Paradoxically air fresheners pollute the indoor environment

Sir Chris Witty has said that air fresheners and wood burners are an air pollution risk. And that means they are a risk to both us and our companion animals. It is ironic that air fresheners can in reality make the air less fresh! The product is incorrectly labelled. It is misleading. Perhaps deliberately and if so, it points to the cynicism of big business in the UK. Their first priority is making a profit. Ethics are down the list somewhere.

Air fresheners are a potential health hazard for pets and their caregivers
Air fresheners are a potential health hazard for pets and their caregivers. Image: MikeB

Sir Chris Witty is the Chief Medical Officer for England. He is clear that parents of asthmatic kids should not use air fresheners.

Although he is reluctant to advise the UK government to issue warnings about the use of air fresheners because the current data is currently not strong enough.

I think one has to be very, very careful not to go ahead of where the evidence is but … I wouldn’t say to everyone, ‘don’t use air fresheners’ but I would say, ‘if your child has been in ICU three times this year, do everything you can to minimise the risk, here are some sensible things’. Actually, in the report we have laid out a section to allow doctors, nurses, others who are recommending, to say, ‘here are some common-sense things: candles, joss sticks, a variety of things which, actually, if you’ve got a very high-risk person… (removing) these could help to reduce your risk.”

Sir Chris Witty

Wood burners

Wood burners are worse. He told the Commons Environmental Audit Committee that there had been a 35% increase in “particulate matter” in air in British homes in the past decade. Seventeen percent of particulate matter comes from wood burners which people often have in the home for aesthetic reasons. The burning of dry wood reduces pollution by a factor of eight.

Witty believes that it is okay to use wood burner if you have to for practical reasons and use dry would as per Defra’s recommendations.

Hazardous chemicals in air fresheners

The University of Massachusetts Amherst tell us that although air fresheners ‘mask’ bad smells they don’t remove odours and they contain a variety of chemicals some of which are potentially hazardous. Although some air fresheners claim to remove odours, apparently it has not been verified scientifically.

The product is linked to elevated levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) e.g. formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes in the indoor environment.

Other chemicals might include: lilial, galaxolide, benzene methanol, musk ketone, butylated hydroxytoluene, linalool, phthalate, and limonene. Lilial is a chemical compound commonly used as a perfume in cosmetic preparations and laundry powders, often under the name butylphenyl methylpropional

These chemicals might cause headaches, nausea and irritation and other health problems. The fragrance dictates the composition of these chemicals not the type of air freshener.

Sometimes the chemicals react with the constituents of the air to create other pollutants. For example, reacting with ozone to create formaldehyde.

Other possible health impacts on humans and pets might be:

  • migraine headaches
  • asthma attacks
  • breathing difficulties
  • dermatitis
  • neurological problems in sensitive individuals.

Slow acting?

One study in the Journal of Toxicology, “Characterisation of air freshener emission: the potential health effects”, concluded that although the indoor use of air fresheners is increasing, “deleterious effects do not manifest for many years, making it difficult to identify air freshener-associated symptoms.”

They also mentioned that the causal relationship between air freshener chemicals and ill-health has not yet been fully identified.


In the United States, to the best of my knowledge, it is not mandatory for the manufacturers of air fresheners to disclose the ingredients on the label. And, a study tells me that fewer than 10% of air freshener ingredients are typically disclosed to the public while 20% of the general US population report adverse health effects from air fresheners.

The study also tells us that so-called organic air fresheners can also emit hazardous air pollutants. Air fresheners are used in many indoor environments including workplaces, schools, hotels, hospitals and care facilities as well as in homes.

As another study (“Ten questions concerning air fresheners and indoor built environments”) concludes that it is a paradox that products which are intended to improve the indoor environment actually worsen the air quality and create unknown health risks for those living inside the environment and this must include companion animals.

A short postscript: the air quality inside our homes can be worse than the air quality outside our homes. And the air quality outside our homes if we live in the urban environment can be quite bad. We owe it to ourselves and our companion animals to do the best we can to maintain good air quality inside our homes. An air purifier may help and we should consider other products such as cleaners which contain some nasty chemicals as well. Many products we buy such as furniture can contain fire retardants which are toxic. Although regulations have been introduced to ban fire retardant as I understand it. But then there are carpet chemicals to make the carpets longer lasting. These chemicals can also be toxic especially to pets because they spend a lot of time on carpets. I believe that there needs to be a greater awareness of the toxicity of chemicals in thousands of household products and how they affect us and our precious companion animals.

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Speciesism - 'them and us' | Cruelty - always shameful
follow it link and logo

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

At heart this site is about ANTHROPOCENTRISM meaning a human-centric world.

Post Category: Air pollution