Horrific discoveries: oh, so THAT’S what’s in air freshener

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If you’re new here, welcome! You’ll probably also like our post about getting rid of common household smells naturally — like the ever-stank litter box. Crtl + click to open it in the next tab.

Bee-OtchYou ever find yourself completely surprised about the ingredients of a household product? Like maybe you’re watching one of those really weird Febreeze commercials in which women are apparently having a flameless candle-centric party and you think, “Well THAT’s weird.” And then your mind wanders over to, “What’s IN all that stuff, anyway?”

We should all know more about the ingredients in these products so we can make educated purchases, so when this thought struck me I dug around a little. I’d a hunch that air fresheners weren’t all sunshine and daisies, but I was genuinely disturbed at some of the ingredients.

The basic gist is that there are real nasties in most of the products used to mask or eliminate odors — we’re talking aerosol sprays, those cone-shaped jobbies, or some of the Glade Plug-in types. Via Wikipedia, emphasis mine:

Many air fresheners employ carcinogens, volatile organic compounds and known toxins such as phthalate esters in their formulas. A Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study of 13 common household air fresheners found that most of the surveyed products contain chemicals that can aggravate asthma and affect reproductive development.

The study assessed scented sprays, gels, and plug-in air fresheners. Independent lab testing confirmed the presence of phthalates, or hormone-disrupting chemicals that may pose a particular health risk to babies and young children, in 12 of the 14 products—including those marked ‘all natural.’ None of the products had these chemicals listed on their labels.

There isn’t anything illegal about this, but those pretty, flower-encrusted idyllic meadows on the cans definitely don’t give you the same warning as, say, the packaging of (probably more dangerous) industrial cleaners.

I’m sure you moms know that many doctors don’t recommend exposing baby to aerosol sprays, but that was news to me. These products have also been documented to douse us with carcinogens.


I don’t really use air fresheners, but my husband does. My mom does. Given the number of air freshener and room sprays available in the grocery aisles, they’re clearly popular. What can we use to refresh a room that’s more natural, less icky, and way less sinus-grating?

There were good starter alternatives suggested in Ariel’s post on making your bathroom smell less like poop. Dale taught us how to make a natural lavender mint linen spray, too. But what else you got?

Personally, I’m not terribly practiced at handling smells. I’m more apt to let a room STANK until someone else thinks, “Hey, I can probably fix that!” But when I do want to clear up a smell — kitty litter, especially — I’m a sucker for straight baking soda or charcoal.

Responses from the comments so far

RC said:

A clean house will smell clean. If something smells then it’s probably time for me to empty out the compost or garbage or clean the floors or do some laundry or open the windows. I don’t need my house to smell of something else to smell fresh – no smell is the “smell” I go for in my home.

Audrey said:

Opening the windows often never hurts, even if it’s only 10 minutes a day.

Melissa T. said:

Here’s what you do: Get a crock pot. Buy a cooking extract of a scent you like such as coconut extract. Buy the biggest cheap extract you can find. Fill crock pot up with water. Pour extract in crock pot- enough so that you can smell the extract in the water about four inches away. Put crock pot lid on. Turn it on high until the lid gets really steamy (or you lift the lid and steam comes rising out.) Tilt lid. Keep it on high or turn it on low. It’s up to you, really.

Littleteacup said:

I add a few drops of lavender oil to the water when I mop the floor or wash the surfaces in my house. It’s a nice, completely natural way to make the house smell clean and fresh.

Lex said:

If you have carpet or area rugs, is to sprinkle a little bit of cinnamon or other spice on the carpet just before you vacuum.


The Airsponge does wonders!

Don’t be shy: add your smell-killing trick to the comments!

Comments on Horrific discoveries: oh, so THAT’S what’s in air freshener

  1. Here’s my go to….get your vacuum cleaner out. Get a small handful of coffee beans, or cloves, or cinnamon sticks. Open vacuum cleaner bag housing. Throw stuff in. Or just suck the stuff up with the vacuum. Run vacuum! Viola, house smells awesome! Also you can use essential oils on cotton balls in the same way (but I have trouble with essential oils…allergies, lots of them set me off. Orange, lime or lemon peels can also be used.

    And folks, remember to change your vacuum bag regularly, it gets funky in there when it’s full, and adds to the problem instead of making it better.

  2. Especially during the winter, I love using citrus peels with whole spices. I put the peel and spice in saucepan with a couple cups of water on the stove top set to low, checking the water periodically to refresh. During the summer, fresh, bruised herbs are a nice addition!

  3. It should be noted that hyacinths and tulips can be toxic to pets.

    “Severe poisoning from hyacinth or tulip poisoning is often seen when dogs dig up freshly planted bulbs or having access to a large bag of them. When the plant parts or bulbs are chewed or ingested, it can result in tissue irritation to the mouth and esophagus.”


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