Are air fresheners are toxic? | An industry trade secret

By Lace / November 1, 2017
are air freshners toxic

Are air fresheners toxic? Surely, not you’d think. After all, these fragrance products are everywhere and we are exposed to them all the time. Plugins, candles and sensor sprays. You know the ones. Usually placed inconspicuously, it sprays when you least expect it scaring the bejesus out of you right before you suffocate in the subsequent chemical onslaught… Ugh! I mean if the scent of these products can overpower you like that I wonder – what’s in them and are they good for health?

Well, it turns out the fragrance industry isn’t as sweet smelling as it seems. Air fresheners and home fragrance products contain toxic chemicals and the truth is they are making us sick. The interesting part is, the fragrance industry is not obliged to tell you. It’s a secret but the cat is out the bag. I’m going to walk you through some of the common nasties in air fresheners. Once you discover what lurks inside them you’ll think twice about using them in your home. Don’t worry,  I’ll show you some great non-toxic alternatives too. 

Fragrance. An industry trade secret.

Fragrance companies tend to consider their ingredients ‘trade secrets’ and because of this, they are under NO obligation to disclose ingredients lists. That would ruin the secret after all. Think KFC and their secret eleven herbs and spices, you get the idea. Knowing what is in them would probably put you off consuming them both too!

These companies can get away with elusive labels like “fragrance”  while you, the customer is none the wiser to what you’re spraying and exposing yourself to. 

What’s more is the fragrance industry is self-regulated so we can expect practically no regulation at all. After all, how many multi-million dollar corporations can you recall voluntarily investigating themselves and coming back to admit there’s a problem..?

The sheer amount of chemicals bouncing around the fragrance industry is frightening. There are literally thousands of chemicals being used in various combinations to make what is only labelled “fragrance”. lab chemicals

Did you know a single air freshener can contain 200 of these compounds to create its scent? 200! With that number of ingredients in one ‘fragrance’, I want disclosure.

How can you make an informed choice about using these products without knowing this vital information? You can’t. 


Rather than go through each chemical individually, let’s take a look at some of the most common ingredients floating about in “fragrance” and inform ourselves a little. Then we’ll in a better position to make an informed decision about continuing to use the products containing it.


You’ll recognize these bad boys from the “new” smell when you step inside a new car or unwrap a new sofa. Often found in plastics, pesticides, cosmetics (including toxic sun cream) and you guessed it – fragrance.

What’s the problem with phthalates?

  • Endocrine disruptors
  • Hormone destruction
  • Associated with birth defects
  • Cause reproductive harm

Looks like phthalates earn a place on the ‘ nope’ list.


1,4 Dichlorobenzene is used in the manufacture of the notorious pesticide DDT. If you weren’t aware DDT is banned in many countries including the UK and US. You can bet your bottom dollar inhaling this stuff isn’t going to do anyone favours. Yet 1,4 dichlorobenzene is in your air freshener. Let that sink in for a moment. These nasty compound attacks smell receptors in the nose, dumbing down your sense of smell.

So that odour you’re hoping to be rid of when spraying air freshener hasn’t been ousted at all. Instead, you just can’t smell it because your smell receptors are away with the fairies. That’s not right, surely that’s the illusion of freshness. That is deception. Not cool. 

What’s the problem with 1,4 Dichlorobenzene?

  • Irritates eyes, nose and throat.
  • Endocrine disruptor
  • Hormone destruction
  • Cell damage/mutation

This stuff does not belong in your home. Kick it out.

Ingredients derived from the Petroleum industry – Yuck!

A whopping ninety-five percent of the chemicals making up the ingredient “fragrance” is derived from petroleum. This includes the benzenes and the aldehydes, all known to cause disease, reproductive harm and damage to the central nervous system. Why, oh why then are these chemicals in air freshening products and only being labelled as “fragrance”? Each time that Fresh Linen lets one off beside you it’s giving you a dose of this crap. Ugh! Ditch it.

Non-toxic alternatives – there’s loads!

