Home Aroma: Healthy, All-Natural Air Fresheners

Keep your home smelling clean without toxic air fresheners.

| July/August 2010

  • Always choose candles made with clean-burning wax, pure essential oils and lead-free wicks.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Infusion Organique uses organic extracts and oils in its Acai Rain scent diffusers.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison

Consciously or unconsciously, we use our sense of smell to judge a home’s healthfulness and cleanliness, which is why retailers offer such a wide array of chemical sprays, gels, solids and plug-ins to scent our spaces. Three-quarters of all American homes are now scented with some type of commercial air freshener, an increase of nearly 30 percent since 1999.

Synthetic scents contain harmful chemicals. A study published in the Archives of Environmental Health linked chronic exposure to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in air fresheners to headaches and depression in new mothers and diarrhea and earaches in their babies.

Harmful VOCs in air fresheners include benzene and formaldehyde, which are byproducts of the manufacturing process. Benzene exposure can damage bone marrow, which can decrease red blood cells and affect immunity. Long-term exposure to airborne benzene has also been linked to increased risk of anemia and leukemia. Formaldehyde, a known carcinogenic neurotoxin, can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and skin.

Most air fresheners—even some labeled “all natural”—use phthalates as fixatives. Easily inhaled or absorbed through the skin, these chemicals accumulate in the body’s fatty tissue and liver, where they can remain for decades. High phthalate levels have been shown to cause low sperm counts and reproductive damage to male rat fetuses.

Natural scents

You can scent your space naturally without resorting to dubious chemicals. Pure essential oils not only smell good, but many—such as lavender or rosemary—can also affect cognitive function and mood.

Often available as a spray or for use with diffusing reeds or oil burners, pure essential oils are the volatile oils extracted from herbs, roots, barks and flowers. Unlike the synthetic fragrance oils used in conventional air fresheners, essential oils contain a blend of natural constituents.

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