Are Air Fresheners Healthy?

Air Fresheners

No one wants a dirty-smelling home, but not all air fresheners are created equal. In fact, some could actually damage indoor air quality. Compare different methods of masking pet stink, bathroom odors and leftover cooking smells to find out which one wins the battle of the air fresheners.

Types of Air Fresheners

Aerosol Sprays

These are the most common type of air fresheners used in American homes. Often a canister is permanently left sitting on the bathroom counter for people to spray after using the facilities. These quickly cover any offending odors.

Plug-in Air Fresheners

Using the electrical outlet to generate heat, plug-in air fresheners contain a small amount of gel or liquid, which continually release fragrance. They’re often placed in notoriously smelly locations, such as the bathroom or kitchen.

Gel Air Fresheners

Often found in decorative glass or plastic containers, gel air fresheners release their fragrance through evaporation. You control how powerful the scent is by exposing more or less of the gel to the air.

Reed Diffusers

These consist of a small glass bottle filled with fragrant oil. When you insert thin bamboo reeds into the bottle, they slowly wick up the oil and gradually add fragrance to the room. The safety of reed diffusers is directly linked to the ingredients in the oil they diffuse.

Scented Candles

Burning candles is a tremendously popular way of freshening up the home, especially to provide a festive fragrance around the holidays.

Dangers of Chemical Air Fresheners

The descriptions of each type of air freshener make them sound safe and appealing. However, the use of chemicals in air fresheners has raised concerns about health risks.

For example, in 2007, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency to report that 12 of the 14 air freshening products they tested contained hazardous chemicals. The NRDC proved that these chemicals aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions, and can even disrupt hormone production.

A University of Washington study in 2008 revealed that all top-selling air fresheners gave off carcinogenic chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause headaches, nausea, allergic skin reactions, central nervous system damage, shortness of breath and other health issues.

Another study from the University of West Georgia in 2009 found that 20 percent of the general public and 34 percent of asthma sufferers experience headaches, respiratory issues or other health problems when exposed to chemical air fresheners.

All of the air fresheners listed above have the potential to release VOCs and carcinogens, causing health problems in sensitive individuals.

Dangers of Black Soot Deposition from Candles

Candles in particular have the frightening characteristic of introducing black soot into the air. The EPA and American Lung Association have determined that breathing particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller is detrimental to human health. Black soot from candles fits this description and could put your family at risk by lodging deeply in the lungs and causing irritation. 

The key is to choose soy or beeswax candles with cotton wicks. Then trim the wick to one-quarter inch before every use, burn for no longer than one hour at a time, keep the candle away from drafts, and ensure nothing falls into the pool of wax.

Go Natural Instead

Avoid chemical air fresheners all together with these tips:

  • Open the windows when the weather allows it.
  • Simmer a pot of water with cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon sticks around the holidays.
  • Diffuse essential oils mixed with distilled water.
  • Bring air-cleaning houseplants inside.

We want to help promote indoor freshness! For help cleaning up your indoor air, please contact Rainbow International®.


For Further Reading:

Top Firestarters Explained

Black Soot Deposition: The Sinister Side of Scented Candles