Make your house smell good and clean the air with a few natural and healthy tricks. There are an abundance of strategies for freshening the air with different scents, but unfortunately many popular used methods are not safe and can create a toxic environment in your home. The dangers of synthetic air fresheners, candles, and related products are real, and their use may be just as risky as better known home hazards like asbestos or space heaters.
Know the risks of using air fresheners and employ a few simple techniques to keep the air in your house pure, fresh, and sweet. This article tells you what to avoid and includes six simple strategies you can use to appeal to your sense of smell.
The Dangers of Air Fresheners
Air fresheners and candles that contain chemicals make up one of the greatest health hazards in homes and indoor spaces. A survey by the National Resources Defense Council found that 75 percent of American homes use some form of artificial air freshener or candle, and profits from these products passed the billion dollar mark in 2011.
All products that contain synthetic scents or chemicals are dangerous to your health, even in limited exposure. This includes dryer sheets, many cleaning products, scented sprays and perfume, incense, carpet deodorizer, drain cleaner, and plug-in fresheners. Be aware that just because the label says “nontoxic,” “biodegradable,” or “safe” does not mean it’s true! Did you know that two of the basic ingredients in air fresheners are formaldehyde (a known cancer causer) and phthalates (known to alter hormone function, cause infertility, and lead to cancer in animals)?
Phthalates are the main problem with synthetic scents from air fresheners or candles. Phthalates are chemicals that hold the fragrance and research has shown they alter sex hormone function because they bind with endocrine receptors, causing infertility, behavioral problems, and cancer. Many air fresheners also contain formaldehyde, which causes difficulty breathing, burning in the eyes, and asthma. With scented candles the concern is both phthalates and the toxins that are released when the paraffin that the candle is made of is burned.
The term phthalates is general term that does not have to appear in the ingredient list of air fresheners, perfumes, and candles, so you can’t easily find out if a favorite product contains them. Rather, phthalates go by the non-descriptive term “fragrance.” Fragrances aren’t regulated by any government agency such as the FDA or EPA. Instead, the fragrance industry regulates itself through their trade organization, the International Fragrance Association (IFA). Phthalates are big business and hold fragrances very effectively, which is probably the main reason the IFA permits and supports their widespread use.
We’ve known for a while that phthalates and burning paraffin are bad news, and a number of studies show the depth of evil these chemicals cause. It is critical for you to take action to protect yourself because the government protection agencies aren’t going to.
Avoid These Products
Avoid conventional products that contain chemicals and phthalates. Below you will find of list of air-freshening and scented products that typically contain phthalates or have been found to be toxic and cause health problems.
Be aware that there are alternative companies that make aromatic and cleaning products that use essential oils and safe compounds. For example, Aura Cacia and Mrs. Meyer’s are two companies that embrace transparency by telling you what is in their products and what is not. In contrast, a recent study by the NRDC found that air fresheners from Air Wick, Febreze, Glade, Oust, and Walgreens all had dangerous amounts of phthalates. These lists are in no way comprehensive. In general, products that can be purchased at natural foods stores are more likely to be “clean” and safe for brightening your home.
Avoid all of the following commercial products from companies that you don’t fully trust:
- Plug-in air fresheners
- Spray air fresheners and perfumes
- Carpet deodorizers
- Scented candles
- Dryer sheets
Safe Strategies to Clean the Air and Make it Smell Great
1) Plants Purify the Air and Liven Up Your House
Plants are a necessity for your house or any indoor space because they purify the air and make any room more cheerful. Although most plants won’t make your house smell nice, they will protect you from chemicals and there’s research to prove it.
The government space organization NASA did a research study to identify which plants are best for getting rid of air pollution problems associated with sealed space habitats. The found that a wide variety of indoor plants will continually remove chemical toxins such as formaldehyde, benzene (found in large quantities in cigarette smoke) and carbon monoxide from the air—and they thrive off doing so! Some plants like the Areca Palm Tree will put moisture back in the air making them useful when your house or office is too dry.
The top ten plants from the NASA study are Areca palm, Lady palm, Bamboo palm, Rubber plant, Dracaena “Janet Craig”, English ivy, Dwarf date palm, Ficus Alii, Boston fern, and Peace lily. This is not an exclusive list of air purifying plants, so it’s fine if you choose other plants for your home. Peace lilies are hearty, and if you don’t have a green thumb, they may be a good bet. Aloe and Spider plants are another kind that has found to be very effective at eradicating nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. Rubber plants are great for eliminating bacteria and toxic compounds.
2) Simmer Sweet Scents on the Stove
Simmer various sweet scents on the stove to make your house smell awesome. The simplest way is to heat cinnamon sticks, cloves, or essential oils in water. You can also heat orange, lemon, or other citrus peels for a fresh, clean aroma. Mixtures of fresh ingredients or potpourris can be heated for a rejuvenating smell. A few fresh potpourri ideas include the following:
- Cinnamon sticks, apple slices, and cloves
- Fresh basil or rosemary, sliced lemon, and bay leaves
- Fresh mint and ginger with limes
- Vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, apple, and orange
3) Tricks with Essential Oils
Essential oils are a useful tool to make your house smell nice, but caution is needed. Essential oils are aromatic compounds that are extracted from parts of different plants and many are thought to have health benefits.
Essential oils may come in a very concentrated form that can cause irritation to the skin if exposed directly to undiluted oils. Also, if a large amount oil is ingested in undiluted form they can be dangerous, and people with certain health conditions should not use distinct oils. For example, if you have epilepsy, high blood pressure, or are pregnant there are certain oils you need avoid.
Essential oils can be bought online or from natural food and specialty stores. Cool things you can do with them include using diffusers, vaporizers, or other methods to heat the oils and send the aroma into the air. You can buy air freshening spritzers or lamp rings that you put over a light bulb to release the oils. Different scents have various effects on the body—many of the them good—but because the compounds are ingested when you breathe them, you want to be cautious about using them. Lavender, rosemary, chamomile, jojoba, and almond oil are considered calming, mild oils that you may want to start with.
4) Beeswax or Soy Candles with Essential Oils
Beeswax and soy candles work wonders for removing odors, making your house smell subtly nice, and improving air quality. Some candles come unscented and the only compounds emitted will be the beeswax or soy, whereas some are delightfully scented with essential oils, making them excellent for calming or energizing your mood.
5) Dried Herbs in Arrangements and Sachets
Put out dishes or dried arrangements of herbs and plants such as lavender and rosemary for a very subtle scent. These don’t pack much aromatic power and won’t get rid of unpleasant odors but they can offer a refreshing smell when close by.
Dried eucalyptus is lovely in a vase alone or with other dried plants or flowers. Another option is to get a natural sponge and soak it in vanilla extract (or another aromatic extract or oil that you prefer) and place it in a bowl. This is a nice way to add a delicate, bright scent to the air.
6) Manage Your Trash and Clean Your Garbage Disposal
Get rid of big trash cans in favor of small ones, and take the trash outside daily. This is especially important during the summer, and if you also have lots of air purifying plants, it’s a useful strategy for avoiding odors.
Clean and freshen your garbage disposal by throwing some cut up orange or lemon rinds down the disposal to clear lingering odors.
Check out the Environmental Working Group’s website to learn more about the dangers of environmental and household toxins or find safe products on their “Skin Deep” Database.
Learn more about the NRDC report on phthalates here.