Lurking Toxins: Air Fresheners

Even though I have severe MCS there are a few businesses that I can go inside for short periods of time. Recently one of them got some new air fresheners.

Michigan is a medicinal state, which means medical marijuana is legal. I have my card so I can go to the compassion club for CBDs. Normally when I go in for my meds it smells deliciously skunky… the last time didn’t smell good at all. I gagged on the stench of Febreeze and had to leave.

Apparently there is a new manager who thinks the compassion club shouldn’t smell like marijuana. That’s like removing the smell of bread from a bakery, or the scent of flowers from a florist. Anyhow, the nauseating stench of Febreeze inspired me to talk about another everyday toxin that lurks in our homes… air “fresheners”.

When I talk about air fresheners, I’m including sprays, oils, plug-ins, candles and beads. Many emit allergens and toxic air pollutants and none of them actually clean the air. Here are some of the toxic chemicals that are hidden inside:

  • Benzene – highly flammable with a sweet smell, it targets the liver, kidney, lung, heart and the brain and can causes DNA strand breaks, chromosome damage, aplastic anemia, acute leukemia, bone marrow abnormalities and cardiovascular disease. Known carcinogen.
  • Toluene – low exposure causes tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, hearing loss, and color vision loss. High exposures cause light-headedness, nausea, or sleepiness, unconsciousness and death. Considered much less toxic and commonly used in place of benzene.
  • Phthalates – Causes endocrine disruption, metabolic disruption and interference, anti-androgenic (blocks male hormones) and carcinogenic.
  • Formaldehyde – Carcinogenic, irritates eyes and mucous membranes, causes headaches, fatigue and asthma.
  • Styrene – Carcinogenic. Chronic exposure causes memory deficits, fatigue, headaches and vertigo.
  • Acetaldehyde – common contaminant found at home, work and ambient environments. Carcinogenic. Irritant of the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, throat and respiratory tract. 
  • Chloromethane – neuro and respiratory toxicant.
  • 1,4-Dioxane – byproduct of production and so not listed on any label. It is a carcinogen linked to organ toxicity affecting your brain, central nervous system, kidneys, liver and respiratory system.
  • Plug-in air fresheners can contain nearly two dozen different VOCs, over a third of which are classified as hazardous or toxic. Even the “natural” and “organic” brands emit carcinogens. Recent studies found over 30% of people experience worsening asthma, headaches, breathing difficulties and other health problems when exposed to air fresheners.

    In short, all those nasty chemicals are, well, nasty. They don’t clean the air or remove the smell, they only cover it up… with toxins. Instead, try these healthier methods to freshen the air:

  • Open the window – use exhaust vents in the kitchen (a single meal prepared on a gas stove can produce unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide) and vent out the extra moisture in the bathroom (causes mold and mildew growth).
  • Beeswax candles – natural air purifiers, they remove dust and allergens, ionizing the air and neutralizing toxic compounds and other contaminants. Petroleum derived paraffin candles release benzene, toluene and soot.
  • Get a houseplant or two. One plant per 100 square feet of home is recommended. Here is a great article about different types of houseplants.
  • Salt Lamps – reduce airborne irritants, pathogens and allergens by pulling water vapour out of the air. Himalayan pink salt is a natural ionic air purifier that pulls and neutralizes toxins from the environment.
  • Activated Charcoal, Active Carbon or Bamboo Charcoal – odorless, highly-absorptive and eliminates toxins.
  • Essential Oils – Thieves Oil, an antiseptic blend of pure essential oils including pine, cinnamon, thyme, eucalyptus, lemon and grapefruit, has a 99.96% kill rate against airborne bacteria and unlike air “fresheners” it purifies the air. Some other oils that destroy viruses, fungi, bacteria and mold are oregano, rosemary, clove and tea tree.
  • Let’s use this information to have a fresh and fragrance free home that everyone can enjoy!