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. Safe alternatives are out there in abundance. Hurrah! But what are they? Don’t worry, I’m going to arm you with non-toxic options to keep your home smelling it’s best. No deception involved. Just good, honest, safe alternatives.  Once you ditch the crap you never go back.

Note: I’m a Neals Yard Remedies Organic (NYRO) Independent Consultant. Some alternatives I’m sharing are Neals Yard products with links to my online shop.

Essential oils – Scents With Benefits

For aeons various traditional medicine practices have employed essential oils for good reason, they truly are scents with benefits.  They are extensively used in aromatherapy for their wonderful smells and therapeutic properties and their scent is nothing like the assault of synthetic fragrance.

Not sure which oil to choose? Choose a scent you already enjoy. If you like Lemon Fresh? Why not try lemon essential oil instead? Or select one for its therapeutic properties. Here’s a (small) selection I use regularly:

Neals yard essential oils

  • Frankincense – Relieves stress and anxiety. Aids pain and inflammation.
  • Eucalyptus – Great for clearing sinuses. Promotes easy breathing.
  • Black pepper – Supports the immune system. Aids digestion and respiratory problems. I found this particularly helpful diffusing at nighttime when we had a cold.
  • Ylang Ylang – Promotes calm and relaxation. I love this scent.
  • Jasmine Absolute – Aids skin rejuvenation, menstrual and labour pain.

I like to have essential oils blends on hand too and particularly like Neals Yard Nighttime blend with lavender, balsam, vetiver, rose and bergamot. The scent is delicate and soothing and we all sleep well after diffusing this that’s for sure.

RELATED: New to diffusing? Here’s 9 reasons to start using one.

If you’re feeling creative how about creating your own custom blends? It’s fun and the combinations are endless so you’ll never get bored.

TIP! Read up on essential oils before use.

Learning about essential oils

Essential oils are natural with an array of benefits and they are powerful, some are not recommended for use in babies, children, pregnant women for example. I like to use books for reference, there’s nothing quite like taking a good old fashion book off the shelf and leafing through it or using the index to look something up although the internet is just as useful one just can’t beat a good book in my opinion. One of my favourite books on the subject is The Fragrant Pharmacy. It’s  comprehensive solid reference book for both beginners and seasoned essential oil users and a great addition to any natural medicine library. Alternatively,  Neals Yard Remedies Essential Oils Book is another great resource that’ll have you well on your way to using oils safely in no time.


DIY Room Spray

While making the switch to non-toxic air fresheners I experimented with homemade room spray. Using just a few simple ingredients you can knock simple recipe together in just a few minutes and it doubles as a  fabric freshener too. If you can kill two birds with one stone why not? Before we get into the recipe it’s worth noting there are no preservatives in it so shelf life will be shorter than what you are used to.  To counter this make it in small batches to avoid wastage. Ready to save cash and start preserving your health? Give this recipe a go. 

Air Freshening Mist DIY Recipe

Ingredientsdiy room spray

  • 100ml filtered water (I use water from my Big Berkey)
  • 4-6 drops essential oil of your choice. I like geranium and lime.
  • 100ml amber glass bottle with atomizer


  • Add essential oils to filtered water in an amber glass bottle.
  • Secure with capped atomiser lid.
  • Shake to combine.

Shake well before use and store in cool dark place. Spritz and enjoy.

Frugal Tip! Reuse your amber bottle for the next batch! Just give it a good clean between uses. This is especially important if you change oils.

Reed Diffusers

Have you ever seen those pretty wooden sticks in a  bottle of oil? That’s a reed diffuser and when the oil in them is free of synthetic fragrance they can make gorgeous air fresheners. When the scent starts to fade simply turn the reeds over to refresh the scent. Replace the reeds and refill oil as necessary.

reed diffuserIf you’re not sure where to get reed diffusers free of synthetic fragrance consider Neals Yard Remedies. The balancing blend of patchouli and bergamot is lush!

