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Natural Awakenings North Central New Jersey

The Dangers of Commercial Air Fresheners: (And What to Use Instead)

Jul 01, 2022 05:55PM ● By Kiki Powers

Ads for air fresheners, from sprays to plug-ins to solids are everywhere. Commercial air fresheners are certainly a common fixture in many homes, schools and businesses. But are they as safe and beneficial as people often think they are?  

The assumed purpose of these products is to “freshen” the air, however, most merely mask odors with chemicals that degrade the air quality in our homes. In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), mass-market air fresheners are a major source of indoor air pollution. They often contain unhealthy chemicals such as formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, aerosol propellants, acetaldehyde—a likely human carcinogen according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), among others.

VOCs, which are emitted as gases, are a family of chemicals, some of which may cause adverse health effects. According to the EPA, concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors—up to ten times higher, in fact—than outdoors, and can be harmful to people of all ages, as well as pets, potentially causing:

  •  Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
  •  Damage to liver, kidneys and the central nervous system
  •  Cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans

Another chemical group to be aware of is phthalates, which have been linked to hormonal and reproductive problems, birth defects and developmental disorders. A 2007 review by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that 12 out of 14 popular air fresheners contained phthalates.

Labels don’t reveal this since air freshener ingredients can legally be kept secret due to business protections on product ingredients and fragrance formulations. Given these loopholes for manufacturers, less than ten percent of all volatile ingredients are typically disclosed on air freshener labels or material safety data sheets. 

So how can we create a clean-smelling home if we prefer to steer clear of these chemical-based products? Worry not, it is easy to freshen air naturally with a few simple strategies. For example:

Attack Odors at the Source

Many odors are a snap to clear up naturally. It may be as simple as refreshing the litter box, ferreting out spoiled leftovers from the fridge, taking out the garbage more often, keeping an open box of baking soda in the fridge or sprinkling it into indoor trash cans and compost bins. Of course, keeping windows at least partially open year around is an easy, free air freshener. For a natural, do-it-yourself option, make simple garbage pail pods using essential oils.

Make Your Own Natural Air Freshener

This solution is easy, inexpensive and fun. Simply fill a spray bottle with purified water and add a few drops of essential oil. That’s it. A good essential oil starter kit might include soothing lavender, disinfecting tea tree, freshening lemon, cooling peppermint and invigorating grapefruit oils, though there are many to choose from. Experiment with the combinations. Mist rooms as often as you like and enjoy. 

Enjoy Natural Scented Candles

Candles create a lovely aesthetic in our homes and scented versions lend a nice aroma to interior spaces. The key is selecting healthy alternatives. Most commercial candles are made from paraffin wax, which may create highly toxic benzene, toluene, carbon tetrachloride, chlorobenzene, ethylbenzene, and other chemicals when burned, and the wicks often contain heavy metals such as lead which is released into the indoor atmosphere as well. Synthetic fragrances add insult to injury by off-gassing chemicals like phthalates as well. 

Look for safe, beneficial candles made from non-GMO soy or beeswax in natural markets and online. Be aware that the term “fragrance” is code for chemical additives so be sure to select candles scented with only natural essential oils.

Buy Healthy Alternatives

Safe, natural air fresheners are available. A simple citrus spray that contains only natural citrus oils from a blend of oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines and grapefruits is a great choice. Essential oil diffusers are wonderful and come in a variety of designs. For an exceptional version, consider a cool bamboo diffuser. This type uses high-frequency ultrasonic electrical vibrations to create an ultra-fine mist. This diffusion method doesn’t utilize heat, so essential oil integrity and holistic properties are maintained.

With so many great options, creating a fresh-scented home, free of undesirable chemicals, will be as easy as it is healthy!

Kiki Powers, MS, CNC, is a contributing writer for Natural Awakenings, a professional health writer, blogger, and national speaker specializing in plant-based nutrition and healthy green living. For more information on the benefits and countless rewards offered by embracing a healthy, conscious, and compassionate lifestyle, visit

5 Top Tips to Finding Your Next Doctor

1 Keep an Open Mind! Healthcare has come a long way. Today, you have access to practitioners that branch outside of traditional medicine and aim to identify the root causes of conditions while using alternative treatments that may help you get the relief you need. Just because it’s not a pill, doesn’t make it pseudoscience.

2 Build Your Health Care Team. There is no one doctor that can be the be-all-end-all for your health needs. Be sure to have a team of practitioners with different “lenses” and areas of expertise who will treat the root cause and not just the symptom(s).

3   Environment Influences Healing. Health is multi-factorial. Your mental and emotional environment plays a pivotal role in your healing potential. Your doctors and their staff should create an office atmosphere filled with positivity so you can get the most out of your care.

4 Your Story Matters.  Before you begin any treatment, be sure to have a comprehensive consultation to discuss your health concerns. Find practitioners who welcome questions and will take the time to listen and treat you with respect.

5 Report of Findings. When it comes to our health, we often make decisions without understanding the risk versus benefits. Knowledge is an important part of the healing process and is essential to make conscious, informed health decisions. Find practitioners who take the time to explain their exam findings and the recommendations for treatment in ways that make sense to you.

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