Air Fresheners

Dreamy piano music, floating images of fresh fruit, flowers, and seaside vistas – that’s what you’ll be greeted with when you visit the website of one of the world’s largest air freshener producers.
But if you want to get past the fragrances (and the scented oils, the wickless candles, the plug-ins, the plug-ins with light show, etc.) and find some information about exactly what chemicals are in these products, you’ll have to dig deep, and you won’t find much.
Enter US physician Dr. Anne C. Steinemann, of the University of Washington. She’ll take us on a tour of the contents of a few air fresheners and laundry products.

Caution: This tour smells sweet, but protective facemasks are recommended.
Less than the very minimum
Dr. Steinemann’s specialty is environmental engineering, so she became interested in air fresheners and other household products after hearing numerous reports from people who believed these items made them feel sick.
When she conducted a chemical analysis of three best-selling air fresheners and three laundry products, she says, “I was surprised by both the number and the potential toxicity of the chemicals that were found.” To avoid legal issues, Dr. Steinemann didn’t reveal any brand names of the products tested.

  • In six products, Dr. Steinemann found nearly 100 volatile organic compounds (V. O. C’s)
  • 10 of the V. O. C’s are regulated as either toxic or hazardous
  • Three are classified as carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants, which have no safe exposure level according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • One of the V. O. C’s was methyl chloride, linked to nervous system, liver, and kidney damage in animals
  • Each of the six products contained at least one of the 10 toxic or hazardous V. O. C’s

None of the product labels listed any of these V. O. C’s. No surprise there because US laws don’t require manufacturers of household products to list contents, unlike laws in the EU which are much more strict.

Reacting to this study, one toxicologist told the US newspaper, Baltimore Sun: “At the very minimum, we should have a right to know what is in these products.”

Gradual accumulation

So what’s the real danger in getting an occasional whiff of laundry detergent, shampoo, or air freshener?

In a UK study researchers monitored VOC levels for one year in 170 homes where mothers spent their days at home with children.


  • In homes where air fresheners were used daily, mothers averaged nearly 10 percent more frequent headaches than mothers in homes where air fresheners were used once a week or less
  • In the “daily” homes, mothers had more than 25 percent higher risk of depression
  • In the “daily” homes, infants were 32 percent more likely to suffer from diarrhoea
  • Infants in the “daily” homes had a significantly higher rate of earaches than infants in “once a week” homes

Researchers noted that the daily use of air fresheners and other aerosol products created a gradual accumulation of V. O. C’s.

Dr. Steinemann suggests that consumers avoid air fresheners and choose fragrance-free products. But beware – some manufacturers simply use a “masking fragrance” to neutralise the aroma of scented products.


Healthy Answers Fresh is a wholly natural air freshener that wraps up the smell and then destroys it!


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