Woman displeased with scent of air freshener

They say home is where the heart is, but homes can have offensive odors from pets, mold growth, poor ventilation, dirty bathrooms, and household waste. As a result, the global air freshener market is a booming industry expected to reach $27.7 billion by 2030, but many of these products actually contaminate indoor air and introduce toxic chemicals.

According to the EPA, indoor air quality ranks as one of the top threats to human health and is commonly 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Home cleaning products, including air fresheners, are some of the culprits that are polluting home air. Let’s explore why many scented mists, plug-in units, bathroom sprays, and car air fresheners harm human health and the environment and how to achieve fresher and safer air.

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Concerning Chemicals in Air Fresheners

There are numerous harmful and unsafe ingredients commonly found in commercial air fresheners. These are some of the most hazardous, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

You Can Freshen Indoor Air Naturally

Natural air fresheners contain no synthetic chemicals, are easy and often inexpensive to make, and you can tailor them to your scent preferences. Natural air fresheners include baking soda, essential oils, vinegar, potpourri, food-based scents, and activated charcoal. For example, bamboo charcoal bags or volcanic rocks absorb offensive odors without the use of synthetic fragrances.

Eliminate Foul Odors from the Home

One critical step for reducing or removing odors is to stop them at the source, instead of masking them with scented products.

Read Air Freshener Product Labels Carefully

Although many product labels may advertise they are “natural,” it doesn’t mean they are clean scents free of harmful ingredients. Synthetic fragrances are often labeled as parfum, fragrance, or aroma. Because the fragrance formula is considered a trade secret, manufacturers aren’t required to disclose its ingredients, which could include any number of concerning chemicals, including phthalates and benzophenone, in a petroleum base. Also, beware of products that use the words “warning,” “danger,” or “poison.”

Better Commercial Air Fresheners

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates air fresheners to help shoppers select more natural alternatives to toxic odor eliminators, air freshening mists, and linen sprays. Of the air fresheners it rated, 12 products scored an A, 33 received a B, and 245 scored a D or F. This highlights that although there are some safer alternatives, most air fresheners can harm the environment and human health. The following are EWG’s highest-rated air fresheners.

These products received an A from the EWG

These products received a B from the EWG

Homemade Air Fresheners

An easy and simple way to have safer air freshening products is to make your own with safe and natural ingredients. DIY air fresheners can also be economical and help you avoid packaging waste by refilling bottles that you already have around the home. Some of the best DIY air fresheners contain essential oils, baking soda, vinegar, and lava rocks.

Diffuse Essential Oils

Many essential oils have beneficial health properties that help relieve stress, induce sleep, rejuvenate, and promote mental clarity. Just boil a pot of water, remove it from the heat, and add a few drops of your favorite essential oils. Another option is to buy an essential oil diffuser that enables a slow release of essential oils.

Make DIY Home Freshener Sprays

These air fresheners are easy to make with water, essential oils, alcohol, and a repurposed spray bottle. The Prairie Homestead has some excellent recommendations on which essential oils to use, depending on the desired effect. For example, lavender and eucalyptus are calming, whereas mint and citrus are invigorating. So a lavender spray might be excellent for a bedroom, while a mint/citrus spray could be good for the kitchen, bathroom, or home office.

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol, vodka, or real vanilla extract
  • 10 to 15 drops of your favorite essential oils

Use a funnel to add all the ingredients directly into a spray bottle. Shake well and enjoy.

Choose Safer Ways to Freshen Home Air & Eliminate Odors

Store aisles are filled with dozens of commercial air fresheners, but many contain harmful chemicals. Thankfully, there are many effective strategies for naturally reducing or stopping offensive odors and using natural products to add scents. These simple actions help protect the environment while truly promoting indoor air quality.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.