Autumn 2013 True Natural Health Magazine – Your Questions Answered
By Roger French
QUESTION: I have read that many air fresheners contain toxic chemicals. I wouldn’t use air freshener, but the people at work want it, so can you tell me of a brand that is non-toxic and safe?
Yes, many do contain chemicals, some of which are outright toxic. Although the chemicals are highly diluted by the air in the room, we do breathe in a lot of air over months and years, so there could be health problems.
Air fresheners are usually either sprays or solid forms which release scents continuously. Both kinds emit heavily scented chemicals in the form of synthetic perfumes, such as musk, and other aromatic hydrocarbons, to mask unwanted odours.
“Many air fresheners,” reports National Geographic’s The Green Guide, “contain nerve-deadening chemicals that coat your nasal passages and temporarily block your sense of smell”.
Some of the most offensive ingredients are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), many of which have been linked to a range of diseases when inhaled over a long period, even in low concentrations. Particularly potent are pine, orange and lemon scents. VOCs include benzene and formaldehyde, two chemicals which can cause or aggravate headaches, nausea, nerve damage and cancer. VOCs can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions such as watery eyes and skin irritation, light-headedness and nausea. These chemicals can accumulate in the body and, most alarmingly, in the placenta.
The chemicals commonly used to disperse the active ingredients into the air are phthalates. These can cause hormonal and reproductive problems, birth defects and developmental disorders and cancer. A non-profit US organisation found that 12 out of 14 widely available air fresheners contained phthalates. To add insult to injury, some of these were labelled as “all-natural” or “unscented.”
A study of the safety of household products found that air fresheners were the worst offenders out of a range of products. The most serious problems occur when terpenes in air fresheners mix with ozone in the air. (Terpenes are plant compounds used extensively for their aromatic qualities.)
Most air fresheners have the potential to make people ill, especially people with chemical sensitivities. Studies show that pregnant women and little babies are particularly vulnerable to the potent cocktail of chemicals. One-third more babies suffered diarrhoea in homes where air fresheners were used every day, and they also had more stomach-aches, earaches and cramps. The mothers who used air fresheners daily suffered significantly more headaches and depression.
So what can we use safely?
Among the non-toxic alternatives, first and foremost would be opening a window or two, as nothing beats good ol’ fresh air. But in winter or polluted cities or with fixed windows, this is not an option.
Don’t underestimate the air-cleansing power of plants, which can filter toxins out of the air and release oxygen back into the air. Aloe vera plants can filter out benzene and formaldehyde. Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) and rubber tree (Ficus elastic) are especially good. Spider plants take out xylene and carbon monoxide. NASA (space agency) found that a single spider plant could absorb almost all the toxic chemicals in a room in 24 hours. And gerber daisies excel at removing the trichloroethylene gassing off from newly dry-cleaned clothes.
Aim to remove bad odours instead of masking them. Clean the source of the odour with non-toxic products. Empty the garbage frequently.
Here are some old-fashioned home solutions to neutralise odours.
Baking soda. Place an open box of this in a smelly room. Or fill a small spray bottle with four cups of water and four teaspoons baking soda, shake well, then spray in a fine mist.
Eucalyptus bunch. A bunch of eucalyptus leaves from your local florist packs a strong odour-fighting punch. A single bunch of eucalyptus made a room smell fresh for four months!
Tea Tree Oil. Fill a spray bottle with equal quantities of water and lemon juice and add a few drops of tea tree oil, which is strongly anti-fungal The aroma will be fresh, clean and non-toxic.
Organic essential oil. Mix a few drops of an organic essential oil (lemon, orange or lavender are popular) with distilled or purified water and spray with a mister.
Aura Cacia grapefruit essential oil. This smells sweet and citrusy. Mix it with baking soda and let its aroma waft through the room.
Cloves, cinnamon and/or fresh ginger. Simply boil in water on the stove.
Herbal bouquets. Leave these standing in open bowls so the fragrance can dissipate throughout the room.
Dried rose petals, pine cones or lavender florets. Place in a bowl and pour over 5 – 6 drops of an essential oil blend.
Lemons. To fill your home with a natural fragrance, cut four lemons into quarters and simmer in water on the stove or bake in an oven for about 45 minutes.
Pure beeswax candles with cotton wicks. Burn these to purify and clean the air.
OmniZorb Liquid Odour Eliminator. This is made from zeolite, an odour-free mineral that is safe for use by people with multiple chemical sensitivities. It doesn’t off-gas, and it neutralises most odours on the first application. Unfortunately, I can’t find a supplier.
Purchase a commercial non-toxic air freshener. Look for non-aerosol canisters and labels such as “Biodegradable”, “Plant-based”, “Formulated without synthetic fragrance”, “Hypoallergenic”, “Contains no formaldehyde or phthalates”.
Green, non-toxic air freshener (along with a wide range of cosmetics) is produced by an Australian firm, Miessence, which was founded in 2003. All Miessence products are organic and certified by BFA (Biological Farmers of Australia). The ingredients of the ‘Miessence Rainforest Air Freshener’ are purified water, aloe vera leaf juice (Aloe barbadensis), bitter orange fruit extract, blue cypress essential oil, Eucalyptus radiata essential oil, lemon myrtle essential oil and Sclerotium rolfsii gum
Miessence products are available from distributors. Go to www.miessence.com. Click on ‘Contact us’ and a panel ‘Store locator’ will appear underneath. Click on this, then enter your town/suburb and find a distributor nearest to you. It’s a very friendly website.