Diffusing – Keep Your Home Fresh Without Using Chemicals

Did you know some of the chemicals in synthetic fragrance can cause negative changes in blood pressure, mood and even trigger migraines? Essential oils, on the other hand, have therapeutic effects. A few drops in an essential oil diffuser can positively impact mood and see you waving goodbye to that air freshener induced migraine.

RELATED: Benefits of an essential oil diffuser? 9 reasons you absolutely should have one!

We use an ultrasonic diffuser. Simply put, an ultrasonic diffuser emits electrical frequencies to create vibrations in the water. These vibrations vaporize the essential oil on the surface ejecting a light mist into the air. With no heat involved the therapeutic properties of the essential oils are preserved so you can benefit from them. Plus I adore the scent of ylang-ylang, jasmine absolute and patchouli wafting around the lounge.

The moral of the story

Air freshener products are toxic. Plain and simple and the ingredients pose a significant risk to our health. Phalates, benzenes and aldehydes; are known to be hazardous but seemingly that’s ok as long as they’re being passed off as ‘fragrance’. Petroleum-derived compounds are not meant for inhalation either. They definitely qualify for a place on the ‘nope’ list. Ditch them pronto. You won’t look back. Invest in your health, it’s all the wealth we need and the only type that really counts. What do we have if not our health? 

And the next time you’re unlucky enough to catch a whiff of Fresh Linen; you’ll remember why you quit. After wrinkling up your nose and coughing.

Ready to make the switch? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Share we me below, I’ll be happy to get back to you.

Stay blessed.



About the author


Wife, mother and natural health and wellness enthusiast. When I'm not dabbling in natural stuff, I like to eat brie with onion chutney and mull over a good "coincidence" theory. Cooking up a nutritious storm, books with real pages and being barefoot are a few of my favourite things.

  • Charlotte says:

    I agree.
    There is so many bad products out there that they just use advertising to lie to us.
    Id rather stay on the organic healthier side of things. Thanks for this post.

  • Lace says:

    Hi Veronica,

    Yep, some products contain 200 chemicals in just one ‘fragrance’. This doesn’t include the other ingredients like propellants etc.

    No need to feel foolish, we all have to start somewhere. Once you’re aware you can act on it.

    If you like Lavender try the essential oil instead. It’s anti-bacterial, reduces anxiety, promotes relaxation and sleep. It’s a fantastic all rounder really.

    Brilliant to hear you’ll be making more conscious choices. Health is wealth, Veronica. Take charge of yours and stay blessed.


  • Dr. Doug says:

    Thank you, great article. I ban fragrance from my 4-plex and its right in tenant’s lease agreements. I did this without even knowing the terrible things that are in that stuff so thank you greatly for letting me know. DDT, are they kidding us? I can only get in cars 5 yrs and older so no new car for me ever and its only about the fragrance they use! This seems like a disability, but its been a blessing in disguise cuz it alerted me to this problem. And yeah, frankincense rocks! One question about diffusers, does the fine oil spray not eventually coat everything?

    • Lace says:

      Hey Dr Doug,

      Fragrance is scary stuff eh! In answer to your question about diffusers. You only need a few drops of essential in the diffuser so oil build up on surfaces has never been an issue in my experience. Just wipe down surface as usual and it’s all good! Let me know how you get on.

      Bright Blessings,


  • Being a scientist myself, I really enjoyed the scientific nature of your article. It is definitely eye-opening to see what is inside the air fresheners.

    • Lace says:

      Hi Radha,

      Yes, the ingredients in these products is just shocking! What type of scientist are you? I studied forensics for a while some years ago.

      Bright blessings,


  • Hi Lace,

    Great post! I agree with you 100%! These companies are virtually the same as Big Pharma with their toxic supplements, pills and drugs. None of them are safe but they seem immune from from any true scrutiny.

    Making your own is definitely the way to go. Just like having fresh fruit and vegetables instead of processed rubbish.

    Cheers, Kev

    • Lace says:

      Hey Kevin,

      It’s so refreshing to hear from other kindred spirits! I share your sentiment completely. It’s up to us to scrutinise ingredients in the things we put on and in our bodies.

      Here’s to homemade and homegrown!

      Bright blessings,


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