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EXPOSED: The Shocking Truth about Air Fresheners

Before you spray Febreze or plug in a Glade Plug-In, light a scented candle, or use some so-called air freshening wick, mist, aerosol, or other car or room deodorizer, think twice.  You’ll be shocked to learn their ingredients and the harmful effects they can cause.  That “Cleansing Rain,” “Summer Breeze,” “Fresh Country” or “Cool Morning Air” or “Berry Burst” might be having disastrous effects on your health or the health of your family, including children and unborn fetuses.

Hormone-Disrupting Phthalates:

The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC)—an international environmental organization—conducted a study called, “Clearing the Air:  Hidden Hazards of Air Fresheners” in which they found 86% of air fresheners tested contained dangerous phthalates. 

Phthalates are used as plastic softeners, anti-foaming agents in aerosols, in vinyl found in children’s toys, automobiles, paints, pesticides, and in cosmetics and fragrances.  According to the NRDC research, “Most phthalates are well known to interfere with production of the male hormone testosterone, and have been associated with reproductive abnormalities.” 

Numerous animal studies have shown exposure to phthalates descreases testosterone, causes malformations of the genitalia, and reduced sperm production.  Human studies link phthalates to changes in hormones, poor semen quality, and changes in genital formation.  Five phthalates, including one found in air fresheners are listed by the State of California as “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.”  Additionally, phthalates in air fresheners are associated with allergic symptoms and asthma, according to the NRDC.

Research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that the majority of the American population is routinely exposed to at least five different phthalates.  Their research also shows that even if the exposures are small (they may not be!), there is a significant health threat due to the combination of phthalates acting as a higher dose.

Hitting the Wal

No, that’s not a typo.  When I say “hitting the wal” in the context of air fresheners I’m referring to the extremely high amounts of phthalates NRDC found in Walgreens Air Freshener and Walgreens Scented Bouquet, along with Ozium Glycol-ized Air Sanitizer.  All three of these products had more than 100ppm—considered a high amount for exposure.  Walgreens Scented Bouquet Air Freshener had an alarming 7300ppm!

But Walgreens and Ozium aren’t the only culprits.  Here are the amounts of phthalates found by the NRDC in some of the common air fresheners:

Walgreens Scented Bouquet Air Freshener 7300ppm of DEP; 0.47ppm of DBP; 6.5ppm DMP

Walgreens Air Freshener Spray 1100ppm of DEP

Ozium Glycol-ized Air Sanitizer 360ppm DEP; 0.15ppm DMP

Glade Plugin Scented Oil 4.5ppm DBP

Glade Air Infusions 1.5 ppm DEP

Air Wick Scented Oil 0.75ppmDBP; 6.3ppm DEP; 1.6ppm DIBP; 2.1ppm DIHP

Febreze NOTICEables Scented Oil 0.19ppm DBP; 1.5ppm DIBP


What You NEED to Know:

DBP=di-butyl phthalate—has been linked with changes in hormone levels, poor semen quality, and changes in genital development.

DEP=di-ethyl phthalate—a reproductive toxin recognized by the State of California and the National Toxicology Program; linked to changes in hormone levels, poor semen quality, and changes in genital development.

DIBP=di-isobutyl phthalate—similar effects as DBP.  Has been linked to decreased testis weight and low testosterone levels in animals and changes in male genital development in humans.

DMP=di-methyl phthalate—insufficient testing to determine effects.

DIHP=di-isohexyl phthalate—known male reproductive toxin linked to birth and developmental defects.

Even in Low Doses:

Additionally, new scientific research has been disproving the outdated belief that “the dose makes the poison.”  In other words, that you have to have a high toxic exposure to have harmful health effects.  With the advent of newer testing equipment along with greater volumes of research scientists have disproved this belief, particularly with hormone disruptors.  Sometimes even seemingly miniscule amounts can have serious health consequences.

What You Can Do:

-Stop using “Air Fresheners,” “Air Sanitizers,” and “Air Deodorizers.”  Even many “natural” or “unscented products” simply use extra ingredients to mask the scents.

-Write to the Consumer Product Safety Commission asking them to ban hazardous phthalates in consumer products and requiring ingredient labelling of all consumer products.  Here’s the link to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and the e-mail for Canadian Consumer Product Safety division of Health Canada (

-Make office off-limits to so-called “air fresheners.”  If you’re not the one in charge at your office show him or her this information and request that they enact such a policy. 

For references or methodology on the NRDC study, click here.

Subscribe to my free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow me on Twitter @mschoffrocook and Facebook.  Copyright Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss the What’s Lurking in Febreze…

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