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It’s that time of year when you walk into stores and homes around the country and are often confronted with the strong smell of cinnamon, spruce and spice. And throughout the year synthetic air fresheners are sprayed in homes, offices, bathrooms and cars.  There’s virtually no place in the American business world that not only has these “fresheners” in every bathroom, but they’re also in lobbies, hallways, office spaces and, most frightening, nurseries worldwide. While they may seem to be nice smells, what’s in the synthetic versions of these fragrances is not so nice.

Air fresheners come with warning labels that state “Deliberately…inhaling the vapor of the contents may be harmful or fatal” or “Avoid inhaling spray mist or vapor.”  How are we supposed to avoid inhaling something that is constantly being forced into our air space?  If inhaling the vapors may be harmful or fatal, why are we intentionally adding them to our air? 

Have you ever wondered what’s in the myriad synthetic air fresheners that make your home, office or bathroom smell like a gingerbread house, tropical paradise or woodsy cabin surrounded by wildflowers? It’s certainly not roses…  Below are three reasons you really don’t want to be inhaling synthetic air fresheners and some simple and SAFE alternatives!


If you pick up a bottle of air freshener and try to check the label for the ingredients, you won’t find any.

That’s because most companies keep fragrance ingredients a secret since they can claim that they are “confidential business information” and trade secrets.  This scent ingredient secrecy occurs wherever synthetic fragrances are found (perfumes, cosmetics, personal care products and cleaning products to name a few), and it is especially egregious when it comes to air fresheners because fragrance makes up most of the product. That means we as consumers have no information on the vast majority of the chemicals we’re spraying in our homes.

I bet you’re thinking, “Wait, seriously? Isn’t there some law that requires companies to tell us what’s in their products?” Sadly, the answer is no. There’s no law that requires manufacturers to list any of the ingredients in air fresheners.  And as Dr. Gina Solomon, a senior scientist at the NRDC stated: “There are too many products on the shelves that we assume are safe, but have never even been tested.”  BUT, we do know what most of them contain… bad stuff!!


There is a good reason for those big bold warnings not to inhale the air fresheners — Most air fresheners contain multiple toxic chemicals. In 2010, the International Fragrance Association released a master list of more than 3,100 chemicals that are used by most manufacturers. Chemicals on that list include carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, reproductive toxicants and numerous allergens (to name a few).  A fragrance can be made up of more than 100 chemicals–and can include any of these harmful chemicals.

And these chemicals are absorbed quickly by the body when inhaled.  Aerosol air fresheners release chemicals as tiny particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and rapidly transferred into the bloodstream. And air fresheners that plug into electrical outlets (you know, those metered air fresheners that automatically spray fine mists of chemicals every few hours) break the chemicals into even smaller particles that are even more readily absorbed into the lungs and bloodstream.

Here are just some of the nasty health-harming ingredients found in popular fresheners:

  • Phthalates and Other Hormone-Disruptors:  One group of very worrisome chemicals in fragrances are known as phthalates that are used to prolong the length of time that scented products maintain their fragrance.  Phthalates have been linked to early puberty, obesity, hormonal and reproductive issues, birth defects and developmental disorders and may pose a particular health risk to babies and young children. A 2007 review conducted by the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) tested 14 common and widely-available scented sprays, gels and plug-in air fresheners and found that 12 out of the 14 air fresheners contained phthalates.  Independent lab testing also confirmed the results.  And some of the air fresheners that tested positive for phthalates were even labeled as “all-natural” or “unscented”!  Here’s a link to the NRDC report.
  • 1,4-dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB): A Carcinogen, Pesticide and Nerve-Deadening Chemical (that actually kills pet birds!!). 1,4-DCB is found in the majority of air fresheners, yet it is an EPA registered pesticide, known human carcinogen, and has been shown to cause kidney and testicular cancer in rats. It also has been shown to cause reduced lung function and increased asthma rates in humans.  AND 1,4-Dichlorobenzene is a chemical which is now found in the blood of 96% of Americans.
    • 1,4-Dichlorobenzene is a nerve-deadening chemical that coats your nasal passages and temporarily blocks your sense of smell — basically it works by attacking the receptors in the nose, and thus eliminating the sense of smell.  This is how the new generation of air fresheners actually “freshen”.  They deaden your olfactory nerves.  (These were introduced into the American market with the Febreze product from Proctor & Gamble.) After it is sprayed, you only smell the air freshener for about the first minute, and then the nose cannot smell most fragrances anymore (that’s how it “masks” other odors).
    • Dichlorobenzene has also been linked to the deaths of many pet birds as they passed away directly after the use of air fresheners! This is because dichlorobenzene is the main ingredient used to manufacture the infamous pesticide DDT, and its cousins, DDE and DDD.  So basically like inhaling small amounts of DDT (and if you’re a small bird this can be enough to kill you).
  • Di-ethyl Phthalate (DEP): Has been associated with changes in hormone levels and genital development in humans.
  • n Di-n-butyl Phthalate (DBP): Is recognized as a reproductive toxicant by the National Toxicology Program and the State of California, and can lead to changes in genital development.
  • Acetone: Acetone is a blood, heart, gastrointestinal, liver, kidney, skin, respiratory, brain and nervous system toxin.  So, in other words, it can damage just about any part of your body and have a wide range of adverse effects.
  • Butane and IsobutaneYes, lighter fluid.  It a serious toxin to our brain and nervous system.
  • Liquified Petroleum Gas and Petroleum Distillate: We definitely don’t want to be adding byproducts of gasoline to our air supply!!
  • Propane: Propane is a cardiovascular and blood toxin; liver, kidney, respiratory, skin, and nervous system toxin known to be extremely dangerous (We use our propane barbecues outdoors yet we’re spraying this stuff into our indoor air…)
  • Benzene: Benzene is known to cause leukemia in humans.
  • Formaldehyde: Linked to cancers of the upper airways


Studies are increasingly showing that chemicals in fragrance are harming our health — particularly the health of women and children.  More and more studies are being published that link fragrances to conditions such as headches, asthma,  nausea, eczema, dermatitis, chronic fatigue, chemical sensitivity, neurological damage, cancer and many others.

