Fragrances have been used to mask odors since ancient times. The first modern air freshener was used in 1948. In the 1980s, the air freshener market shifted to include a range of delivery methods including scented candles, solid gels, and reed diffusers, among others. Air fresheners are now a staple in offices, department stores, supermarkets and homes. They are advertised with the promise of providing a clean, healthy, and nice-smelling indoor atmosphere. However, behind those promises health concerns arise.
Air fresheners contain phthalates and many other hazardous chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, propellants, solvents, benzenes, and synthetic musks, among others. These chemicals can be easily inhaled, land on the skin and be absorbed, or accidently ingested. Studies have shown long term exposure to these chemicals can cause damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys, and central nervous system and may alter the body’s hormones (hormone disruption effect), which may increase the risk of some cancers and the risk of reproductive problems. Recent research performed on mice exposed to a commercial-brand solid air freshener for just one hour found acute toxic effects in nervous system function, pulmonary irritation, and decreased airflow velocity. These findings prove that air fresheners have an acute effect on mice and the potential for toxic effects on humans. Unfortunately, this study didn’t include an analysis of the impact of long-term exposure. Short-term exposure to these volatile compounds can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, fatigue, loss of coordination, allergic skin reactions, nausea, and memory impairment.
Although air fresheners contain small amounts of these chemicals, long-term, low-dose exposure can act in an additive manner and cause the same health hazards as a higher dose. Unfortunately consumers are not protected and companies are not required to disclosure the full list of ingredients in their air fresheners. Most brands use broad terms such as “odor eliminator” or “fragrance”, among others; which may hide dozens of chemicals, many of which may never have been assessed for safety.
Air fresheners are not a solution for poor air quality and are not a substitute for good ventilation. If you decide to use an air freshener, a careful selection may reduce chemical exposure to these dangerous chemicals. To learn more about the safety of your air freshener brand.
Below are some alternatives to air fresheners:
- Open your windows, use a fan to circulate air and install exhaust fans to remove odors.
- Remove sources of odor and empty the garbage often.
- Use natural or organic essential oils such as peppermint or orange to scent a room.
- Use or make potpourri with natural ingredients such as rose petals or lavender. Use only natural products, not anything that is artificially scented.
- Place fragrant plants such as jasmine, roses or lilies around the house.
- Make herbal sachets with cinnamon, cloves or other spices.
- Put lemon slices in the garbage or garbage disposal.
The Hint of the Week: Make your own air fresheners
Buy your favorite essential oils. They are available online or in most health stores. Make sure you use organic essential oils, as many scented oils are made from petroleum. Lavender, mint, pine, lemon, and orange are great options. Add 8 to 10 drops of essential oils to a spray bottle filled with 1 cup of water. You can also put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton ball to freshen up a drawer or closet.