What Are You Putting In Your Air?

We’re swimming in fragrance – sometimes without even knowing it.

Nearly 3 in 4 Americans “freshen” the air in their homes, cars, or offices with sprays, plug-ins, beads, hanging trees, potpourri, diffusers, and candles.¹

Where’s the harm in that? Well, the harm could be hiding.

What we know

For starters, the government does nothing to ensure the safety of these products – no testing, no safety standards, no labeling requirements, nothing.

Same goes for “all-natural” and “unscented” products, in case you were wondering…²

Since manufacturers aren’t disclosing what’s really in them (over 100 different chemicals!), we investigated.

Turns out, these fragrance accessories emit dozens of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including terpenes, ethanol, formaldehyde, and benzene, as well as phthalates (known hormone disruptors).³

VOCs have been linked to cancer, as well as harmful effects on virtually all of our important body systems: ²,³

– neurological
– cardiovascular
– respiratory
– reproductive
– immune
– endocrine

Sniffles and sneezes, headaches, and asthma attacks are common reactions to “freshened” air.²

These pollutants can also react with the air to create hundreds more “secondary pollutants.”²

Manufacturers are NOT legally required to disclose any of this.

What we’re still learning

Some scientists argue that these chemical concoctions are no big deal. We’re exposed to toxins every day, and our lungs are designed to filter out the junk.

But how much junk?

The research on air fresheners is pretty new, so there isn’t solid proof yet that these chemicals are definitely harming us.

It seems to be a matter of degree: how often are you exposed to these chemicals, for how long, and what is your current state of health?

So, from the room sprays and plug-ins, to our scented candles, laundry detergents, shampoos, and skincare, how much constant daily exposure do we actually have?

And of course, most fragrances don’t have an “off” switch…

The bottom line

More than 1/4 of air freshener ingredients are classified as hazardous. That’s news to most of us, because the fragrance industry is essentially unregulated. 

Research is limited, but the potential health risks are likely a function of exposure levels, and some of us may be particularly sensitive:

Who’s most at risk?

Moms-to-be At least one study linked the phthalates in air fresheners to hormone disruption, birth defects and reproductive harm.  
Kids Because of their small size, higher activity levels, and still-developing metabolic systems, kids can get up to 30x more chemical exposure than grown-ups.
Allergies & Immune Conditions If you have allergies, asthma, skin or immune conditions, you may be particularly sensitive to the potential side effects of air fresheners.
Fur Babies A dog’s sense of smell is up to 100,000 times as strong as ours.  They are extra sensitive to fragrances and VOCs and may get more exposure from plug-ins since they live closer to the ground. And essential oil alert! Tea tree oil is super toxic to doggos and many are potentially toxic to cats. So be careful with your diffusers.

How do I make changes?

We’re all different, so we’ve divided some action steps into varying levels of commitment for you:

Toes In  

🗑️  Toss the air fresheners – room sprays, plug-ins, hanging trees, etc.

🪟  First thing after you wake up, open your windows for fresh air and ventilation.

☕  Sprinkle used coffee grounds at the bottom of your trash can to soak up the stink.

Waist Deep  

🥣  Use baking soda to soak up the stink. Place a small dish wherever you want to absorb unpleasant smells (like the fridge and bathroom).

🔥  Burn Palo Santo – it cleanses the air and the negative energy.

🍊  When you have guests (or a craving for scented air), simmer up a DIY fragrance by combining aromatics in a pot of water on your stove.

 – Try orange rinds, cloves and cinnamon sticks.
– Another divine combo is lemon peels with mint leaves!

Full Immersion  

🕯️  Replace your candles and/or get an essential oil diffuser.

– Look for soy wax candles made with essential oils.
– Only buy essential oils that are 100% pure, therapeutic grade, and pet safe.

🪴  Start collecting houseplants – nature’s air filters.

🏙️  If you live in the city, invest in a HEPA air filter (ideally, one in each room).

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Jessica Ederer, JD, CPT, FNS, RYT
Pique's Head of Content & Wellness Education, is a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, RYT, and holds a JD from UC Berkeley. After 10 years as a practicing trial lawyer, she shifted gears and has spent the past 8 years as a health coach, educator and writer. It's her passion to help people learn sustainable, effective ways to unlock their full wellness potential. When she's not teaching or writing, you can find her hiking, mountain biking, cycling, backcountry skiing, camping and drinking anywhere from 5-7 cups of tea per day.
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Jessica Ederer, JD, CPT, FNS, RYT
Jessica Ederer, JD, CPT, FNS, RYT
View author
Pique's Head of Content & Wellness Education, is a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, RYT, and holds a JD...

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