Air Fresheners or Air Polluters: Change Is in The Air - Again!

As early as 1956, when SC Johnson introduced Glade®, North Americans began masking indoor home odors, such as cooking or smoking. With discoveries made during the Korean War to cover hospital odors (imagine Mash on floral mist), chemists applied these findings to home products back in the States.

Anyone could have a forest bathroom or blossom kitchen. Change was in the air! Not only our homes but also our world in general were well on their way to being considerably more toxic than those of our great-great grandparents.

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Jump ahead to 2015 and take note of the Environmental Protection Agency's statistics: the levels of indoor air pollutants may be 2 to 5 times, or as much as 100 times higher, than the levels outdoors. As most people spend up to 90% of their time indoors, this is concerning.

The EPA lists the following as common sources of indoor air pollution: burning kerosene, wood, or oil; smoking tobacco products; releases from household cleaners; pesticides; building materials; and radon.

Who knows how many people are burning kerosene in their homes these days, but no mention of aerosol and plug-in air fresheners?

Let's take a closer look. The secrets discovered to control odors involved atomizing chemical agents that, when inhaled, would block your smell receptors or coat your nasal passages in a film, thereby inhibiting your ability to smell the odors. Or the chemicals would mask the odor with other, supposedly "better smelling" scents. Some can actually break down odors, but typically they contain even stronger chemicals.

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And, of course, concerned consumers won't ever know exactly what's in any air fresheners and deodorizers—whether for home, car, or carpet. Many of the worst ingredients are not listed on labels and are often clumped into a category, such as "mixture of perfume oils." These include manmade volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are toxic with long-term exposure; acetonepropaneformaldehyde (a known human carcinogen); phthalates; and many, many more.

About 85% of all air fresheners emit one or more chemicals that the EPA has classified as "Hazardous Air Pollutants"—acetaldehyde, chloromethane, and the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane. The ingredient 1,4 dichlorobenzene (1,4 DCB) has been found to impair lung function.

Possible health effects are difficult to assess as it depends on the ingredients, duration of exposure, and frequency of use. This 2005 European study takes a brief look at the toxicology of chemicals found in air fresheners, starting on page 7. Don't mistake a European study to be about European-only products; Glade products, for example, are sold in 110 countries! These chemicals, and these types of products in general, are ubiquitous.

What is the take-away point from this post?

Air fresheners do not actually freshen the air, they pollute the air! And you inhale them.

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Maybe all you need to do is open a window, which brings us to one of our previously written blogs on cleaning indoor air. And within the next few weeks, we're going to have some fun making and testing air fresheners for the home. We'll write all about it!

We know many of you have already made wise, healthful changes in your homes. If you have, please share this post. Let's put change back in the air—clean air for good health!

 
 
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