To fight the odor that often accompanies a bathroom, air fresheners are subtly placed on the counter. To mask the smell of dirty socks, more are placed in the laundry room and bedrooms. To eliminate the everyday aromas from everyday living, cans are sprayed, and liquids and solids are laid out. Air fresheners are relied on in 75 percent of American homes. We love them. When we buy a new one, we rush home, anticipating the first waft of sweetly scented air. As we breathe in, we inhale hints of roses, berries, pine and toxic fumes.
A test of 14 different air fresheners revealed that 12 had varying levels of phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals found in children’s toys, cosmetics, sealants and paints, as well as air fresheners. In the European Union and 14 other countries, they are banned. Why? Exposure to phthalates has been associated with cancer, developmental and sex-hormone abnormalities in infants, and fertility problems. However, the FDA doesn’t see a need to mandate their use or require content labeling on products. So, every time we take a whiff of “fresh” air, we’re very likely taking a whiff of dangerous chemicals, completely unaware. The only way we can avoid the fumes is to avoid the products that have the most. Fortunately, Walgreens, the manufacturer of the three worst offenders, has pulled its fresheners from the shelves, and thanks to the test, we know that Febreze Air Effects and Renuzit Subtle Effects have virtually no phthalates. But, what about the other ones?
Until some kind of mandate is ordered, you won’t know which fresheners have the highest levels of phthalates. You can cross your fingers and hope for the best, or you can try different air-beautifying methods. Leaving fresh coffee grounds on your counter, grinding up a slice of lemon in your garbage disposal and sprinkling baking soda at the bottom of your trashcan will freshen your home naturally. And so will essential oils. Combining wood chips with your favorite scent will create homemade potpourri. Soaking cotton balls in the oil and placing them in vents or putting a few drops on a damp cloth near an air duct will send the delightful aromas drifting through your home. Life will smell sweet, and you won’t have to worry about any unnecessary chemicals.