Are Air Fresheners Bad For Your Health?

The air freshener is largely considered to be a safe and useful household product. The “useful” part still holds true, but doubts are being raised about its safety. Recent studies reveal that various health hazards may be lurking behind the sweet scent of air fresheners. Are these warnings real? Read on to know more about the potential health dangers of air fresheners.

NRDC’s study raises red flag

The warning bells were first sounded when the findings of a study done by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) were made public. NRDC tested 14 random air fresheners and found that 12 of them contained phthalates, chemicals that are extremely dangerous to humans.

Other studies have also concluded that air fresheners may be potentially dangerous. Before we look further into the various other possible health risks associated with air fresheners, besides the ones phthalates are known to cause, it is imperative that we understand the health consequences of exposure to phthalates – the substance at the center of controversy surrounding air fresheners.

Why Phthalates are dangerous

Numerous studies have linked phthalates with poor semen quality, abnormalities in genital development, and changes in reproductive hormone levels. Certain types of phthalates are known to cause serious reproductive harm or birth defects. In addition, exposure to phthalates can cause and/or precipitate asthma and allergic symptoms.

All in all, the verdict is unanimous – that exposure to phthalates in high quantities can have serious health consequences.

Is the concentration of phthalates in air fresheners high enough to make them hazardous to humans?

What we know is that exposure to phthalates in high concentration is dangerous and many, if not most, air fresheners contain phthalates. The concentration of phthalates in air fresheners is not known to us. We also do not know at what concentration phthalates become dangerous.

The government regulatory bodies in the USA do not make it mandatory for manufacturers of air fresheners to list phthalate content on their product labels. The initiative, health experts argue, must come from the regulatory bodies. They should conduct studies on phthalates present in air fresheners to establish at what concentration this substance becomes harmful. Also, it should be mandatory for the manufacturers to list phthalate content on their products. As of now, there is no way of telling which air freshener contains phthalates and which one doesn’t.

So, what should customers do in such a scenario? Should they stop using air fresheners and look for other healthy alternatives to keep their homes smelling fresh? It may well be prudent to use natural alternatives to keep the air in your home odor free – at least until the regulatory bodies make it mandatory to list phthalate content on all products that contain this substance.

Exposure to phthalates is not the only danger of using air fresheners. Various other studies have shown that many of them also contain other harmful chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs for short). Let’s take a look at two such studies:

Air fresheners may cause lung problems

A study presented at the yearly meeting of ACAAI (American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology) revealed that air fresheners usually contain VOCs such as limonene, formalehyde, and petroleum distillates. VOCs can cause and/or precipitate asthma and other allergic reactions. The study also revealed that 34% of asthmatics experienced health problems after they were exposed to air fresheners.

A study conducted by the European Consumers Union in 2005 also found VOCs such as formaldehyde, limonene, and benzene in air fresheners. VOCs are not only linked to asthma, irritation of the respiratory tract, dizziness, and headaches, but to certain types of cancers as well. For instance, benzene is linked with leukemia, and formaldehyde is known to cause upper respiratory tract cancer.

Other harmful substances that may be present in air fresheners

Air fresheners often contain phthalates and VOCs such as benzene, formalehyde, and limonene. Does the list of harmful substances present in air fresheners end with them? Or do they contain other harmful chemicals?

It is suspected that air fresheners may also contain other harmful chemicals such as:

  • Methoxychlor – A man-made chemical used in pesticides. Exposure to a high amount of this substance may damage vital organs such as the liver, heart, and kidneys
  • Phenol – Also known as phenic acid or carbolic acid, phenol is believed to be very toxic
  • Napethelene – It is linked to liver, kidney, and blood problems
  • Xylene – It is associated with sick building syndrome. It may be harmful to the liver and kidneys
  • Paradichchlorobenzene – Animal studies have linked this chemical to cancer

Experts warn that “all-natural” and “unscented” air fresheners may also contain harmful chemicals

According to experts, “unscented” and “all-natural” air fresheners may also not be safe. This apprehension is based on the fact a few of the 14 air fresheners the NRDC tested were labeled as “unscented” or “all-natural”.

There are few organic air fresheners on the market. Always do your research to ensure that you are not putting the health of you or your family in danger.

Natural alternatives to keep indoor air odor free

We round off this article with a few useful tips for eliminating odors from the air in your house.

  • Clean your house on a regular basis
  • Open the windows every now and then
  • Put a slice of lemon in the garbage can
  • Empty the trash can daily. If necessary, do it two to three times a day
  • Keep a bowl containing fresh coffee on the counter



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