  • An 2006 study, as reported by MSN, found that being exposed to so-called “air fresheners” as little as once a week can increase a person’s odds of developing asthma by as much as 71% and can contribute to an increase in pulmonary diseases.  The study also found that people with high blood levels of the chemical 1,4-dichlorobenze (commonly found in popular air fresheners) were more likely to experience a decline in lung function.
  • A study published in a 2007 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine had similar findings reporting that regular use of air freshener sprays can increases a person’s risk of developing asthma by 30 to 50 percent. This study was performed by the European Community Respiratory Health Survey, and collected data from 3,500 people in 10 European countries.
  • A study of pregnant women showed a link between the use of air fresheners and aerosol sprays and an increase in headaches and depression in the mothers, as well as ear infections and diarrhea in their babies.
  • Certain hormone-disrupting chemicals found in fragrance can have significant lifelong effects on reproductive health and development; this is true for galaxolide and tonalide (detected in human bloodbreast milk, and even in newborns) and phthalates (linked to reproductive harm in baby boys).
  • Women are two to three times more likely than men to suffer from fragrance allergies. Women also become sensitized earlier than men, at ages 20 to 29, versus ages 50 to 59 in men.
  • Girls have higher sensitization rates to fragrance allergens than boys and studies show increasing diagnoses of allergic contact dermatitis and excema in children.
  • Research indicates that the more an individual uses fragranced products, the higher the levels of fragrance chemicals in her or his body.


Our health is definitely best served by minimizing exposure to synthetic air fresheners.  AND there are lots of simple and natural ways to keep our homes, offices, bathrooms, cars etc. smelling fresh without using the chemical-laden stuff.

1. Essential Oils. Pure organic therapeutic grade essential oils are free of synthetic fragrances and other chemicals and many also have health promoting properties. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU USE ESSENTIAL OILS THAT ARE 100% PURE AND PESTICIDE/CHEMICAL FREE THOUGH! There are many brands of essential oils out there but sometimes they seem natural based on the label but really have chemicals added. I like the Young Living brand since I know it is 100% pure, organic and without added chemicals (you don’t want pesticides and chemicals floating around in the air!). Just add a few drops of an organic essential oil (lemon, orange, and lavender are popular choices) with distilled or purified water into a spritzer or put your favorite oil into a diffuser for a great and safe smelling room!

2. Keep a box of baking soda open in the room. The baking soda will absorb any unpleasant odors. (This is also a great idea for the inside of the refrigerator if you don’t want it to smell like those leftovers!)

3. Set out a bouquet of fresh or dried flowers to add a floral scent.

4. Simmer herbs or spices in some water on the stove OR add a few drops of essential oil to some water simmering on the stove.   Try cloves and cinnamon for a great holiday scent.


Thankfully people are catching on and many cities across North America are banning artificial fragrances in public places as evidence grows that the smells are making people unwell. But, this information is still not well known. Please consider sharing this information with your friends, family members, coworkers, employers etc.

Remember this information the next time someone sprays a freshener or one of those timed dispensers spits a fine mist over your head while you’re in a restroom, physician’s waiting room, picking up your child at day care, or even — despite the label’s warning — in a restaurant dining area.  Please let the establishment’s manager know that this is not good for their health or the health of their patrons and employees!

The more people that know, the less we will be exposed to these toxins and the more power we will have as consumers to both affect what manufacturers put in their products and the laws to protect us — SO PLEASE SHARE THIS ARTICLE AND SPREAD THE WORD!

And if you have other tips and ideas to keep our homes, offices and bathrooms smelling nice and fresh without using synthetic chemicals, I’d love to hear!  Please consider adding them to the comments section below.

Wishing you toxin-free health!!

Please share this to spread the message of toxin-free health:

6 Responses to 3 Reasons to Avoid Toxic Air Fresheners

  1. […] Image Credit: […]

  2. Michelle says:


    I am learning about this all a bit too late. I have Chronic Lyme Disease and recently purchased a car that is smelling more and more like the previous owner used an air freshener. I took the car for a longer trip last week and the left side of my body has been numb ever since.

    I am not looking into buying a new car but also wondering if there is anyway to get rid of these chemicals in the car. Is it even worth trying?

  3. […] Dichlorobenzene has also been the reason behind the death of many pet birds. It’s been linked to countless birds’ deaths, with the animals passing away shortly after air fresheners were used near them. It makes sense, as it’s the main ingredient used to make the well-known pesticide DDT as well as its cousins, DDD and DDE. Exposure can result in some rather horrific health issues that never completely go away – and inhaling these chemicals is actually said to be far more dangerous than ingesting the same amount. […]

  4. […] freshener ingredient and a pesticide registered under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to, 1,4-DCB works by attacking your nose’s receptors to block your sense of smell for a limited […]

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