Air Fresheners Create Toxic Chemical Soup

Air Fresheners Create Toxic Chemical Soup

October 21, 2007 Jorg Mardian RHN, CPT, MT, CKS @ 7:11 am

Did you know that by using an air freshener in your living room, you are probably breathing in more toxic substances than you would in the middle of a traffic jam in Los Angeles?

Few people understand how bad air fresheners are for their health, and fewer seem to care. North Americans love their scent neutralizers: those air fresheners, plug-in room deodorizers, odour sanitizers, room sprays, and aromatherapy candles. Advertisements are geared to make us feel that we don’t have a clean home unless some type of freshener is hanging on various outlets.

But in spite of what manufacturers would have us believe, air fresheners do not “purify” the surrounding air, nor do they add natural fragrances. In fact, they coat the nasal passages with an oil film (such as methoxychlor – a pesticide that accumulates in fat cells) or by releasing a nerve deadening agent (, to drown out whatever smells may be deemed offensive.

Various harmful substances in air fresheners include allergens, potential carcinogens such as acetaldehyde or styrene, dangerous substances such as toluene and chlorbenzene, glycol ethers, phthalates and artificial musk.

Paradichchlorobenzene (a white, solid crystal) has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, and phenol (carbolic acid) is flammable, corrosive and very toxic. (Alive: Something in the Air, February 2004)

Even more dangerous, formaldehyde, (admitted by the EPA to be a cause of cancer), and benzene (a carcinogen for which the WHO recommends zero exposure), may hang around the air after the use of several types of incense or electric scenter. Not to mention all the other chemicals not mentioned here and about which we know nothing. (WECF, 2005)

Most of these chemicals have never been the subject of an in-depth toxicological study, and the effects on health and the environment have not been subjected to sufficient evaluation before the products were launched onto the market. When used in a confined area, like a homes, at work, or cars, they create an intense amount of toxins in a small area.

The following list of ingredients that may be found in air fresheners is taken from “Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products“, by Gosselin, Smith and Hodge, 1984.

Spray Type Deodorizers:

  • ethyl or isopropyl alcohol
  • glycol ethers
  • surfactant (quaternary ammonium salts)
  • perfume
  • water
  • propellants
  • metazene (4.0%)
  • petroleum distillates (6.0%)
  • aluminum chlorhydrol
  • bromsalicylanilide 2,3,4,5-BIS(2-butylene) tetrahydrofural
  • cellosolve acetate
  • dichlorodifluoromethanol
  • ethanol
  • fatty esters
  • lauryl methacrylate
  • methoxychlor
  • methylene chloride
  • o-phenylphenol
  • p-dichlorobenzene
  • pine oil (toxicity like turpentine)
  • piperonyl butoxide
  • pyrethrin
  • synthetic surfactants
  • trichloromonofluoromethane
  • wax
  • zinc phenolsulfonate
  • Wick Type Deodorizers:
  • formaldehyde (37%)
  • water-soluble perfume
  • coloring
  • water
  • emulsifiers
  • essential oils
  • aromatic chemicals (xylene)
  • chlorophyll

Several of these components are well-known carcinogens, and others have a wide range of immediate and long-term toxic effects on vital organs. The cumulative effect their mix has on human health is largely unknown. But it is safe to say that these products represent a real risk to health not only of allergy sufferers, asthmatics, pregnant or nursing women and children, but also to anyone using them continuously.

According to a September 2007 report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), these noxious chemicals may even affect hormones and reproductive development.

As part of its “Clearing the Air” study, NRDC researchers tested 14 brands of common household air fresheners and found that 12 contained chemicals known as phthalates, which are “hormone-disrupting” chemicals. Phthalates can affect normal hormonal processes-those that control brain, nervous and immune system development, reproduction, mental processing and metabolism-by blocking them altogether, throwing off the timing or “mimicking” natural hormones and interacting with cells themselves, with very unhealthy consequences. The State of California notes that five types of phthalates-including one commonly used in air freshener products-are “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.” (Kansas City Infozine, October 11, 2007)

Scented and aromatherapy candles are no better at clearing the air, and bear little or no relation to true aromatherapy. Such candles, are of questionable benefit regardless of the flowery implications of their names, and have negative effects on air quality and health. Aromatherapy candles:

are usually made of chemical (paraffin) waxes & toxic synthetic fragrance oils.

usually contain metal wicks made of lead or zinc. 100% is inhaled in the black soot which ends up in the bloodstream and can be particularly damaging to children.

create toxic byproducts. Burning scented oils, and even candles with pure essential oils, chemically converts the combustion into unhealthy byproducts.


