Are Air Fresheners Killing You?

If you ask anyone if they’d rather smell a bouquet of roses or a horse barn, we’re betting the vast majority of answers would be in favor of the flowers. There are simply some odors we like and some we don’t. But just as most bad smells aren’t necessarily bad for you, it turns out some nice smells might not be so good for you, either.

Most of us, however, associate the fresh aroma of scented candles, soaps, detergents, and air fresheners with “clean” and we tend to associate “clean” with healthy. This actually dates back to the days of yore, when disease was thought to be caused by bad smells. Perfume and other “good” smells were thought to ward off disease. But some new research is shedding light on the potential for these pleasant odors to mask harmful chemicals and toxins.

Scented candles might seem like a great way to set the mood, but cheap manufacturing can lead to some pretty nasty stuff entering the air as they burn.


Much of the headway being made on this front is from the Royal College of Physicians in England, which has been lobbying to create a new movement akin to the one that brought about the Clean Air Act back in the 1950s.

Their studies have implicated a number of common household dangers in early death and other health issues. Everything from faulty furnaces to, as mentioned, scented candles can contribute.


It’s proving a bit of a challenge. It was pretty easy to ban smoking, which has proven amazingly helpful.

In the five years since England got rid of it in public places, childhood asthma, heart disease, and other smoking-associated health issues have all been reduced by around 15%. But regulating or banning things that smell nice is a trickier sell, because of our strong mental association between nice smells and good health.


While not necessarily the worst health risk compared to, say, carbon monoxide from a furnace, air fresheners are a big target because they are almost completely unregulated. Testing has shown them to give off some surprisingly harmful chemicals in surprisingly large amounts.


Because they’re not a food product, the government doesn’t see regulating their ingredients as supercritical, even though they easily enter our lungs.


Especially since our first reaction on catching a whiff of the carefully formulated scent of these sprays and oils is typically to inhale deeply and savor the smell at its strongest.


There are plenty of healthier, better ways to freshen the air in your house. In most places, your first option is to simply open a window!


A little fresh air in will push the stale, pollutant-filled air out, and make things smell nicer in the process. But sometimes that’s not an option. In big cities or in the wintertime, opening a window probably isn’t going to help you. But there are other options. Essential oils from reputable sources can add pleasing smells to your household air supply, while there are also a whole bunch of houseplants that do a great job of purifying air and actually remove many of the worst indoor air pollutants.


Aloe is a versatile plant that’s easy to grow and will not only clean up your air, but has other uses as well, such as treating cuts and burns.


Peace lilies are beautiful, they actually tell you when they need to be watered, and they’re another fabulous plant for improving air quality.


One of the true champions of purifying indoor air, according to a NASA study, is the rubber plant. Easy to maintain and available in some very beautiful color patterns, rubber plants absorb and eliminate more dangerous compounds than any other houseplants.


But for an all-in-one solution, try some fragrant, vibrant, air-cleansing mums. That’s right, garden mums are one of the top choices in air cleaning houseplants!


H/T: LittleThings

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