Air Fresheners

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An air freshener is a product designed to mask or remove unpleasant room ordors. These products typically deliver fragrance and other odor counteractants into the air.


Fragrance compounds have been used since antiquity to freshen air and mask odors, For example, the ancient Egyptians were known to use musks and other natural materials to scent their tombs. Over the last 2,000 years a variety of compounds, including numerous spices and floral extracts, have been used for their ability to impart a pleasant aroma. However, it was not until 1948 that the first modern air freshener was introduced. This product, using technology developed by the military to dispense insecticides, was a pressurized spray containing about 1% perfume, 24% alcohol or other solvents, and 75% chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) propellant. This was able to deliver a fine mist of fragrance that remained suspended in the air for a long period of time.

Today as the popularity of these scented air fresheners are on the rise, allergists are hearing more complaints about reactions to these toxic scented products.

Dr. Stanley Fineman is the president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACCAI). ” I’ve seen patients who say, ‘I go into somebody’s house who has one of these air fresheners and I just can’t stay there. I have increasing nasal symptoms, sneezing and coughing.’ There is no allergy skin test for air fresheners, but people can definitely have a physiologic response to it.”

“About 20 percent of the population and 34 percent of people with asthma report health problems from air fresheners. We know air freshener fragrance can trigger allergy symptoms, aggravate existing allergies and worsen asthma.”
Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) commonly found in air fresheners include: formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, esters and alcohols. Fineman says a study of plug-in deodorizers found more than 20 different VOC’s with more than one third of those classified as toxic or hazardous.

Respiratory issues

Fineman says consumers should be particularly concerned if someone in the household has respiratory issues. He says studies show that even VOC exposure levels below currently accepted standards increase risks in asthma children.

High concentrations of VOC’s can trigger eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, and even memory impairment.

Despite all this, the home fragrance industry is expected to see continued growth, reaching $8.3 billion in global sales by 2015, so, why the fondness for air fresheners?

The new trend is manufacturers are marketing products to be aromatherapy which implies health and mood boosting benefits although there are no scientific studies to support these claims.

Dr. Stanley Fineman wasn’t the first to warn us about  these dangerous chemicals in air fresheners. A study in 2010 led by the University of Washington discovered that 2 commonly used scented products (like laundry detergent and air fresheners) emit and average of 17 chemicals each. Of the 133 different chemicals detected nearly a quarter are classified as toxic or hazardous under at least one federal law.

Only one emitted compound was listed on a product label, and only two were publicly disclosed anywhere. Even so-called “Green” products were not “safe.”

Gretchen Schaefer, vice president  of communications for the Consumer Specialty Products Association, an industry group, said that VOCs aren’t necessarily harmful.

“Anything that emits a scent — flowers or the scent of pine if you walk through a forest or your Christmas tree- is emitting a VOC,” she said.

In the United States, air fresheners are subject to the Toxic Substance Control Act and the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, which requires that manufacturers inform consumers of risks and ingredients that could contribute to that risk. But some expects say the requirements aren’t stringent enough.

“The Federal hazardous Substance Act requires that the manufacturer put the proper-use information on the label,”Schaefer said.”These products are safe if you use them according to the label instructions.”

More information

The U.S. Department of Labor has more multiple chemical sensitivities.


If you are still adamant about purchasing plug -in air fresheners use caution. Read the labels to ensure the product does not contain harmful chemicals. Ventilate the room as much as possible. Be extra sensitive to the amount of air fresheners you are using around small children.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggests that you first try to reduce bad home odors by attacking the source, rather than masking the problem. Identify and remove bad odors. Keep windows open as much as possible. If troubling odors persist, invest in an air purifier with activated carbon filtration.

Healthy Air Fresheners

Air fresheners need not be synthetic to produce an appealing and pleasant scent. Try adding orange, lemon or lavender essential oils to cotton balls and place throughout the house. You can also simmer spices like cinnamon and cloves in a small saucepan on the stove. These tips will leave your home smelling fresh and give you peace of mind that no harmful pollutants are being ingested.

“Bring The Freshness Of Nature Inside”

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In 1986, I started my cleaning business. I put one ad in the local newspaper and, within one day, I had received over twenty calls. I have always been passionate about using safe natural cleaning products and finding useful ways of creating a sustainable environment. I do my part by using natural cleaning products to clean my clients' homes. But don’t take my word for it. Read my testimonials and then give me a call at 203-710-3188.