The Danger of Air Freshener and 10 Alternatives for a Great Smelling Home


You’ve probably seen the commercial: A mom walks into a teenager’s room, takes a sniff and tells him no “nice” girl would ever want him because his room smells like (shocker!) teenage boy. She tells him it’s time to “wash” his room and hands him a bottle of Febreze, which he proceeds to spritz on every stinking surface in the room, from his pillow to his bed. In the next scene a girl walks in, sniffs around, and decides the boy is all right. There’s so much wrong with this commercial, I could go on for hours… but I want to focus on the one that is going to have a long-term effect on health: air fresheners. They can be quite harmful to your health, and the same can be said about disposable diapers.

I always gag when I walk into a Febreze-sprayed room. The worst is when the cleaning crew uses it like crazy in actors’ trailers, and then we have to sit in there all day.

Air fresheners come in many different forms, from air and fabric sprays to plug in “burners” to solids. While they can perfume the air of your home, they don’t actually neutralize smells and they can wreak havoc on your home’s air quality.

What’s in Air Freshener

According to the EPA1, air freshener contains four basic ingredients: formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, aerosol propellants, and p-dichlorobenzene.air freshners cause bad health

Formaldehyde can cause a number of health effects including:

  • Watery eyes
  • Burning eye, nose, throat and other mucous membranes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Asthma attacks

Petroleum distillates come from petrochemical manufacturing, which contribute to air, soil, and groundwater pollution. The effects on human health include:asthma can cause asthma

  • Respiratory problems
  • Asthma
  • Chemical pneumonia
  • Pulmonary damage

Aerosol propellants can harm earth’s ozone layer. Likewise, they can damage human health including:

  • Increased cancer risk
  • Breathing problems
  • Development of chronic health issues

Paradichlorobenzene (p-DCB) is often found in mothballs and may cause:

  • Anemiaskin damage from air freshener
  • Skin lesions
  • Liver damage
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes to the blood

Of course, air fresheners also contain fragrance, often in the form of perfumed chemicals.

Indoor Air Quality

your homes air qualityIt’s quite ironic, really, that something designed to “improve” indoor air quality by making it smell better actually winds up making your home more toxic. Studies show that use of air fresheners in the home can trigger asthma and allergies, along with other breathing problems. Because your home is a relatively closed space, adding elements that diminish air quality can harm your family and contribute to the toxic brew of chemicals that wind up trapped in your system. Air fresheners can also harm pets, which have a faster metabolism. They may also be especially dangerous for people with pulmonary conditions such as asthma, allergies, or COPD.

Alternatives to Air Freshener

Everyone’s home can get a little stale from time to time. If you’d like to sweeten your environment, however, you can make far healthier choices than air fresheners. Here are a few windows for home air quality

1. Make a pomander. Stud an orange with whole cloves and cure it in the oven on low heat for about an hour – or place it in a paper bag somewhere cool and dry for about six weeks. Hang it with a ribbon or set in a pretty bowl to sweetly scent the area.

2. Open the windows. Every house can benefit from a good airing out. On a day with good air quality and a slight breeze, open your windows for a few hours. Open windows on all sides of the house to create a cross breeze that gets air moving.

3. Simmer spices. You can simmer spices such as whole cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg on the stovetop or in a simmering pot.

4. Odor absorbers: Use a neutral odor absorbent such as a box of baking soda in a stinky area, or sprinkle especially smelly spots (such as the garbage can) with a little vinegar and baking soda.

5. Vinegar can remove odors from surfaces when you spray a little on and wipe it up.natural home air freshener

6. Create your own potpourri from bulk herbs, flowers, and spices and leave a little in a bowl.

7. Use essential oils. Dab a little on a light bulb or a warmer to gently scent a room.

8. Put a little citrus peel down the garbage disposal and turn it on to de-stink your drain.

9. Eliminate cooking odors by placing a shallow bowl of vinegar nearest the scent.

10. Soak a cotton ball in vanilla and place it in a bowl where you want your home to smell better.

Try these natural options- and ditch the toxic, store-bought air fresheners!



Last updated: Friday, June 19, 2015
  • Lindsay

    One of my favorite methods is a combination of some of your suggestions. I took a pretty bowl and filled it with a cup of baking soda, and put it in the room where I keep my cat’s litter box. Then I put a few drops of eucalyptus oil (you can find this wherever you get essential oils) on the baking sods and stirred it up.

    As an air freshener, it lasted for months.

