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Air Freshener Dangers: A Breath of Death Air?


By Chere Di Boscio

True story: once, in a Parisian gym, the owner opened the door of the facility, went outside with a colleague, and had a cigarette, with the door open. Smelling smoke whilst running on my treadmill, I looked around for the culprit, ran off the machine and angrily shut the door. When the owner came back in, he apologised and proceeded to spray a chemical spray in the air, which I was forced to inhale deeply, to ‘freshen’ it.

Moments later, I had the worst asthma attack I’d had in years.

For some reason, people seem to believe that the contents of aerosol air fresheners are exactly what’s portrayed on the package: ocean spray, dew drops  on flowers and juicy citrus fruits. But if they stopped to read the label, they would be horrified.

Air Freshener Dangers

There is a cocktail of toxins in the vast majority of ‘air fresheners’ that really should have them labelled as ‘air poisoners’.

One of the main ingredients are phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals that are added to not only air fresheners, but perfumes as well, in order to sustain the fragrance in the product for a longer period of time. These chemicals are considered highly toxic, particularly for children and babies, and can cause asthma, irregular heartbeats, headaches, depression, earaches, diarrhea, and possibly even cancer.

Even though they may not be listed on the tin, many air fresheners on the market still contain phthalates–a recent study even found phthalates in brands that were marketed as being ‘natural’.  Confused about which brands are the worst? According to The Daily Health Post, you should particularly watch out for these brands:
  • Air Wick Scented Oil
  • Febreze NOTICEables Scented Oil
  • Glade Air Infusions
  • Glade PlugIn Scented Oil
  • Oust Air Sanitizer Spray

But it’s not just phthalates in such products that you need to watch for.


Terpene, for example, is another toxin found in room sprays. When this volatile compound encounters ozone, the combination of the two elements creates formaldehyde, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies as a potent human carcinogen.

As I unhappily discovered in the gym, another health problem brought on by air fresheners is that they can increase your risk of asthma by as much as 50%, thanks to ingredients like DCB, according to a study by the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. But maybe the worst ingredients are those that are known carcinogens: Benzene (of which there are NO safe levels), Naphthanlene, and others, for example.

There are some natural air fresheners that do little harm indeed

So What to Do?

There are a few products you can buy:

Citrus Magic

This is a spray that uses only natural citrus and fruit and vegetable oils to cover up nasty smells. Very reasonably priced, it also comes in solid form.


Ecogecko Globes

The Ecogecko earth globe revitalizer cleans and deodorizes air using waterwash technology. Basically, what that means is that water droplets are used to remove dust and bacteria from the air and return clean and fresh air back into the room. This has zero scent, but can remove unpleasant odours.


In short, there really is no such thing as a ‘natural’ air freshener spray. If you’re concerned about nasty smells in your home, first of all, eliminate the possible stink: clean mould off walls and shower tiles; open windows when cooking, and make sure pets are shampooed regularly, for example.

But if you’re still unhappy with smells in your home, try these alternatives:

  • Put a pot of water on the stove and heat below a boil. Add a few drops of organic aromatherapy oils like lavender, rose, or basil, and you’ll be amazed at how these permeate the house.
  • Try natural candles from organic brands like Neom or Cire Trudon.
  • Leave boxes of baking soda open in the corners of different rooms. Baking soda can help minimise odours related to humidity and eradicate many unpleasant smells.

Or even better yet, open a window. Nothing freshens the air quite like…fresh air.

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