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What is in Your Air Fresheners?

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 10 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Air Fresheners Smell Fragrance Air

Air fresheners are on the increase. It seems that plain old fresh air is not sweet enough for us and we desire the synthetic creation of ‘clean’ pine forests, sharp-smelling citrus oils and rolling fields or Provencal lavender.

But what are all these scenic smells doing for our health?

What Do Air Fresheners Do?

You’d think that the purpose of air fresheners would be to emit or disperse bad odours, make the air fresh, and provide us with wonderful scents. But this couldn’t really be further from the truth. In fact air fresheners, whether they be sprays, plug-ins, candles or sticks, merely ‘cover-up’ any odours rather than neutralise or disperse them, and actually contain substances that deaden our sense of smell by coating our nasal passages in a film of oil or by ‘damaging’ our nerves by the use of toxic chemicals.

False Fragrance

Far from emitting natural organic scent, air fresheners usually consist of manufactured chemicals which may more accurately be described as air polluters. They emit volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), which research conducted by the University of Bristol, reported could make mothers, and babies ill.

Exposure in the long-running study, which involved 14,000 children, showed that where air fresheners were used on a persistent or daily basis, babies were 32 percent more likely to suffer from diarrhoea and sickness and more earache, while mothers suffered from an increased number of headaches and nausea.


Air fresheners can also trigger asthma attacks. Research carried out by the European Community Respiratory Health Survey observed 3,500 people in ten European countries and found that if they used sprays regularly, the risk of asthma increased by 20%.


While there is some debate as to whether the level of formaldehyde we are exposed to through the use of air fresheners is enough to cause us harm, there is no doubt as to the toxic effects which the chemical can have.

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen which causes dermatitis, headaches, joint pain, fatigue, dizziness, depression, allergic reactions, and skin irritations. It is used in a wide range of products including some air fresheners and it’s possible that the chemical may also mix with other contaminants or ground-level ozone in polluted areas to exacerbate its adverse effects.

Terpenes And d-limonene

Terpenes are chemicals found in oils and form the basis of many air freshener and fragranced products which contain lemon, orange and pine. While they are not considered necessarily harmful in their own right, there is a fair bit of discussion about the fact that they are able to combine with ground-level ozone to create a formaldehyde-like chemical. Although ozone is not generally considered to be at high levels within the home, there are some instances where this could be so if it enters from the outside and enough different chemicals are used without adequate ventilation.

D-limonene is used in many fragrance products which have citrus or orange notes. They are often labelled in the ingredients as containing citrus or orange oil. It can act as an irritant and has also been described as a neurotoxin but its link to cancer is hotly debated.

Air Your Home Naturally

The best advice which can be offered if you want to freshen and ‘sweeten’ your home is to air your home naturally by opening the window. Air fresheners doing nothing more than making money for those which make them and could be doing you harm.

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