Americans are obsessed with odors. Just look at the thousands of scented products lining store shelves--air fresheners, scented laundry soaps and dryer sheets, scented body washes and perfumes—the list goes on and on. The problem is, these efforts to manipulate odors are increasing indoor air pollution, contributing to chemical sensitivity, and worse—releasing cancer-causing chemicals into the air.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that people spend 90% of their time indoors, but indoor air quality can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Ironically, many of the scented products we use to “improve” the air around us are actually adding to indoor air pollution as these products are loaded with undisclosed chemicals.
A study led by the University of Washington discovered that 25 commonly used scented products emit an average of 17 chemicals each. Of the 133 different chemicals detected, nearly a quarter are classified as toxic or hazardous under at least one federal law. Only one emitted compound was listed on a product label, and only two were publicly disclosed anywhere. Research is finding that many of these scented products interfere with our hormones, which regulate how our bodily systems function. This can increase the risk of diabetes, some cancers, obesity, thyroid disease, and all sorts of ailments.
In another study, researchers found that toxic chemicals typically found in vehicle exhaust are being released from household dryer vents when consumers use popular scented laundry detergents and dryer sheets. The dryer loads emitted seven hazardous air pollutants, including benzene and acetaldehyde—two compounds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists as carcinogens. (There's no safe exposure level for these air pollutants.)
Fresh air without the toxic fumes
Fortunately there are safer alternatives to these chemical fragrances. Here are a few tips and strategies to keep your indoor world smelling fresh:
- Sprinkle baking soda in the trash can, laundry hamper or other smelly areas to neutralize odors.
- Open the windows and “air out” your home on occasion.
- Do not allow cigarette smoking indoors.
- For a safer home fragrance, use natural essential oils with “stick” diffusers. If you prefer candles, natural beeswax or soy candles that incorporate essential oils are also available.
- With regard to personal care products, avoid those that list any of the following in the ingredient list: fragrance, perfume, parfum, linalool, and limonene.
- Use “green” cleaners to keep your home looking and smelling clean without all the toxic fumes.
- Let dry cleaned items air outdoors before bringing them inside. (Dry cleaning solvents can be toxic to breathe.)
- Use borax (sodium tetraborate decahydrate), another household product, in your laundry to deodorize your clothes. Borax also helps boost the power of your detergent.
- White distilled vinegar can also be used as a pre-wash deodorizing spray on color-safe clothes.
- To make your own natural dryer sheets, add a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil, (i.e. lavender, verbena, etc.) to an old sock and turn inside out to prevent oil transfer. Herbal laundry sachets are also available in stores.
- You might also want to explore blending your own combination of essential oils to create your own “signature scent” as an alternative to store-bought perfumes.
With colder days just around the corner, the quality of the air in your home will be even more critical to your health. Discover more tips for improving indoor air quality here.
The Daily Green
American Lung Association