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August 16, 2013 by APRIL McCARTHY
How Toxic Is Your Home or Car's Air Freshener?


Artificial fragrance sales reach over $8 billion every year and rising. It's shocking how many consumers still purchase products which emit toxic fumes in their cars and homes. If you use synthetic air fresheners, you should know that you're likely increasing you risk of headaches, earaches, depression, allergies, irregular heart beat, and even diarrhea.



Fragrance can be made up of more than 100 chemicals, most of which are synthetic, and most of these chemicals are harming our health.

One study in the U.K. of 14,000 pregnant women showed a link between the use of air fresheners and aerosol sprays and an increase in headaches and depression in the mothers, as well as ear infections and diarrhea in their babies. In homes where air fresheners and aerosol sprays were used on most days, women experienced 25% more headaches and 19% more post-natal depression than women in homes where such products were used less than once a week. Babies under six months old who were exposed to air fresheners on most days had 30% more ear infections and a 22% greater chance of diarrhea than babies exposed less than once a week.

The finding comes from a National Institutes of Health study that measured lung function and blood levels of 11 household chemicals in 953 U.S. adults. All 11 chemicals are volatile organic compounds -- chemicals given off as gasses from common household products. Even a small reduction in lung function may indicate some harm to the lungs.

A report that was released in September of 2007 by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that 12 of 14 brands of common household air fresheners contained phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals that are used to prolong the length of time that scented products maintain their fragrance. Regular exposure to phthalates can increase your risk of experiencing endocrine, reproductive, and developmental problems. Amazingly, some of the brands that tested positive for phthalates did not include phthalates on their lists of ingredients; some of these brands were even labeled as being "all-natural" and "unscented."

In response to this study, the National Resources Defense Council produced the following list that indicates the presence or absence of phthalates in common air fresheners:

Highest levels of phthalates:

  • Walgreens Air Freshener Spray (removed from shelves)
  • Walgreens Scented Bouquet Air Fresheners (removed from shelves)
  • Walgreens Solid Air Fresheners (removed from shelves)
  • Ozium Glycolized Air Sanitizer


Medium levels of phthalates:

  • Air Wick Scented Oil
  • Febreze NOTICEables Scented Oil
  • Glade Air Infusions
  • Glade PlugIn Scented Oil
  • Oust Air Sanitizer Spray


Low levels or no phthalates detected:

  • Citrus Magic
  • Febreze Air Effects Air Refresher
  • Lysol Brand II Disinfectant
  • Oust Fan Liquid Refills
  • Renuzit Subtle Effects


Please note that having no phthalates does not make synthetic air fresheners safe to use in your car or home. The vast majority of synthetic air fresheners emit significant amounts of terpene, a volatile organic compound that can react with naturally occurring ozone to create formaldehyde. Ozone, a form of oxygen, exists at some level both indoors and outdoors, so formaldehyde formation is practically inevitable wherever synthetic air fresheners are used. Indoor environments that tend to have elevated levels of ozone include those where photocopiers and ozone-generating air purifiers are used.

Here's a shocking list of ingredients in air fresheners:

Pthalates--The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC)--an international environmental organization--conducted a study called, “Clearing the Air: Hidden Hazards of Air Fresheners” in which they found 86% of air fresheners tested contained dangerous phthalates. Phthalates are used as plastic softeners, anti-foaming agents in aerosols, in vinyl found in children’s toys, automobiles, paints, pesticides, and in cosmetics and fragrances. According to the NRDC research, “Most phthalates are well known to interfere with production of the male hormone testosterone, and have been associated with reproductive abnormalities.”

Acetone--is a blood-, heart-, gastrointestinal-, liver-, kidney-, skin-, respiratory-, brain- and nervous system toxin. So, in other words, it can damage just about any part of your body and have a wide range of adverse effects.

Butane and Isobutane--Yes, lighter fluid. It a serious toxin to our brain and nervous system.

Liquified Petroleum Gas and Petroleum Distillate--It is fairly obvious why we wouldn’t want to add this to our air supply.

Propane--a cardiovascular and blood toxin; liver, kidney, respiratory, skin, and nervous system toxin known to be extremely dangerous and that’s why we operate propane barbecues outdoors yet we’re spraying this stuff into our indoor air.

Perfume--This single ingredient contains up to 400 different toxic ingredients, 95 percent of which are derived from petroleum products and are linked to a whole host of serious health conditions ranging from headaches and dizziness to depression and behavioral changes.

Benzene--known to cause leukemia in humans.

Formaldehyde--linked to cancers of the upper airways.


10 Ways To Keep Your Car and Living Space Smelling Fresh Without Using Chemical-Laden Air Fresheners:


  1. Open your windows - even just a crack during cold weather - for at least 30 minutes a day. Weather permitting, it's best to keep your windows open all the time, assuming that you don't live in a heavily polluted area.

  2. Sprinkle baking soda on carpets before you vacuum.

  3. Keep a box of baking soda open in the room.

  4. Choose natural deodorizers, such as zeolite which contain minerals that absorb odors. Plants are also helpful for purifying your indoor air. In the end, choosing natural forms to deodorize yourself and your environment with save both.

  5. Keep natural (preferably organic) potpourri in a bowl out in the open, or put into little sachets to keep around the house.

  6. Maintain a friendly gathering of indoor plants in your living and work spaces.

  7. Take the garbage and compost out every day

  8. Don’t buy from companies that value trade secrets over the public’s right to know what they are breathing.

  9. Write to the Consumer Product Safety Commission asking them to ban hazardous phthalates in consumer products and requiring ingredient labeling of all consumer products. Here’s the link to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and the e-mail for Canadian Consumer Product Safety division of Health Canada (Info@hc-sc.gc.ca).

  10. Make your office scent-free. If you’re not the one in charge at your office request that they enact such a policy.

April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.


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