We all appreciate an odorless environment and a clean, fresh scent. Most household and business restrooms provide an air freshener in an attempt to make your experience more comfortable, and yet we see information like this coming from the National Resources Defense Council: “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…” And to add to that, many common chemicals used in popular air fresheners contain carcinogenic “hazardous air pollutants”. Let’s take a closer look at these chemicals and see if there are any alternative air fresheners that are safer – and greener – for the environment.
A recent study by Anne Steinemann, a University of Washington professor of civil and environmental engineering, tested six top-selling laundry products and air fresheners to see how many different chemicals were emitted – and how safe they actually were.
“I was surprised by both the number and the potential toxicity of the chemicals that were found,” Steinemann said. Chemicals included acetone, the active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover; limonene, a molecule with a citrus scent; and acetaldehyde, chloromethane and 1,4-dioxane.
Nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from the six products, and none were listed on any product label, she said. Plus, five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic “hazardous air pollutants,” which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level, Steinemann said.
For those who aren’t as fluent in scientific speak, volatile organic compounds are the small molecules that evaporate from the product’s surface into the air and many VOCs are dangerous to human health or cause harm to the environment. While this study does not look at the links between exposure to these chemicals and the effects on the health of those exposed, two national surveys published a couple of years prior by Steinemann and a colleague found that “about 20 percent of the population reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and about 10 percent complained of adverse effects from laundry products vented to the outdoors. Among asthmatics such complaints were roughly twice as common.”
If you need any further proof that common air fresheners can put you at risk, here are a variety of studies to look into:
- Chemicals in Many Air Fresheners May Reduce Lung Function – National Institutes of Health
- New Study: Common Air Fresheners Contain Chemicals That May Affect Human Reproductive System – Natural Resources Defense Council
- Toxic Chemicals Found in Laundry Soaps and Air Fresheners – Live Science
- Study: Exposure to common air fresheners can cause allergies, asthma – Natural News
While some companies are making their MSDS files (where the chemicals used in making their products are listed) open to the public, there are still many chemical ingredients kept hidden on popular products. Our suggestion? Find odorless or low-VOC air fresheners to help protect yourself, your loved ones, and even your customers. Low-VOC products are the best alternative and are available in today’s market. Of course, keeping your facilities and these areas clean and checking in on a regular basis will help to eliminate the odors that you may be trying to mask or neutralize anyway. However, there are some situations and odors that you cannot simply clean away – especially depending on the area (restroom, gym, changing room, auto shop, etc.) and the smells generally associated with the job.
One line of air fresheners that provides a variety of scents which are all low-VOC is that of Workplace Essentials’ Freshaire and EcoAire.
Freshaire is a super efficient, contemporary air freshening system, ideal for busy restrooms, changing rooms, reception areas, locker and meeting rooms. The Freshaire Mist delivers a fragrance at preset intervals that freshens around the clock, while Freshaire Essence uses a microfiber wick that emits a continuous, light citrus scent 24/7.
EcoAire is also a contemporary air freshening system but takes the environmental and health safety aspect one step further. In addition to being made with low-VOC ingredients, EcoAire is also DfE compliant (the U.S. EPA’s Design for the Environment program).
So what should you do with all of this information? Start reading the ingredients list on all your air fresheners (and any products with a scent, for that matter) and even go online to the company’s website to see if they list their MSDS for any chemicals that are not listed on the ingredients list that could be harmful. Not only will you be protecting yourself by getting low-VOC and/or DfE compliant air fresheners, but you will be protecting those around you – customers, family, friends, children and adults alike. The more comfortable an environment is to a customer’s/friend’s senses, the more comfortable they are going to be investing their money, business, time or friendship with you.