If you watch television, you probably see frequent ads for air fresheners, from sprays to plug-ins to solids. Commercial air fresheners are certainly a common fixture in many homes, schools and businesses. But are they as safe and beneficial as people often think they are?
Actually, though their assumed purpose is to “freshen” the air, most of these products merely mask odors with chemicals that degrade the air quality in your home. In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), mass-market air fresheners are a major source of indoor air pollution.
They often contain unhealthy chemicals such as formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, aerosol propellants, acetaldehyde—a likely human carcinogen according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), among others.
VOCs, which are emitted as gases, are a family of chemicals, some of which may cause adverse health effects. According to the EPA, concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors—up to ten times higher, in fact—than outdoors, and can be harmful to people of all ages, as well as pets, potentially causing:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
- Damage to liver, kidneys and the central nervous system
- Cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans
Another chemical group to be aware of is phthalates, which have been linked to hormonal and reproductive problems, birth defects and developmental disorders. A 2007 review by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that 12 out of 14 popular air fresheners contained phthalates.
But you won’t learn any of this by reading labels, since air freshener ingredients can legally be kept secret, due to business protections on product ingredients and fragrance formulations. Given these loopholes for manufacturers, less than ten percent of all volatile ingredients are typically disclosed on air freshener labels or material safety data sheets.
So how can you create a clean-smelling home if you prefer to steer clear of these chemical-based products? Worry not, you can freshen air naturally with a few simple strategies. For example:
Attack odors at the source
Many odors that people try to cover with synthetic fragrances are a snap to clear up naturally. It may be as simple as refreshing the litter box, ferreting out spoiled leftovers from the fridge, or taking out the garbage more often.
You can also absorb odors naturally by keeping an open box of baking soda in the fridge or sprinkling it into indoor trash cans and compost bins. And of course, keeping your windows at least partially open year round is an easy, free air freshener! For a natural, do-it-yourself option, make these simple garbage pail pods using essential oils.
Creating a natural air freshener is easy, inexpensive and can be customized as you like. All you need is a spray bottle filled with purified water and a few drops of your favorite essential oil. It’s nice to experiment, as different fragrances offer various benefits.
A good essential oil starter kit might include soothing lavender, disinfecting tea tree, freshening lemon, cooling peppermint and invigorating grapefruit oils, though there are many to choose from. Mist your rooms as often as you like, and enjoy. Aromatherapy is healthy, uplifting and fun!
Enjoy natural scented candles
Candles create a lovely aesthetic in our homes and scented versions lend a nice aroma to your interior space. The key is selecting healthy alternatives. Most commercial candles are made from paraffin wax, which may create highly toxic benzene, toluene, carbon tetrachloride, chlorobenzene, ethylbenzene, and other chemicals when burned, and the wicks often contain heavy metals such as lead which is released into your indoor atmosphere as well.
And of course, those with synthetic fragrances add insult to injury by off-gassing chemicals like phthalates as well. On a positive note, you can find safe, beneficial candles made from non-GMO soy or beeswax in natural markets and online. If you choose scented types, remember that the term “fragrance” is code for chemical additives, so be sure the candles you select use only natural essential oils.
Buy healthy alternatives
If you’re too busy for DIY, you can also purchase safe, natural air fresheners. If you like a simple spray, you might appreciate this fragrant orange version, which contains only natural citrus oils from a blend of oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines and grapefruits. Another great option is an essential oil diffuser.
For example, this cool bamboo diffuser uses high-frequency ultrasonic electrical vibrations to create an ultra-fine mist. This diffusion method doesn't utilize heat, so you can maintain essential oil integrity and holistic properties.
With so many great options, creating a fresh-scented home, free of undesirable chemicals, will be as easy as it is healthy!