The doorbell rings, it’s surprise company and you’ve just finished cooking up a big batch of fish. You reach for the air freshener and start spraying. There… that’s better, right?? Nope… it may actually be worse.
We put them in our cars, our offices, our homes, our garages and everywhere that odors may linger. We mist, we spray, we plug-in and we sprinkle toxic “smell good” chemicals without even knowing the health risks. Products that we think are making our air fresher are actually making it toxic.
These products claim to remove odor molecules but don’t do so; the molecules are still there, they are only masked by the smell of the chemical cocktail you have sprayed. What’s worse is that because your home is a closed environment, the chemicals linger for a very, very long time.
Air fresheners that are chemically made are highly dangerous, and are known to cause a number of health complications including:
- Burning eyes
- Breathing problems
- Hormone disruption
- Irregular heartbeat
Secret #1 Phthalates
The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) is an international environmental organization that conducted a study called “Clearing the Air: Hidden Hazards of Air Fresheners,” during which they discovered that 86 percent of indoor air fresheners contained highly dangerous phthalates.
These toxic chemicals are used as anti-foaming agents in aerosols, plastic softeners and are also found in the vinyl of children’s toys, paint, pesticides, cosmetics and perfume. They are used in air fresheners to make the fragrance last longer.
The NRDC reports that phthalates have been associated with reproductive problems and disruption of the male hormone testosterone. Both animal and human studies indicate that exposure to phthalates can decrease testosterone, reduce sperm count and can cause malformations of the genitalia. In addition, these toxins are also associated with allergic symptoms, asthma and childhood obesity.
Secret #2 Formaldehyde
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most store-bought air freshener products contain formaldehyde, a chemical compound that is used extensively in manufacturing and household products. It is also commonly used as a fungicide, germicide and disinfectant, in addition to being an embalming agent.
The short-term impacts of exposure to formaldehyde may include burning and watery eyes and throat, difficulty breathing, nausea and asthma attacks. In 1987, the EPA classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of high or prolonged exposure (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation. Report to Congress on Indoor Air Quality, Volume II: Assessment and Control of Indoor Air Pollution, 1989).
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. In 2001, the National Toxicology Program also named formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.
Secret #3 Petroleum distillates
The Sage Solvent Guideline Petroleum Distillates Overview states: “Petroleum distillates are hydrocarbon solvent produced from crude oil.” They are used in the removal of grease, tar, heavy oil and are commonly found in stain removers, pesticides, flea products and air fresheners.
Not only do petroleum distillates contribute to air, soil and groundwater pollution, they also have a serious impact on human health. Short-term exposure can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea and fatigue along with skin, eye and throat irritation. According to the CDC, these highly flammable chemicals may also cause dry and cracked skin, respiratory complications and chemical pneumonia.
One of the worst offenders
We reported last year on one of the worst indoor air fresheners of all time, the ever popular Febreze. Febreze does not disclose much information about their extensive line of products, but the Environmental Working Group (EWG) did conduct a test on one of their products, Febreze Air Effects. The shocking results of this study found that even though the company only disclosed three ingredients contained in the product, the EWG found 87 chemicals in all!
How do the chemicals in Febreze threaten you and your family?
- Febreze does not remove odor molecules. The room doesn’t smell anymore simply because the chemical odor overrides the other odors. It does not actually clean anything.
- The chemical 1,3-Dichloro-2-propanol has been linked to cancer.
- Methyl pyrrolidone is toxic to reproduction and development.
- Gerinoil irritates skin, eyes and lungs.
- Hexyl cinnamal is an allergen.
- Propylene glycol is linked to cancer and allergies, and is toxic to the immune system.
- Ethyl acetate is linked to neurotoxicity.
- Denatured alcohol has been known to cause organ system toxicity.
- Ethylhexanol-irritates skin, eyes and lungs, and is toxic to reproductive and developmental systems.
- Linalool is an immunotoxin.
The good news is that there are numerous ways to freshen any indoor or enclosed space, fabric or carpet without risking your health. Here are a few easy and inexpensive ideas to consider:
- Keep windows open, especially when you cook. Fresh air does wonders for indoor odors.
- Sprinkle a liberal amount of baking soda on carpets, or put some in your vacuum bag, before you vacuum.
- Use an aromatherapy machine.
- Keep an indoor houseplant in each room and in your office.
- Fill a small jar with some baking soda and add a few drops of essential oil. Place a piece of cheesecloth over the opening of the jar and tie. Set this jar wherever you need freshening.
- Bake a loaf of gluten-free almond or coconut bread.
- Place a simmering pot of water with a cinnamon stick and some orange peels on the stove to freshen up your kitchen.
- Keep your dish disposal and drains clean by pouring in 1/2 cup of baking soda, followed by 1 cup of vinegar – rinse well with hot water.
- Keep a small dish of borax in areas you wish to freshen; it will absorb odors.
- Run white vinegar through your dishwasher once a week.
- Fill a medium-sized spray bottle with water
- Add 1 teaspoon peppermint essential oil
- Add 1 teaspoon orange essential oil
- Add 1 teaspoon lemon essential oil
- Shake and spray
Occupational Health Guideline for Petroleum Distillates. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.