Air Fresheners & Fragrances

There are more than 100 varieties of artificial scents and roughly 75% of US households use either plug-in, gel-fragrance, spray or stand-alone air fresheners. Unfortunately, air fresheners contain extremely high levels of chemicals that can be harmful to human health. Fragrance is a term used to describe a soup of chemicals used to impact scent. Legal loopholes allow manufactures to use chemicals without disclosing them on labels. Fragrances work by deadening chemical senses and can cause health impacts such as respiratory problems, nose and lung irritation, and can trigger asthma. In addition, fragrances tend to be sold in aerosol packaging which are composed of propellants and can cause nervous system damage.  Some examples of chemicals used in fragrances and their impacts are:

Phthalates- can cause endocrine and thyroid disruption, reproductive and developmental harm and decreased pulmonary function

Formaldehyde- a known human carcinogen

Chloromethane- a neurotoxicant

Paradichlorobenzene- a known carcinogen, nerve toxin and can trigger asthma; however is no longer legal for sale in the state of California as of December 31, 2006.

Even air fresheners labeled as "all-natural" may contain high levels of phthalates and fragrance. To eliminate and prevent unwanted odors, it is best to clean regularly. If odors are caused by pets, try enzyme-based products. Also, make sure you are not masking an underlying problem such as mold and excessive moisture. 

Here are some tips on what you can do to freshen the air without using artificial fresheners:

  • Open your windows and doors to circulate air
  • Use naturally fragrant items like flowers, coffee beans, cloves, cinnamon sticks, lemon, lime or orange peel
  • Use non-aerosol citrus oil air fresheners
  • Use natural oils such as vanilla essence or mint extract
  • Place baking soda in you refrigerator, trash can, car and on your carpet to eliminate odor

Additional Information for Air Fresheners & Fragrances

Natural Resources Defense Council
press release and study: Common Air Fresheners Contain Chemicals That May Affect Human Reproductive Development
Clearing the Air: Hidden Hazards in Air Fresheners
Natural Resources Defense Council air-freshener guide