Air freshener health risks

Updated July 19, 2017

Air fresheners interfere with a person's ability to smell offensive odours by releasing a nerve-deadening agent or by coating the nasal passages with an undetectable film. Air fresheners are not regulated by the federal government and manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on the label. For these reasons, consumers should be wary of all air fresheners, even those that claim to be "all-natural."

Aerosol Sprays

Many aerosol air fresheners contain para-dichlorobenzene, napthalend and formaldehyde--central nervous system depressants. Formaldehyde can cause symptoms such as headaches, ear infections, sinus problems, watery eyes, asthma, bronchitis, joint pains, chronic fatigue syndrome, dizziness and chest pain. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, formaldehyde is known to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans. Another common air freshener ingredient, P-dichlorobenzene, has been found to diminish the sense of smell and may cause cancer. Trichloroethylene, also commonly found in aerosol air fresheners, has been found to cause dizziness and irregular breathing.

Air Fresheners Containing Phthalates

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a recent study found harmful chemicals known as phthalates in 12 air freshener products, including some marketed as "all-natural" and "unscented." None of the air fresheners listed phthalates on their labels. When air freshener is sprayed, the phthalates are released into the air where they can be inhaled or absorbed through a person's skin. Once in the bloodstream, they can alter hormone levels and cause other health problems. According to the State of California, five types of phthalates, including one commonly found in air fresheners, are known to cause birth defects and reproductive harm. Phthalate exposure in indoor environments has also been associated with allergic symptoms and asthma.

Non-Spray Air Fresheners

Non-spray air fresheners, such as those designed to plug into an outlet or stick to a hard surface have also been found to carry health risks. Many of these products contain a toxic chemical known as benzyl acetate. According to International Programme on Chemical Safety, short-term exposure to benzyl acetate can cause irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract, and it may affect the central nervous system. Bezyl acetate can be absorbed by inhalation or ingestion. Long-term repeated exposure may cause kidney damage.

Commercial Air Fresheners and Deodorizers

According to the NRDC, commercial deodorisers are especially harmful as they may contain toxic chemicals such as methoxychlor, a chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticide that accumulates in fat cells and overstimulates the central nervous system.

All Air Fresheners

A 2004 study by the University of Bristol in Britain of more than 7,000 children found that children who were frequently exposed to chemical-based household products, such as air fresheners and disinfectants, while in the womb were more likely to develop asthma as a child.

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About the Author

Jennifer Lanier has been a professional health researcher and writer on the web since 2002. She has published work on several health sites and written e-books on alternative cancer cures and natural hormone balance.