The truth about synthetic air fresheners + natural tips on improving indoor air quality

March 29, 2011 at 6:01 pm 5 comments

Most manufacturers of air fresheners don’t disclose the chemicals or fragrances used in their products, so it’s really anyone’s guess what that little contraption might be puffing out every 15 minutes. has compiled very eye-opening information about Air fresheners as well as natural alternatives to remove odors and purify air in your home.

Surprisingly, despite the economic downturn, the global sales of air fresheners are on the rise. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Certain life events prompt consumers to buy more air fresheners. Getting a pet, moving to a new home, getting married and having children all motivate shoppers to pick up more air-care products…This will continue to be a key growth contributor…”

Perhaps if consumers were more aware of the real impacts these products have on indoor air quality and health, they would think twice. Here’s the unvarnished truth:

Air fresheners almost never “freshen” the air. They just mask odors, either with synthetic fragrance or by interfering with your ability to smell by coating your nasal passages with an oil film or releasing a nerve-deadening agent. In rare cases, they will actually break down the offensive odor.

What’s in them and what’s the risk?

Known toxic chemicals that can be found in air fresheners include camphor, phenol, ethanol, formaldehyde, and artificial fragrances (which contain their own mix of toxic chemicals). These chemicals can cause symptoms like headaches, rashes, dizziness, migraines, asthma attacks, mental confusion, coughing and more. Some of the substances in air fresheners are linked to cancer or hormone disruption. (Mindy Pennybacker reports in “Synthetic Air Fresheners’ Toxic Taint”.)

A study published on July 10, 2010 in Environmental Health found that women who used more household cleaning products, including air fresheners and mold removers, had a 2x higher risk of breast cancer. Many aerosol air fresheners contain toxic phthalates, which have been linked to birth defects and reproductive harm. A Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study found the hormone-disrupting compounds in 12 out of 14 common air fresheners and none of these products listed phthalates on their labels.

Symptoms and sensitivities vary from person to person, but children are particularly susceptible.

    • Here are three shocking facts that will hopefully give you pause to stop and consider every breath you take.1.

      The indoor air in the typical American home contains over 500 chemicals. According to a study published in April 2009:- 586 individual chemicals were identified in the air of 52 homes. The pesticides diazinon and chlorpyrifos were found in the greatest amounts and both were found in all of the homes tested.
      – Twenty-seven different organochlorine pesticides were detected. p,p’-DDE, a breakdown product of the now banned pesticide DDT, was detected in more than 90 percent of homes.
      – Amounts of PCBs were generally low but were found in more than half the houses. They were detected in 56 percent of the 52 homes studied.
      – Phthalate chemicals were found at very large concentrations in indoor air.Researchers were not able to identify at least 120 of the chemicals. I repeat, researchers were not able to identify at least 120 of the chemicals! (Sorry for the repetition, it’s just stunning to me that our regulatory system is so flawed that experienced scientists are unable to identify so many chemicals that we are likely exposed to from common household products every day.) Many of these unidentified chemicals had structures similar to fragrance compounds. Fragrances made up the major chemical component of the collected chemicals.2.

      The breathing zone of a baby (less than 2 feet above ground) can be more contaminated than an adults (4-6 feet) because many contaminants weigh more than air (mercury, pesticides, etc). For example, in one study,the pesticide Chlorpyrifos was found to be nearly four times more concentrated at about 5-10 inches from the floor compared with the air 2 feet or more above the floor in a room with a window open for ventilation.3. Even though indoor air is typically 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor and we spend about 90% of our time indoors, there have been few studies documenting the health effects of indoor air and there are no regulations as there are for outdoor air or even workplace air. According to an article in the San Francisco Gate: “The U.S. General Accounting Office has called indoor air pollution “one of the most serious environmental risks to human health,” yet no agency has authority to control pollutants in indoor air.” There are a variety of regulations aimed at limiting outdoor air pollution – and granted, it would be difficult to impossible to have the same types of rules in place for the average home, but at the very least, there could be regulations regarding how many VOCs a product can emit.No two homes have exactly the same air quality issues and there’s no way to eliminate them all, but you can do many things to reduce your exposure to the worst culprits. Check out the ABCs of Healthier Indoor Air to get started today.

      GREAT Natural Alternatives to remove bad odors:

      When purchasing air-fresheners:

    • Look Before You Spray. Read labels. If you see the word “Fragrance,” it’s likely that the manufacturer is taking advantage of an FDA labeling loophole that allows users of synthetic fragrance to avoid mentioning specific ingredients—including phthalates, used in synthetic scents. Look instead for specific essential plant oils, preferably organic.
    • Do a Sniff Test. Before buying any fragranced product, natural or not, spray some from a tester to see whether it produces sneezes or itchy eyes. Strong fragrances, particularly citrus or pine, can provoke irritation and allergic/asthmatic reactions. And remember, when it comes to any perfume, a little goes a long way, so you needn’t overdo it.

