It must have been a slow news day over at MSN because they headlined a story that was pegged to a study published in 2005 (as far as I can tell). Anyway, the point of the article was that air fresheners aren’t good for you. Hopefully this isn’t a revelation for anyone (You mean that pumping out volatile chemicals into my closed room isn’t good for me? Shocking!). Let’s list a couple of the chemicals released from air fresheners (gel, liquid, spray, scented candles, incense)
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Health Effects From the EPA:
Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.
Various allergens, including terpenes like limonene (give a nice fresh/citrus scent)
Benzene (known human carcinogen – very small cancer risk at the levels for most air fresheners, but it will still attack your bone marrow)
Styrene (long term exposure leads to thinking problems and other effects on the central nervous system)
Diethyl Phthalate (unless you’re using incense, you’d get a lot more from your cosmetics and personal car products)
Toluene (headaches, sleepiness, dexterity, memory, other narcotic effects, eye/nose watering)
Formaldehyde (damage to the nasal tissue, at increasing levels dizziness, altered breathing,…etc)
VOCs and benzene are over some countries’ limits but most of the others are not. Read this review for a good overview of what we know – and don’t – about air fresheners. Even for the chemicals under the health limits, it seems a bit silly to me to be paying to put these chemicals in your house.
Want your house to smell better? Open some windows. Clean. Then bake an apple pie. I’m serious.
PS The study they pegged it too doesn’t have a whole lot to convince even though the conclusion is probably correct. They asked people who have asthma or other breathing difficulties if they had trouble breathing after being around an air freshener. That seems like a bucket load of bias there.