Just the Facts – Air Fresheners

air freshener

Do you know what’s in that freshener?

Many air fresheners, plug-ins and deodorizers contain a mixture of chemicals. Some of these chemicals may affect your health and most are never listed on product labels. Air fresheners do not actually freshen or clean the air, but rather add chemicals to the air you breath in order to overpower odors.[i] These air fresheners release pollutants throughout the day.[ii] Some even contain nerve-deadening chemicals that coat your nasal passages and temporarily block your sense of smell. There are plenty of air freshener alternatives [link to Resources->Alternative Products].

The chemicals in air fresheners, plug-ins, deodorizers and other consumer products have not been tested or proven safe.[iii] Here are a few examples:

  • p-dichlorobenzene: Found in air fresheners and considered a pesticide by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Same chemical used as a repellent against snakes, rats, mice, squirrels, bats, and insects.[iv]
  • Limonene: Found in air fresheners and reacts readily with ozone to generate secondary pollutants, such as formaldehyde.[v],[vi]
  • Benzene: Found in air fresheners and identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) to cause long-term adverse health effects such as cancer and bone marrow failure.[vii],[viii] Benzene is also found in gasoline.[ix]
  • Acetone: Found in air fresheners and is a suspected cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, or liver toxicant.[x]
  • Phthalates: Found in air fresheners and has been linked to early puberty in girls, reduced sperm count in men, and reproductive defects in the developing male fetus.[xi],[xii] Phthalates are also associated with obesity and insulin resistance.[xiii]

20% of American consumers will leave a business as quickly as possible if they smell air fresheners or other fragranced product.[xv]

Allergists say home fragrance products may cause respiratory problems. “This is a much bigger problem than people realize. About 20 percent of the population and 34 percent of people with asthma report health problems from air fresheners.[xiv] Stanley Fineman, MD, American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

A 2013 study of more than 2,000 pregnant women found women who used plug-in air fresheners during gestation were statistically far more likely to have babies who suffered from serious lung infections.[xvii]

The Environmental Working Group scientifically tested the ingredients on school cleaning supplies including the most popular brand of air freshener. They detected the following chemicals in the product even though the only ingredients listed on the bottle were as follows: Odor eliminator, water, fragrance, non-flammable natural propellant, quality control ingredients[xvi]

  • BHT –A known neurotoxin, endocrine disruptor, allergies/immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), skin, eye or lung irritation [xvi]
  • Acetaldehyde – Known carcinogen, toxic to reproduction and development, allergies/immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), skin, eye or lung irritation [xvi]
  • “Fragrance” – One of the three ingredients disclosed. Identified as a neurotoxin and allergies/immunotoxicity [xvi]
  • Propylene Glycol – Known carcinogen, allergies/immunotoxicity, accumulates in the system, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), classified with “enhanced skin absorption”, skin, eye or lung irritation [xvi]
  • 1,3-Dichloro-2-propanol – Carcinogenic [xvi]
  • Limonene – Allergies/immunotoxicity, skin, eye or lung irritation [xvi]
  • Methyl pyrrolidone – Reproductive and development toxicity, allergies/immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), skin, eye or lung irritation [xvi]
  • Alcohol denatured – Second of three ingredients disclosed. Carcinogenic, developmental/reproductive toxicity, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), skin, eye or lung irritation [xvi]
  • Butylphenyl methylpropion – Allergies/immunotoxicity , skin, eyes or lung irritation [xvi]
  • Ethyl acetate – Developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, organic system toxicity (non-reproductive), skin, eye or lung irritation [xvi]
  • Geraniol – Allergies/immunotoxicity , organic system toxicity (non-reproductive), skin, eyes or lung irritation [xvi]
  • Linalool – Allergies/immunotoxicity, skin, eyes or lung irritation [xvi]
  • Benzaldehyde – Neurotoxin, skin, eyes or lung irritation [xvi]
  • Diethylene glycol monoethyl ether – organic system toxicity (non-reproductive) [xvi]
  • Ethylhezanol – Developmental/reproductive toxicity, skin, eyes or lung irritation [xvi]
  • Hexyl cinnamal – Allergies/immunotoxicity, skin, eyes or lung irritation [xvi]