    • Kimberly Snyder

      That’s a great idea! My favorite essential oil lately is lemongrass. :)

  • Jen

    Kim I love that you are addressing this topic. I have switched over to using baking soda, lemon, and vinegar for various cleaning around the house. I look forward to trying your ideas for natural air fresheners, I especially love the clove studded orange.
    Thanks again for all of your amazing work. Your book and blog are truly inspiring.

    • Kimberly Snyder

      Thank you so much Jen!
      I am happy you are putting some of the ideas into practice.
      Good for you. xx

  • Julie Stewart

    Wow, thank you for saying this! Air fresheners in the home and at work can be overpowering; however, to me the worst place of all to have to endure the smell of them is at the gym, believe it or not. Not to go on a rant, but I used to belong to an “exclusive” ladies’ health club that used all kinds of plug in air fresheners…finally I left, primarily for that reason. No matter what you are covering up, it’s going to be worse if you spray a bunch of formaldehyde and p-dichlorobenzene around.
    Thanks for the advice about the pomander. We used to make those in Campfire Girls years ago, and I had forgotten about them. I think I will make one and give it a try.
    What about incense – how healthy or unhealthy is that?

    • Kimberly Snyder

      Yes, toxic air fresheners are so oppressive.
      I love incense, but I use them when with an open window or door. I’ve heard the Nag Champa brand, which I use, may be less toxic than other incense brands. xx

  • Diane

    Hi-do you know where to find simmer poys not made outside the U.S.A? Thank you so much. Blessings, Diane

    • Rhea

      Shop around on Etsy and find a seller in the US. I’ve seen some awesome handmade burner pots there. I have a mortar and pestle for my herbs from an artist in the midwest, and I buy candles regularly from a lady in Virginia. You’ll find something artisan-made and one-of-a-kind, not mass-produced by an American company that outsources so they can sell at lower production cost.

  • Diane

    sorry of course meant simmer pots….not poys!

  • Stephanie

    wow! Thank You so much for the article! I’ve been guessing that air refreshers cannot possibly be “natural,” but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Now I know great ways to get rid of smell :)

    • Kimberly Snyder

      Yes try some ideas!

  • barbara

    That’s one Thing I do not understand about Americans. their Love with Air Freshner or Candels.Keep it natural,open the Window, keep your place clean and remember it is not only you but also your Pet which will suffer from the Chemicals.
    Great Article Kimberly, keep the good work up and the Public informed

  • jade

    Great suggestions! What are your thoughts on the air fresheners in health food stores; are they any better off?

    • Kimberly Snyder

      Some are citrus essential-oil based, and are okay. Check labels!

  • Em

    Hi Kimberly – just bought your book and have a few questions if you don’t mind?

    Firstly, what are your thoughts on using natural organic carob power?Maybe as an alternative to cacoa powder?

    Also, I ordered some Athletic Greens powder a couple of days before I bought your book. You may have heard of it, its a powder that contains a bunch of mostly organic raw greens, fruits, pre and probiotics etc. Will this be ok to take on your program?. While it is just made of fruit and vege i checked the ingredients and it does contains 233mg of rice bran powder and 400mg of organic flaxseed powder per serve. Is this going to be a problem with food combing as it’s mixing with fruit? I hope i can use it as it cost me $80 ekk!

    Also I found some chocolate at a local store (I’m from New Zealand!) which is raw, organic, 85% cacao and sweetend with organic coconut nectar, instead of cane sugar. Would this be ok for a treat 2-3 times a week?

    Lastly, I have read your book through, but a wee bit confused on this one. I know nuts and seeds are a protein, so does that mean I shouldn’t eat them with my carbs like sweet pototao and quinoa? Or since they are kind of a fat too are they ok to combine? Like is it ok to have almond milk with my oat grouts or buckwheat grouts? Oh and how come we can have almond milk and watermelon together in the slushie recipe?I thought all fruit must be eaten on it’s own?

    Phew! sorry this turned into a bit of a novel, but if you could help me out with these questions i would be so thankful! Just really want to get healthier and make sure i’m doing everything right!