      You can freshen indoor air naturally by doing things like:

      -Opening windows.
      -Growing indoor plants.
      -Using natural and non-toxic products.

Make your own homemade air freshener! Try an easy 3-Ingredient Spray Air Freshener recipe:

  • 1 oz gin, vodka, or rubbing alcohol
  • 6 oz filtered water
  • 20 – 40 drops of essential oil, a few suggested oils are: peppermint, jasmine, citrus oils

You can make your own spray air-freshener in just a few minutes using three simple ingredients. It’s a natural way to remove household odors, and the spray works well in the bathroom, on most fabrics and carpets, even in shoes. You can also customize it to suit your tastes.

We think this combination works well, and it’s strong enough to work without being too strong. Our preference is to use gin as your alcohol and jasmine as your essential oil, but you should experiment to find a mix that you like. Simply mix in a spray bottle and spray around for instant freshness. This mix will keep well for at least a month.

Grow Fresh Air with 8 Powerful Plants

What do you do when you become allergic to the air?  When your lungs begin to shut down because the air is too contaminated?  Kamal Meattle suffered from this fate and guess what his solution was? Grow new air (see his video below). Based on years of NASA studies, other scientific research, and 15 years of his own testing, Meattle discovered that three common houseplants, used strategically throughout a home, could vastly improve the indoor air quality.

Here’s the breakdown:

Areca Palm is “The Living Room Plant”
(above) – This plant is a daytime oxygen factory and Meattle recommends having 4 shoulder height plants per person.

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue is “The Bedroom Plant” (above) – This plant is an evening oxygen factory and Meattle recommends having 6-8 waist-high plants per person.

Money Plant is “The Specialist Plant” (above) – This plant is the filter that removes formaldehyde and other volatile organic chemicals from the air.

If maintained appropriately, Meattle claims you could live inside a bottle with a cap on top and these three plants would generate all the fresh air you need.

Not looking to live in a bottle? These plants will certainly still improve your indoor air quality (even if you don’t have quite so many). And, if you’re not satisfied with just three options, other new research has identified five “super ornamentals” that demonstrated high effectiveness of contaminant removal.

These include:

4. The purple waffle plant (Hemigraphis alternataa) (above),

5. English ivy (Hedera Helix)

6. Variegated wax plant
(Hoya cornosa)

7. Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus)

8. Purple heart plant (Tradescantia pallida).

Of the 28 plants tested, these five were effective at reducing levels of a number of common household VOCs, including benzene, toluene, octane, alpha-pinene and TCE. The work, funded by the University of Georgia’s Agricultural Experiment Stations, was published in the August 2009 issue of HortScience.

Ready to grow your own fresh air? NASA studies recommend that you use one good-sized houseplant in a 6 to 8-inch diameter container for every 100 square feet of your home. Though, additional research is being done to identify exactly how many of each type of species is necessary for remediation (as in Meattle’s work). You should also be sure to keep the foliage clean and dust free (so the leaves can do their job). And, keep the top of soil clean and free of debris, as in some cases, that’s where the bulk of the filtering is taking place.

The healthier your plants, the more vigorously they’ll grow, and the better they’ll clean the air for you.

In this TED Talk, Indian research Kamal Meattle shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, when used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air.

With its air-filtering plants and sustainable architecture, Kamal Meattle’s office park in New Delhi is a model of green business. Meattle himself is a longtime activist for cleaning up India’s air.

This video was issued by TED under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported Licence, from


Entry filed under: Health Hazards, Home and Health, Natural Cleaning, Videos and links. Tags: , , , .

The No ‘Poo’ Alternative Homemade Liquid Soap Recipe

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dianne Shaw  |  February 3, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    There are so many ways to freshen your home without dangerous and toxic synthetic sprays and candles. Thanks for getting this I information out! Plants are a wonderful way to de-tox inside air, just be careful if you have small children and/or animals as many are toxic if ingested. Keep the number for poison control, 1-800-222-1222, posted by your phone if you aren’t sure and your child or pet eats any part of a plant. (Safety first!)
    I like to bring a small pan of water to a boil, add cinnamon, cloves, and some lemon and orange peels, drop heat to a low simmer. Set timer to check every 20 minutes or so to make sure there is enough water. Adds humidity and a great smell.

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  • 4. Wayne  |  December 31, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Actually, plants are quite important in cleaning the air, great reminder!

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