Seventy-five percent of U.S. families use some form of air freshener to make their home smell fresh. The vaporized fragrance is diffused into the air to either mask unpleasant odors or to add a new pleasurable scent. However, those sweet-smelling homes may be filled with airborne toxins.
Some of the harmful substances that air fresheners disperse into the air include:
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs may be naturally occurring or chemically manufactured. Many VOCs cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. Long-term exposure may contribute to respiratory and immune disorders.
Often found in plastic products, phthalates are also found in many common air fresheners. Exposure to these toxic compounds is linked to lung and kidney disorders as well as abnormalities of the reproductive system.
Most commonly found in electric air fresheners, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Short-term exposure can result in eye, nose, and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, bronchitis, and dizziness.
Two Basic Types of Air Fresheners
While there are two basic types of air freshener, both are known to contribute to airborne toxins.
Instant Action Air Fresheners – Aerosols and diffusers fall into this category.
Continuous Action Air Fresheners – These products use a heat source to dispense fragrance. Scented candles, incense burners, wax warmers, and products that plug into a wall outlet fall into this category.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has conducted extensive research on air fresheners and air quality. One popular brand of air freshener was found to contain over twenty VOCs. Most air fresheners tested by the NRDC were found to contain levels of toxic phthalates, even some that were labeled “unscented” or “natural.”
How to Safely Control Indoor Odors
Thankfully, there are many ways to control or eliminate odors that are safer than chemical air fresheners. There are three basic strategies recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Source Control. The most effective way to eliminate odors is to remove the source. For example, the best way to avoid tobacco smoke odor is to not allow smoking indoors. Another example is mildew. If the moisture that causes mildew to thrive is removed, you no longer have to worry about offensive mildew odors.
Ventilation Improvements. Better ventilation will improve indoor air quality by diluting odors with fresh air. Effective ventilation measures include opening windows and outside doors, using energy-recovering ventilators, and other mechanical ventilation options such as range and bathroom vents.
Air Cleaning. An air cleaner can be an effective tool for controlling household odors. While many air cleaners remove particles from indoor air, most are not designed to eliminate airborne toxins like VOCs, phthalates, and formaldehyde. To control odors and other gases, quality air filtration is best done through the processes of adsorption and absorption. These processes cause molecules to attach to a filter medium. Activated carbon is the best absorption medium available.
Austin Air’s the HealthMate Plus HM450 and Pet Machine HM410 models are perfect for controlling indoor odors. With 15 pounds of quality activated carbon impregnated with potassium iodide, these air cleaners specifically target formaldehyde, phthalates, and VOCs in the air, leaving you with clean breathable, chemical-free air.