There are many types of scented air fresheners on the market. Some release scents continuously and others spray scented fumes at specified times. They come in gel and liquid form; some release a scent when the product is lit. They can be used to help mask unwanted odors or to add a favorite scent to a room. However, air fresheners contain many chemicals that can potentially cause health problems.
Possible Birth Defects
Some types of scented air fresheners contain chemicals called phthalates which are released into the air when the freshener is used. Pregnant women who are exposed to these chemicals may give birth to infants with birth defects, warns the Natural Resources Defense Council. Exposure to phthalates can alter hormone levels which may harm the fetus. Phthalates can also alter hormone levels in males, leading to reproductive problems. The Environmental Protection Agency warns that since phthalates are found in many household items, there is a danger of high exposure and of being exposed to more than one type. Over time, this can lead to a build-up of dangerous levels in the body.
Headaches and Gastrointestinal Symptoms
For individuals who are sensitive to smells, even light scents or low exposure can cause a variety of health problems. This includes headaches, confusion, dizziness, diarrhea, fatigue, depression, anxiety, nausea and respiratory problems. Reactions can vary from mild to severe. Some products labeled “scent-free” may contain chemicals to mask the scent, which can be just as dangerous.
Asthma and Allergic Reactions
Many scented products such as air fresheners contain chemicals known as volatile organic compounds. For those with allergies and asthma, exposure to these products can trigger an attack. This can lead to wheezing, chest pain, tightness and shortness of breath. More research is needed to determine the full health effects caused by exposure to air fresheners and other scented products.
Nerve and Organ Damage
The Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia states that many air fresheners work by deadening the sensitivity of nerves that help pick up scents. In addition, many of the chemicals used in air fresheners have been linked to memory loss, kidney and liver damage, and skin irritation, and some are suspected carcinogens. Since air fresheners just mask smells and do not really freshen the air, it may be best to avoid their use, especially if household members have any underlying medical conditions.
- Natural Resources Defense Council: Protect Your Family from the Hidden Hazards in Air Fresheners
- Environmental Protection Agency: Phthalates Action Plan
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Scent-Free Policy for the Workplace
- University of Washington: Prevalence of Fragrance Sensitivity in the American Population
- Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia: Fresh or Foul? Air Fresheners in Public Spaces