Electric air fresheners also problematic

One of the most innovative, and popular formats of purifiers is the electric air freshener. These use heat generated by electricity to spread fragrance through the air. It consists of a tiny plastic tray containing a gel-like fragrance concentrate. The consumer simply peels a multilayer barrier film from the top of the tray, leaving a permanent membrane layer that allows the fragrance to diffuse into the air. The tray is inserted into a warmer unit, which then is plugged into an electrical outlet. As the warmer unit heats up, fragrance permeates at a controlled rate through the film membrane, dispersing into the air. (

Researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say that potentially harmful smog could accumulate inside homes through the reactions caused by electric air-fresheners and ozone. Experts believed the reactions produced formaldehyde, (at a concentration level of approximately 50 micrograms in each cubic meter of air), which is classified as a probable carcinogen that is believed to cause respiratory problems. This measurement was nearly equivalent to the EPA’s outdoor particle limit, which is considered to be an unhealthy level of particle exposure. (Nature May 10, 2004)

Air fresheners may damage your lungs

Another harmful ingredient is called 1, 4-dichlorobenzene, or 1,4-DCB, which could harm your lungs, according to a study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The study — published in Environmental Health Perspectives — analyzed the effect of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as 1,4 DCB on the lung function of 953 adult men and women. Of the 11 chemicals studied, only 1,4 DCB was linked to a reduction in pulmonary function; a link found to be significant even when smoking was factored in. This could be serious for those with asthma or other lung problems. Reduced lung function is also a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. (WebMD July 27, 2006)

This chemical is usually found in space deodorizing products, such as room fresheners, urinal cakes and toilet bowl fresheners, and is used as an insecticide for moth control. It can also be found in things like tobacco smoke, paints, cleaning products and vehicle exhausts, and is detectable in 96 percent of population blood samples. (

The American Lung Association (ALA) website at points out that commercially made room deodorizers are a contributing factor to the 56 percent increase in asthma cases since 1979. And the Canadian Lung Association (CLA) also lists air fresheners as a hazardous product.

What can we do?

We need to realize that “clean” does not have a “scent.” We have been brainwashed to believe that “clean” means some kind of toxic fragrance – whether it’s in our air, clothes, or body. But “clean” actually has a very “neutral” smell: non-offensive and non-toxic.

If you’re trying to eliminate unpleasant scents, try (pure) therapeutic essential oils instead. Most essential oils have antibacterial qualities and have varying physical and emotional effects depending on the oil, such as stimulation, relaxation, pain relief and healing.

You can purchase an atomizing diffuser, an electrical air pump, and a nebulizer. Use a blend of essential oils such as orange, marjoram, lavender, basil and chamomile to help you relax. Most importantly, these don’t produce harmful chemicals like traditional air fresheners that could result in respiratory problems.

The best way to avoid the problem is to simply open a window instead of reaching for one of these harmful products. You can also try:

=> burning 100% pure beeswax candles with 100% cotton wicks

=> using a drop or two of pure essential oils and distilled water, make a spritzer and mist the air.

=> using an “ash tray”– Zeolite, a mineral formed from volcanic ash, works the same way as baking soda.

=> adding drops of orange, lemon or lavender essential oils to organic cotton balls and put them around the house

=> simmering spices like cinnamon and cloves, organic lemons, fresh ginger or herbs such as rosemary or basil in a little water on the stovetop

=> adding a drop or two of pure essential oils to some hot water

=> use organic herbal sachets and potpourris

=> using freshly cut fragrant organic flowers or potted plants as air freshening factories. They clear carbon dioxide from the air and can even remove toxins.

source: Health In Motion

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