There’s no shortage of scented items that are designed to make your home be clean and smell better. From candles to household cleaners to air fresheners, thousands of delicious-sounding scent combinations exist, with promises of making your home sparkle and smell like a wooded forest to boot. Or a pumpkin pie. Or fresh rain.
Trouble is, those fragrances and cleaners – by and large – contain a ton of chemicals, and more than likely a questionable ingredients that, at worst, could make breathing more difficult for anyone with asthma or allergy sensitivities.
An article published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2011 detailed findings that a survey of selected scented consumer goods showed the products emitted more than 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including some that are classified as toxic or hazardous by federal laws. From the article: “The researchers tested 25 air fresheners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, disinfectants, dish detergents, all-purpose cleaners, soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorants, and shampoos. Many of the products tested are top sellers in their category.”
“A single fragrance in a product can contain a mixture of hundreds of chemicals, some of which (e.g., limonene, a citrus scent) react with ozone in ambient air to form dangerous secondary pollutants, including formaldehyde. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates cleaning supplies, air fresheners, and laundry products, currently does not require manufacturers to disclose any ingredients on the label, including fragrances in these products.”
Along with tobacco smoke, secondhand fragrances can cause people with chemical sensitivity to become seriously ill when they are exposed to these toxic substances. According to research conducted by Dr. Anne Steinemann, “fragranced consumer products contain and emit numerous ingredients—including some classified as toxic or hazardous—that are not disclosed to the public on either the product label or material safety data sheet.”
And according to Environmental Working Group )EWG), “[N]either ingredients nor products [in household cleaners] must meet any sort of safety standard, nor is any testing data or notification required before bringing a product to market.” So as you liberally spray a surface of your home with a cleanser that promises to make your home sparkle, can you really be sure what you’re introducing into your home’s air supply? EWG notes that their research “has turned up products loaded with extremely toxic compounds banned in some countries. Some of their ingredients are known to cause cancer, blindness, asthma and other serious conditions. Others are greenwashed, meaning that they are not, as their ad hype claims, environmentally benign. Still more hide the facts about their formulations behind vague terms like ‘fragrance.'”
If you’re constantly dealing with stale or bad odors in your home, simply scenting the air doesn’t replace a good, old-fashioned cleaning; it merely masks it with a synthetic smell. Vacuuming regularly, dusting, using a vent hood while cooking, emptying trash daily, and mopping (a good mix of vinegar and water will sometimes do the trick) can neutralize odors in your home and not have adverse effects on your indoor air quality. You can also invest in a high-quality air purifier that uses the power of technology — not chemicals or fragrances — to get your home clean and smelling fresh.
 Caress SM1, Steinemann AC, and Waddick C., “Symptomatology and etiology of multiple chemical sensitivities in the southeastern United States,” Arch Environ Health. 2002 Sep-Oct, PMID: 12641185.