Are home air fresheners creating a toxic indoor environment?

Posted by Toni Henderson on

Indoor air fresheners, touted to improve our indoor air quality, is big business and forms an extended arm of the massive fragrance industry. However when you take a closer look, fewer than 10% of air freshener ingredients are typically disclosed to the public according to a study published in Building and Environment in January 2017, and some list no ingredients whatsoever. If we want to know what makes up the ingredients of the large majority of commercial air fresheners we need to look a bit closer at the make up of the fragrances used. 

So, what makes up a fragrance? The truth is, not many people know and those that do are not telling. 

The fragrance industry is traditionally shrouded in secrecy, I believe we are supposed to believe, for sound commercial reasons. In other words the ingredients are often protected like secret recipes and companies are legally allowed to keep them confidential because they’re deemed ‘trade secrets’ 

The problem with this is that the vast majority of fragrances used in products on the market today, be it in perfumes, cosmetics, cleaning products or even air-fresheners (you know, the stuff we spray all around our homes without a second thought and inhale deeply because we are led to believe they improve the indoor air quality), are made from synthetic fragrances and contain toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.

Air fresheners specifically, even ones called green and organic, are known to emit over 100 different chemicals, including volatile organic compounds VOC’s (terpenes such as limonene, alpha-pinene, and beta-pinene; terpenoids such as linalool and alpha-terpineol; ethanol, formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and xylene) and semi-volatile organic compounds (such as phthalates). Phthalates are known carcinogens and have been linked to a range of birth defects and decreased sperm counts, among other things. 

The majority of the artificial compounds found in synthetic fragrances belong to a family of chemicals known as petrochemicals. Petrochemicals have been linked to many allergic reactions, including eczema and asthma attacks. They have also been shown to cause disruptions in hormone production and to suppress the immune system. 

So, from a health perspective, air fresheners are definitely not great for us having been associated with adverse effects, such as migraine headaches, asthma attacks, mucosal symptoms, infant illness, and breathing difficulties yet we continue to voluntarily spritz the stuff in enclosed indoor spaces and breathe it in. The analogy of a “Frog in a pot” comes to mind. 

Not only are artificial fragrances/commercial air fresheners bad for us, they are also incredibly bad for the environment. 

As mentioned before, petrochemicals make up the majority of artificial compounds found in synthetic fragrances, these are obtained from petroleum and natural gases. The energy used in the production of these chemicals is very damaging to the environment particularly as fracking is one of the most popular methods for obtaining some of these resources in the industry. 

Furthermore, in a recent study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) it was found that scented products, including items such as perfumes, hair sprays, air fresheners, and even paints, emit the same amount of chemical vapours as fuel emissions from cars. Every spray contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs react with sunlight and other chemicals in the atmosphere to form ozone pollution. 

Not to mention that the chemicals in these fragrances eventually wash into the earth, and the water table. 

So, if we are serious about protecting our planet and environment we need to really be looking at what scented products we use everyday and make better choices. 

There are many eco friendly alternatives for most things we use every day, from the fragrances we use in our home and beauty products to DIY cleaning products for your home. We just need to be aware, do some research and use this knowledge to buy responsibly. 


I will leave you with a few interesting facts about the fragrance industry to mull over while you decide if air fresheners are in fact harmful:

  • The perfume industry employs the use and combination of over 3100 synthetic scent compounds
  • A report conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics showed that only 43% of the 3100 compounds have been tested for safety by the FDA.
  • The average name-brand perfume has over 29 chemicals 
  • half of which are not required to be on the ingredients label
  • High concentrations of VOCs have been measured in the emissions from numerous air freshener types, including sprays, plug-ins, solids, and more.
  • A study conducted by the Environmental Working Group showed that some artificial ingredients, particularly synthetic musks, are not only present in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babes, but also in toddlers. 

If you made it to the bottom of this blog, well done ;) comments and feedback always appreciated. 


All of our car air fresheners are 100% natural and fragranced with pure essential oils which are believed to have actual beneficial effects and contain absolutely no chemicals or VOC's. 🙌🏻


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published