Clean Has NO Smell: What’s in that Air Freshener Anyway?

by CeCe Mikell, Institute for Service Excellence

As a kid, I was assigned the chore of cleaning the whole house between getting out of school and when Mom got home on Friday afternoons. It didn’t take me long to discover that her satisfaction level with my cleaning had more to do with the power of the “smell” of the house than the actual cleanliness. What took a little longer was learning the precise proportions of bathroom cleaner, lemony furniture polish, and pine-y floor cleaner.

What neither of us knew at the time was that those smells weren’t cleaning anything, least of all the air in our home.

The Green in Hygiene recently published a summary review of several studies of the chemicals used in air fresheners, to disastrous results for the common health:

“An analysis of more than a dozen common household air fresheners found that most contain chemicals that may affect hormones and reproductive development, particularly in babies…” (National Resources Defense Council)

In fact, many of those chemicals are known carcinogens. Carcinogens cause cell mutations that lead to cancer.

A number of studies have looked at more direct relationships between the chemicals present in air fresheners and other scented products and certain short and long-term health effects:

The fact is, when you spray something in the air, you are ADDING to the contaminants already there: the dust, the viruses, germs, and bacteria, the microscopic flakes of dead skin, and more. What you spray doesn’t disappear into a vacuum; it evaporates…into smaller particles that you breathe into your lungs and into your body and absorb through your nasal lining and cornea and “eat” every time you open your mouth to speak and get “air” on your tongue.

And it’s not just air fresheners: laundry detergent, scented candles, furniture polish, hand soap…anything that has a scent, whether created synthetically or naturally, is suspect. Limonene is a naturally-occurring molecule with a citrus scent and is most frequently the source of the lemon scent you smell; it is also identified as an unclassifiable carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the US EPA. You see, just because an ingredient occurs naturally in our environment doesn’t mean it is safe for our bodies or homes.

Here’s the kicker. None of these products are required or even encouraged by any legal body to disclose their full ingredients, as we have with food labels. When they list “fragrance,” that could be one or 1000 ingredients combined to create that signature smell you think means “clean”.

So the next time you stop to choose which fragrance smells the best or which to add to your unscented cleaner, think twice.

Clean is the absence of added smells and odors.

Otherwise, you’ll just be wiping up those dry lemon-scented flakes the next time you dust the house to add more.

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