A Breakdown Of The Different Types Of Air Fresheners

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Everyone wants to have a home that smells clean. Air fresheners promise to deliver on that desire with an array of products ranging from aerosol sprays to plug-ins to gels to candles.

The majority of homes in the United States have at least one form of air freshener, most commonly an aerosol spray. These products cover unpleasant bathroom smells, pet odors, leftover cooking smells, cigarette smoke and just about any other bad odor imaginable.

While air fresheners can make your home more pleasant by masking undesirable odors, there are many concerns about the health implications of using such products.

Commercial Products

There are so many commercial air freshening products available, many supermarkets and discount stores have an entire aisle devoted to this category.

  • Sprays are the most common formulation, with scents available in everything from tropical fruit to fresh linen. These quickly cover offensive odors when sprayed into the air, where droplets spread and remain airborne.
  • Plug-in fresheners use an electrical outlet to heat a plastic holder that contains a small gel or liquid filled container. These provide continuous odor control in areas such as the bathroom.
  • Gel fresheners can be found in plastic or decorative glass containers, and release fragrance through evaporation. These are useful in any area subject to bad smells.
  • Reed diffusers have become popular over the past several years. These consist of a small vase or bottle filled with fragrant oil, with thin bamboo reeds acting as wicks to distribute the fragrance into the room. Decorative in appearance, reed diffusers can be used in any area of the home.
  • Natural air fresheners contain few ingredients, usually just an essential or citrus oil, water and a natural emulsifier in a non-aerosol spray bottle. Use them for a quick cover-up of unpleasant scents.
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Around the House

There are many common, household items that can be used to freshen the air without the concerns of health issues that plague chemical products.

  • For the easiest relief from smelly air, just open your windows. Opening windows on both sides of a room will allow cross ventilation to replace stale indoor air with fresh air from outside.
  • White vinegar absorbs smells from the air, as does baking soda. You can pour a little bit of either of these in a small dish or bowl and set in an out-of-the-way spot around your home.
  • Simmer a pot of water with herbs such as cloves and nutmeg, or add a handful of cinnamon sticks or citrus peel.
  • Purchase your favorite essential oil and add several drops to a small misting bottle filled with distilled water. Replace your chemical sprays with this natural version.
  • Before turning on your lamp, rub a dab of vanilla extract or other essential oil on the bulb. Once the light is on, the heat will diffuse the fragrance through the room.
  • Set cotton balls soaked with pure essential oils onto a small plate or bowl and tuck around the house.
  • Fill small cotton bags with crushed dried herbs, rose petals or other natural potpourri, or fill an attractive bowl with petals to gently perfume the air with natural scent.
  • Although unattractive, charcoal briquettes absorb unpleasant odors without producing scent of their own. Fill a paper or cloth sack with the briquettes, and set in the corner of the laundry room, basement or pet area.


Candles are another tremendously popular way of freshening the air and spreading pleasant smells throughout the home.

If you are concerned about possible health risks of common paraffin wax candles, look for soy or beeswax candles with cotton wicks. These burn without releasing chemicals that can irritate the respiratory system.

  • Try burning romantic florals such as rose in the bedroom, spice blends with vanilla or cinnamon in the kitchen or living room, and clean herbal or citrus candles in the bathroom.

Health Issues And Concerns

The use of air fresheners has raised numerous concerns about health hazards caused by chemicals in the products.

  • In 2007, the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with several other organizations including the Sierra Club and National Center for Healthy Housing filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reporting their findings on a study of 14 commonly sold air freshening products.

Results indicated that 12 of the 14 products contained chemicals that can aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions, as well as disrupt normal hormone production in the body.

  • In 2008, a study at the University of Washington looked at top selling air fresheners and found that all of them gave off chemicals regulated under federal laws, including known carcinogens.
  • A study carried out at the University of West Georgia in 2009 reported that nearly 20% of the general public and 34% of asthmatics report headaches, respiratory distress or other health issues when exposed to air freshening products.

Symptoms that can be caused by inhaling the volatile organic compounds (VOC's) contained in most commercial air fresheners include:

  • Headaches
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Nausea
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Fatigue
  • Memory impairment
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Shortness of breath
  • Asthma and other respiratory system distress

Keeping your home smelling fresh and clean makes it a more pleasant place to be. You can have your home smelling sweet as a rose with sprays, candles, natural products, or just by opening the windows on a clear, dry day. Whichever you choose, your nose will thank you.

Last Updated: December 19, 2011
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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