Home Aroma: Healthy, All-Natural Air Fresheners

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Always choose candles made with clean-burning wax, pure essential oils and lead-free wicks.
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Infusion Organique uses organic extracts and oils in its Acai Rain scent diffusers.

Consciously or unconsciously, we use our sense of smell to judge a home’s healthfulness and cleanliness, which is why retailers offer such a wide array of chemical sprays, gels, solids and plug-ins to scent our spaces. Three-quarters of all American homes are now scented with some type of commercial air freshener, an increase of nearly 30 percent since 1999.

Synthetic scents contain harmful chemicals. A study published in the Archives of Environmental Health linked chronic exposure to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in air fresheners to headaches and depression in new mothers and diarrhea and earaches in their babies.

Harmful VOCs in air fresheners include benzene and formaldehyde, which are byproducts of the manufacturing process. Benzene exposure can damage bone marrow, which can decrease red blood cells and affect immunity. Long-term exposure to airborne benzene has also been linked to increased risk of anemia and leukemia. Formaldehyde, a known carcinogenic neurotoxin, can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and skin.

Most air fresheners–even some labeled “all natural”–use phthalates as fixatives. Easily inhaled or absorbed through the skin, these chemicals accumulate in the body’s fatty tissue and liver, where they can remain for decades. High phthalate levels have been shown to cause low sperm counts and reproductive damage to male rat fetuses.

Natural scents

You can scent your space naturally without resorting to dubious chemicals. Pure essential oils not only smell good, but many–such as lavender or rosemary–can also affect cognitive function and mood.

Often available as a spray or for use with diffusing reeds or oil burners, pure essential oils are the volatile oils extracted from herbs, roots, barks and flowers. Unlike the synthetic fragrance oils used in conventional air fresheners, essential oils contain a blend of natural constituents.

To derive the full benefit from essential oils, make sure you purchase a pure product. Avoid products labeled as essence oils, perfume oils or fragrance oils. Look for color variations, and check the label for a statement warning against undiluted use. This indicates that you are buying a pure, therapeutic-strength essential oil.

For a healthier glow choose candles made from clean-burning waxes (such as soy, beeswax or palm wax) and scented with pure essential oils. Most inexpensive candles are made from paraffin wax, a petroleum byproduct that releases harmful compounds and soot as it burns. While lead wicks have been banned in the United States, some imported candles still have them. A University of Michigan study found that burning four metal-wick candles for two hours can spew enough airborne lead to pose a health risk. Check the label to determine where candles were made before you buy.

Try these simple steps to clear the air naturally:

• Open the windows. A cross breeze can carry away stale air and offensive odors.

• Identify and remove sources of unpleasant odors every day.

• Use baking soda and white vinegar to eliminate odors. Strategically place small dishes of one or the other throughout your home.

• Simmer spices such as cinnamon, clove or orange rind in a pot of water.

• Dilute a few drops of your favorite essential oil in water and store in a spray bottle. Use instead of a commercial air freshener.

• Scent small spaces with natural potpourri scented with pure essential oils.

Aromatherapy 101

Calm Down
Bergamot Citrusy
Clary sage Sweet, herbal
Rose Sweet, floral
Sandalwood Sweet, woody
Vanilla Sweet, smoky
Get in the Mood
Patchouli Heavy, earthy
Rose Sweet, floral
Ylang-ylang Heavy, floral
Wake Up
Clove Spicy
Geranium Sweet, floral
Lemon Citrusy
Peppermint Fresh
Relieve Stress
Cedarwood Sweet, floral
Clary sage Sweet, herbal
Geranium Sweet, floral
Lavender Fresh, herbal
Neroli Citrusy


Aura Cacia
aromatherapy air fresheners

Candle Bee Farm
beeswax candles

Dirt Candles
organic soy candles

Earth Solutions
aromatherapy room diffusers

Ecco Bella
room mists

Er’go Soy Candles
soy candles

Evergreen Candleworks
organic soy candles

Hammocks & High Tea
herb- and essential oil-filled sachets

Hillhouse Naturals
soy candles

soy and beeswax jar candles

Infusion Organique
candles, room sprays

Mia Rose
natural air fresheners

natural air fresheners

Pacifica Candles
soy candles

Soy Basics
soy candles

Sunbeam Candles
beeswax candles

Way Out Wax
aromatherapy and soy candles

Kim Erickson has been writing about health and environmental issues for 16 years.