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Phthalates: The Dangers of Air Fresheners

Air fresheners: Stalwart champions of clean-smelling homes, furniture, and fabrics. When you’re fighting the effects of a backed-up sink, spilled trash, or just a wet dog, the first thing we do is turn to an aerosol freshener, oil diffuser, or scented candle. But scents aren’t just better air, they contain particles of trace chemicals designed to smell or act a certain way. While some are fine and made from natural products, others can become a problem when used in high concentrations.

The Danger: Phthalates

Phthalates (thal-ates) are a family of chemicals which increase the flexibility of plastics. Unfortunately, they’re also contained in synthetic air fresheners as a dispersant and suspension agent. These chemicals help maintain the uniformity of whatever compound is being used, giving it an even release of pleasant scents.

Unfortunately, you’ll also find that these chemicals, useful as they are in countless products, have a distinct negative effect on human biology when absorbed. Different phthalates have differing effects, but overall they tend towards being a developmental and reproductive toxicant. What does this mean? It means that exposure to phthalates can lead to developmental issues for children, specifically if exposed during the pregnancy.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has put together an informative pamphlet detailing the specific linked effects of certain phthalates and which air fresheners contain the highest or lowest concentrations of the chemical. Included in their list are two air fresheners which contain no phthalates according to their tests.

Healthy Alternatives

As an alternative, you can avoid the dangers of air fresheners entirely by not using air fresheners at all. Many of the foul scents and odors in your home come from something. Airing out your house will remove the airborne odors, but you’ll still need to remove the source of the smell. If it only occurs when your ventilation unit is active, have your vents inspected and cleaned to remove the source of the odor. Look for exposed sewer pipes or black water lines if there’s a waste-water smell. Clean up any garbage, laundry, or pet waste that’s been left behind (it doesn’t matter how strong your cat litter’s odor fighting power is, it won’t last too long).

Once you’ve cleaned up the source, air out your house and try one of these methods to remove the bad odor from the air:

Air deodorizers come in more than just aerosol sprays. A common household care trick involves damping a rag with vinegar and waving it throughout the house. You can also use large amounts of powdered baking soda (which will need to be cleaned up later) or a charcoal-activated deodorizer. The charcoal route is a bit more expensive, but they’re delivered in smaller containers, require no waving, and are far more effective than baking soda as a deodorizer.

Heating natural oils will fill your home with better smell. If you like a certain type of smell such as peppermint or cinnamon, heat a small bowl of oil extract or simply place a stick of cinnamon in a cup of water and heat the water. In the same way that cooking fills your home with the fragrant scent of food, heating these oils without the chemical preservatives and accelerants of oil diffusers, will fill your home with clean, pure fragrances.


Cassel Home Comfort Heating & Cooling is committed to being your best HVA/C contractor choice in Central Illinois in both Value and Customer Service! Call us to maintain your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in the Champaign, IL area: (217) 866-1596.

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