[i] Steinemann, A. C. (2009). Fragranced consumer products and undisclosed ingredients. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 29(1), 32-38.
[ii] Hales D. (2014). An Invitation to Health: Building Your Future, Brief Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
[iii] Urbina, I. (2013, April 13). Think Those Chemicals Have Been Tested? The New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/sunday-review/think-those-chemicals-have-been-tested.html?_r=0
[iv] Chin, J. Y., Godwin, C., Jia, C., Robins, T., Lewis, T., Parker, E., Max, P., et al. (2013). Concentrations and risks of p-dichlorobenzene in indoor and outdoor air. Indoor Air, 23(1), 40-49.
[v] Steinemann, A. C., MacGregor, I. C., Gordon, S. M., Gallagher, L. G., Davis, A. L., Ribeiro, D. S., & Wallace, L. A. (2011). Fragranced consumer products: Chemicals emitted, ingredients unlisted. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 31(3), 328-333.
[vi] Huang, Y., Ho, S. S. H., Ho, K. F., Lee, S. C., Gao, Y., Cheng, Y., & Chan, C. S. (2011). Characterization of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) in cleaning reagents and air fresheners in Hong Kong. Atmospheric Environment, 45(34), 6191-6196.
[vii] Kim, S., Hong, S.-H., Bong, C.-K., & Cho, M.-H. (2015). Characterization of air freshener emission: the potential health effects. The Journal of toxicological sciences, 40(5), 535-50. Japanese Society of Toxicology. Retrieved from http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?eid=2-s2.0-84941202709&partnerID=tZOtx3y1
[viii] PCS (1993).Benzene Geneva, World Health Organization, International Programme on Chemical Safety (Environmental Health Criteria 150. Retrieved from http://www.inchem.org/documents/ehc/ehc/ehc150.htm.
[ix] EPA (2012). Summary and Analysis of the 2011 Gasoline Benzene Pre-Compliance Reports. Retrieved from http://www3.epa.gov/otaq/regs/toxics/420r12007.pdf.
[x] Steinemann, A.C., Hidden Hazards in Air Fresheners and Deodorizers. Retrieved from http://www.drsteinemann.com/Resources/Air%20Freshener%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
[xi] Dodson, R. E., Nishioka, M., Standley, L. J., Perovich, L. J., Brody, J. G., & Rudel, R. A. (2012). Endocrine Disruptors and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Consumer Products. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(7), 935–943. http://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104052
[xii] Griffin, S. (2007). CancerSmart 3.0: The Consumer Guide. Vancouver: Labour Envrionmental Alliance Society.
[xiii] Stahlhut, RW et al. (2007). Concentrations of urinary phthalate metabolites are associated with increased waste circumference and insulin resistence in adult U.S. males. Environmental Health Perspectives 115,6.
[xiv] Unplug Indoor Pollutants for a Breath of Fresh Air (2011). American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). Retrieved from http://www.newswise.com/articles/unplug-indoor-pollutants-for-a-breath-of-fresh-air-allergists-say-home-fragrance-products-may-cause-respiratory-problems.
[xv]Steinemann, A. (2016). Fragranced consumer products: exposures and effects from emissions. Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, 9(8), 861-866. doi:10.1007/s11869-016-0442-z
[xvi]Sutton, R. (2009). Greener School Cleaning Supplies: School Cleaner Test Results. Washington, D.C.: Environmental Working Group. Retrieved January 13, 2017, from http://www.ewg.org/research/greener-school-cleaning-supplies/school-cleaner-test-results?schoolprod=219
[xvii]Casas, L., Zock, J. P., Carsin, A. E., Fernandez-Somoano, A., Esplugues, A., Santa-Marina, L., … Sunyer, J. (2013). The use of household cleaning products during pregnancy and lower respiratory tract infections and wheezing during early life. International Journal of Public Health, 58(5), 757–764. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00038-012-0417-2