    • Kimberly Snyder

      Hi Em,
      I’m a big fan of NZ! I’ve been to North and South Island. :)
      Carob is a wonderful (and caffeine-free) alternative to cacao. I use it sometimes as well.
      Coconut nectar is a fantastic sweetener choice, as it is low in fructose and high in minerals and amino acids.
      I used to have the same question about almond milk- but Dr. Ann Wigmore said that b/c the almond milk is blended, broken down and fiber removed, it combines okay with some fruit. I usually combine almond milk with acai, which is a fatty fruit, and it definitely works great with buckwheat.
      Nuts would ideally be separated from sweet potatoes, b/c that would be a very heavy meal.
      Watermelon would ideally be eaten on its own, but the slushy is a great treat sometimes, especially for those transitioning! I usually make it now w/coconut water. Hope this helps! xx

  • Jane Williamson

    you didn’t mention the lampe berger…..used in France over a hundred years ago to disinfect hospitals and still available.
    we use ours all the time-just plain rubbing alcohol and a few drops of essential oil if you like a scent

  • KaseyRae

    How about lighting incense or soy candles?

    Love the pomander idea!

    • Carla Campbell

      Or beeswax candles?

    • Kimberly Snyder

      Great! I use a lot of beeswax candles.

  • sheila maniam-seiler

    What about Yankee Candles or any natural candles? I also have one of those water containers where I add drops of essential oil into the water and light a tea light under to fragrance the house? I also use incense sticks but I suspect this is not good.

    • Kimberly Snyder

      Those containers are great, if I am thinking of what you are talking about. See my comment above about incense. xx

  • Mary

    Hi Kim,

    I love you book, especially the GGS (Green Glowing Smoothie).
    Thank you so much for this article. Which essential oils do you suggest?
    I have a question about Zico Coconut Water, is it good and safe to drink for teenagers?
    You have been to Puerto Rico, Where can I find healthy foods, where are the best places to see and stay.


    • Kimberly Snyder

      HI Mary!
      I am sort of obsessed with this lemongrass essential oil the massage therapist for the film in Atlanta I just worked on gave me. I also love lavender.

      I prefer brands like VitaCoco now over Zico, which are hydrating for teenagers.

      There’s a lot to see in PR! If you go to San Juan stay in the old part. You can get young coconuts everywhere. I love the rainforest too. xx

  • charmagne

    i love putting essential oils (like clarity or purification) on the air filter every time we change it! works great!

  • Jennifer

    Be careful of coconut water. Contains natural sugars. I used to drink a lot of it. I got 3 cavities in 3 months. I floss daily, I’m a dental hygienist! I drink cucumber, cilantro water now!

    • Zeph

      Did I miss something? What does drinking coconut water have to do with home fragrance? Also, I don’t think you can blame your cavities solely on the consumption of coconut water. That is ridiculous. That said, cucumber and cilantro water sounds wonderful.

  • Michie

    Have you ever heard of Lampe Berger? They look like perfume bottles and purify the air in your room, while imparting a scent if you so choose. They started in France in the 1800s (I think) in hospitals to purify the air. As a bonus, they come in really beautiful shapes.

  • Tammy

    What about diffuser oils? Are they nothing but indoor pollutants as well?

  • Sam

    Are the fragrance spheres they sell at Yankee Candle stores healthy to be breathing in?

  • Ash

    I am also curious about Lampe Berger. I have chemical sensitivities but need something for my allergies.

  • john

    Ha open your windows why so you can have car pollution come in thats genius

  • Rania

    Absolutely love this! Thank you for sharing these tips. I have children and we don’t use chemical air fresheners. It’s enough we are so much at risk on a daily basis with all the pollution. Nevertheless, I’m a lover of aromatherapy/essential oils at home and wherever possible. One of my greatest challenges was finding a good way to use aromatherapy in my car where my kids, dog and I spend much of our time. I did find a car air freshener product (FINALLY) that is very much in line with what you recommend and so I’m glad I was at least aligned with your recommendation! I will also be trying out your hanging orange idea :)

    Thanks again!

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  • Lulu

    Vanilla extract diluted with water in a spray bottle is my favorite!


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  • Andrew Lambert

    It pains me to imagine what I’ve always sworn by (air fresheners) could incur some detrimental damage on my health as well as my loved ones’. :/ God knows what they really contain :( thanks for this one!

    • Kimberly Snyder

      You’re welcome, Andrew! Yes, they are yucky :(

  • Jessy Gothworth

    I always use essential oils for home air fresheners, sometimes in combination with baking soda and vinegar they work as sanitisers as well.

  • jo rita

    I have cats and my house smells because of this. Is it safe to use a diffuser and what kinds of essential oils could I use to make my home smell good and not of cats. Thank you.