodorizer, he does not recite a Beracha, even if his intention is to enjoy the scent.
Summary: Although generally one is required to recite a Beracha before smelling a fragrant substance, one does not recite a Beracha before smelling a substance that is made specifically to be used as a deodorizer – such as air fresheners, hand soap and deodorant body spray. This applies even if one’s intent is to enjoy its fragrance, and not merely to neutralize a foul odor.