Pleasant-smelling but nasty

May 28, 2013

Why it’s wise to avoid commercial air fresheners

Some smells are not very pleasant: trash bins, dirty laundry, washrooms, pets and even kitchen projects gone wrong.  Air fresheners to the rescue, right?

Maybe not.  Commercial air fresheners are big business, but they’re not an especially healthy choice.

  • Most contain nasty chemicals like formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.  (According to Health Canada, the biggest indoor sources of VOCs are paints, glues, cigarette smoke and air fresheners.)
  • They must be airborne to work.  In other words, they are designed to be inhaled.
  • They don’t eliminate smells, they just mask them.  Some actually use a nerve-numbing chemical that interferes with our sense of smell; others coat our nasal passages with an oily film.  Yuck.
  • They can trigger asthma attacks in some people.  (There’s a reason for those workplace signs advocating going scent-free.)

The worst culprits are plug-in and aerosol fresheners.

So what to do?

  • Opt for natural ventilation, especially in spring, summer and fall.  It’s lilac season where I live, so it’s wonderful to let that great natural fragrance waft in!
  • Use baking soda to absorb smells; if you’d like fragrance, add a few drops of essential oil (available in many stores).  Coffee grounds work well too.

Read more about indoor air quality here, from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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