True Cellular Formulas Team - May 11, 2023

Unmasking Air Fresheners

The Hidden Dangers and Safer Alternatives for a Healthy Home

Unmasking Air Fresheners

Air fresheners have become an integral part of our daily lives, promising to eliminate unpleasant odors and create a fresh and fragrant atmosphere. However, while these products may temporarily improve the smell of our living spaces, they often come at a cost to our health and indoor air quality.[1] Many air fresheners contain chemicals that not only mask odors but also pollute the air we breathe, posing potential risks to our well-being.[2]

The Chemistry of Air Fresheners

The idea of "clean" air is often misunderstood, with people associating pleasant fragrances with cleanliness. However, according to Ryan Sullivan, an associate professor of chemistry and mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, truly clean air is characterized by very low levels of chemicals, meaning it should have no scent at all.[3] The problem with air fresheners is that they belong to a broader category of everyday products that contain chemicals with the potential to cause hormonal disruptions and respiratory issues.[1]

Chemicals in Air Fresheners

Air fresheners are known to emit over 100 chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes.[1] These chemicals can react with naturally occurring compounds in the air and form secondary pollutants that worsen indoor air quality.[4] The primary ingredients responsible for generating air pollution include VOCs, oxidants, and sunlight, with fluorescent lights in homes acting as a replacement for sunlight.[1] Furthermore, fragrant molecules can react with oxidants released from sources like gas stoves, contributing to indoor air pollution.

Air Fresheners and Human Health

The effects of air fresheners on human health can vary depending on the chemicals present in the product and the individual's sensitivities to them.[5] People with asthma or allergies may be more sensitive to scented products, as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency.[5] Over 75% of air fresheners evaluated by the Environmental Working Group were found to contain either "likely" or "potentially significant" hazards to health or the environment based on concerns about exposure to their ingredients.[6]

Exposure to high levels of VOCs can lead to adverse health effects, such as migraine headaches, asthma attacks, breathing difficulties, and neurological problems.[1] Even short-term exposure can irritate the eyes, throat, and nose, and cause nausea.[1] Reactions to air fresheners can worsen over time, according to Claudia Miller, professor emeritus in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Chemicals in air fresheners can trigger first responders in the immune system called mast cells, leading to allergic-like reactions, inflammation, illness, and increased chemical intolerance after repeated exposures.[7]

‘Green' Air Fresheners and Safety

Air fresheners labeled as organic, nontoxic, green, or all-natural can still emit potentially hazardous chemicals, according to Ryan Sullivan.[8] Limited data exists surrounding the toxicity of different chemicals in everyday products, making it difficult to assess their safety.[9] In the United States, regulations on cleaning products and air fresheners are relatively lax, contributing to the prevalence of potentially harmful substances in these products.[10]

The Naughty List

  • Febreze
  • Air Wick Scented Oil
  • Citrus Magic
  • Febreze NOTICEables Scented Oil
  • Glade Air Infusions
  • Glade PlugIn Scented Oil
  • Lysol Brand II Disinfectant
  • Oust Air Sanitizer Spray
  • Oust Fan Liquid Refills
  • Ozium Glycol-ized Air Sanitizer
  • Walgreens Air Freshener Spray (had the highest levels of phthalates by far)
  • Walgreens Scented Bouquet Air Freshener

The Good List

  • Potpourri 
  • Air purifying machines
  • Air purifying plants
  • Potpourri pots with dried flowers and herbs
  • Reed diffusers made with essential oils

Recommendations for Safer Alternatives

To minimize the risks associated with air fresheners, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends cutting back on the use of products with strong fragrances, particularly in indoor areas with poor ventilation.[1] The agency also suggests minimizing the use of sprays that spread scents throughout a space.[1]

Essential oils may be a safer option for adding fragrances to indoor spaces, but users should carefully examine the ingredients before use.[8] According to Ryan Sullivan, a short list of fully disclosed ingredients and minimally processed, naturally sourced oils is crucial.[8] For safer dispersion methods, Sullivan recommends using a reed diffuser, which uses sticks to absorb and emit the essential oil scent, or a mister-type diffuser that sprays the essential oil in water.[8] Misting essential oils in a spray bottle can also be a safe alternative.[10]

While air fresheners can provide temporary relief from unpleasant odors, they may introduce harmful chemicals into our living spaces. To protect our health and indoor air quality, it is essential to choose safer alternatives and minimize the use of products with strong fragrances. By doing so, we can create healthier environments for ourselves and our loved ones.


The use of air fresheners may come with unintended consequences for our health and indoor air quality. As many of these products contain potentially harmful chemicals, it is crucial to be aware of their risks and make informed choices when selecting air fresheners. By opting for safer alternatives like essential oils and minimizing the use of strong fragrances, we can create a healthier living environment for ourselves, our families, and our pets. Ultimately, taking steps to reduce our reliance on chemically-laden air fresheners can have lasting benefits for our well-being and the quality of the air we breathe.

  1. Ajasa, Amudalat. “If You Can Smell Your Air Freshener, You Might Have a Problem.” The Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2023.
  2. Sullivan, Ryan. As cited in Ajasa, Amudalat. “If You Can Smell Your Air Freshener, You Might Have a Problem.” The Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2023.
  3. Steinemann, Anne. “Volatile Emissions from Common Consumer Products.” Building and Environment, vol. 93, 2015, pp. 267-277.
  4. Environmental Working Group. “Guide to Healthy Cleaning.” Retrieved from
  5. Environmental Protection Agency. “Indoor Air Quality.” Retrieved from
  6. Miller, Claudia. As cited in Ajasa, Amudalat. “If You Can Smell Your Air Freshener, You Might Have a Problem.” The Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2023.
  7. Natural Resources Defense Council. “Hidden Hazards of Air Fresheners.” 2007. Retrieved from
  8. Natural Resources Defense Council. “Hidden Hazards of Air Fresheners.” 2007. Retrieved from
  9. Environmental Protection Agency. “Indoor Air Quality.” Retrieved from
  10. Sullivan, Ryan. As cited in Ajasa, Amudalat. “If You Can Smell Your Air Freshener, You Might Have a Problem.” The Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2023.

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