Are Air Fresheners Really Fresh?

By the time I got home from a ride in my friend’s car one day, my lungs felt tight and I was coughing.  I knew immediately the air freshener in the car was the culprit, one of those new clip on air fresheners filled with a “scent” to eliminate car odors like food, dirt, and cigarette smoke.  I decided I must post about this on my blog!

Car air fresheners have gone from pine-scented cardboard cut outs of trees that dangle from the rear view mirror to the new plastic (more plastic!) containers filled with chemical scents.  They clip on the air vent and are activated with the airflow.  There are several brands with enticing names like Meadows and Rain, Hawaiian Aloha, or Linen and Sky complete with adjustable dials to control “freshness”.  The Febreeze ad says, “In just a few moments, you and your passengers can all breathe happy.” I was not happy!

A basic gel fragrance air freshener.

The chemicals used in air fresheners are anything but fresh and do nothing to improve the quality of the air.  They just mask the odors and in fact can be quite toxic.  The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that most air fresheners contain phthalates, which are at the center of a large debate about their negative health affects.  High exposure to certain phthalates, also found in cosmetics, nail polish, paint and other everyday items, can cause cancer, developmental and hormonal abnormalities and can affect fertility.  One of the active ingredients found in mothballs, 1,4 dichlorobenzene, is also found in some air fresheners.  The EPA lists this ingredient as toxic since its vapors can affect respiratory function.  There seems to be a correlation with air fresheners and asthma, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health Sciences. Other known ingredients that cause serious health issues are formaldehyde, acetone and terpenes.  According to, “These chemicals contain pollutants that, when mixed with ozone, cigarette smoke or dust can cause breathing complications, headaches and damage the central nervous system.”  What’s worse is that companies aren’t required to list the ingredients if the product is labeled a “fragrance”.

Air fresheners are everywhere – in the home, office and car.  It is estimated that around 75 percent of American homes use some form of them, which amounts to more than $1 billion in profits for the industry. The best air freshener for your car however, is rolling down the windows. You can also easily make your own– a sachet with natural potpourri or dried lavender flowers, baking soda poured into an old sock and placed underneath the seat, or a piece of felt scented with a pure essential oil.  You control how much scent you want!

Play it safe and do away with air fresheners!

Information compiled from,,


11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by amy nachman on September 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    now it makes sense – i visited my elderly father and his cleaning lady had plugged in these plastic glade contraptions all over the upstairs bedrooms. i awakened in the middle of the night with constridted breathing and smelled some type of kerosone odor, bit i bet it was the “moth ball ” ingredient you speak of. it was so disgusting! i love air through the open window when i sleep & drive !


    • Thank you Amy for responding! I’m glad I was able to help. This is a far more serious issue than people realize and the problem is magnified in the confined space of a car. Happy and clear breathing!


  2. Posted by gail on September 26, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    I placed an air freshener in my downstairs musty bathroom(Island Living-no windows)It masked the odor but left me gagging-thanks for your advice


    • Thanks for commenting and glad I could be of help. A natural potpourri is a much better solution. Or what about a few drops of an essential oil of your choice poured over sea glass and set in a lovely little dish?


  3. Good to know, Betsy.


  4. I despise air fresheners. When we first moved into our new house two years ago, it smelled great and then I decided it was far too perfume and fake after a day or two here. I began discovered that every room had one of those plug-in electric air fresheners in it! I immediately pulled them all out. We grow sage and we dry that and burn it whenever we want to freshen and purify. Thanks for posting this.


  5. You are welcome.


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