Is Your Air Freshener Killing You?

By:    Published: December 6, 2012

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The scents of homemade cookies, sweet citrus and fresh flowers can perk up a room, but is your air freshener secretly killing you? Are there any serious health effects to these sweet scented, aromatic accessories? Studies conducted on various types of air fresheners show that they can have an effect on a person’s health, but what kind of an effect can they have and is it all that bad?

How Air Fresheners Can Affect Your Health

These days, air fresheners come in a variety of shapes, sizes and scents. You can plug them in, spray them around a room or hang them in your car or closet. Despite the differences in type or scent, the one thing air fresheners have in common is the ingredients. All air fresheners are made of chemicals, some of which are more harmful than others. It’s those harmful chemicals that can affect your health, particularly if you are exposed to them in large doses or over a long period of time. Here are some of the chemicals you should know about:

  • Ethylene-based glycol ethers – These chemicals are water-soluble solvents that are found in many household cleaners and paints. They have been classified as a toxic chemical by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Phthalates – These chemicals may be labeled as DEP or DBP. Phthalates can cause birth defects, disrupt the endocrine system and cause abnormalities in the reproductive system.
  • p-Dichlorobenzene (1,4-Dichlorobenzene) – Occupational Safety and Health Administration has classified this chemical as a potential carcinogen. The EPA also classifies this chemical as toxic since its vapors can cause problems with respiratory function.
  • Terpenes – Terpenes by themselves aren’t toxic, but when mixed with ozone gas, which is emitted from some printers, copiers and air purifiers, it can turn into formaldehyde. In a study conducted by the California Air Resources Board, three of four air fresheners contained significant amounts of terpenes.

In fact, all of the chemicals listed, as well as other chemicals found in air fresheners, can cause problems with respiratory function. These chemicals, also known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, have been linked to respiratory problems such as reduced lung capacity and they could possibly quicken the onset of respiratory diseases.

Air Fresheners, Allergies And Asthma

Studies show that VOCs can also affect those with asthma. In a survey conducted by the University of Washington, three out of four participants with asthma said that air fresheners aggravated their symptoms. Other studies suggest that the chemicals in air fresheners can increase the risk of asthma in children. They have also been linked to:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Eye irritation
  • Respiratory tract irritation

Air fresheners have also been known to trigger an allergic reaction in some people. The reported symptoms of said allergic reaction include:

  • Headaches
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sinus pressure

Since air fresheners can be found almost anywhere, from hotel rooms to public restrooms, they can be difficult for those with allergies to avoid. The best way to deal with an allergy to air fresheners is to avoid using them at home, in the car and at the office, and to be aware of them and prepared to encounter them when out in public.

Natural Alternatives To Air Fresheners

Because environmentally-friendly products have gained in popularity and because awareness of the effects of these chemicals has increased, some air fresheners are now marketed as “Green” or “organic.” But don’t be fooled by these labels. These types of air fresheners still contain harmful chemicals that can affect the health of you and your family. If you want to freshen up the scent of a room, the best way to do so is through natural alternatives (see: 10 Air Purifying Plants For The Home). Here are some suggested ways to add a fresh scent to your home, minus the chemicals:

  • Make your own air freshener – Fill a spray bottle with some water and a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Spray wherever needed.
  • Make organic sachets – Fill small sachet bags with fresh lavender, flower petals or cinnamon sticks and put them in bathrooms, closets and cupboards that need a pick-me-up. You can even stick one in your gym bag or give some to your kids to stick in their lockers.
  • Burn a soy candle – Make sure the candle is made with natural ingredients and is scented with essential oils. Or use a diffuser that works with essential oils.
  • Use coffee – Place it in the bottom of a garbage bag before using it to diffuse any smells that may arise.
  • Place fresh flowers throughout the house – Instead of spraying a fake flower scent throughout your home, use the real thing.

The key to freshening up a room is proper ventilation. Open your windows often to let fresh air circulate throughout the house. Remove any sources of offending odor, such as garbage and litter boxes, and place them outside. Although the sweet scents of air fresheners can be enticing, the less you use them, the more you’ll realize that they aren’t really a substitute for fresh air and natural alternatives. Plus, you’re likely to notice a positive change in your health and in that of your family by throwing away the chemicals and switching to a natural air freshener.

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