Have you heard the shocking truth about air fresheners? Protect your family from harmful chemicals and choose these safer, non-toxic air fresheners today!
You know what I love?
How our sense of smell is tied so much to our memory.
The power of certain scents and fragrances to transport you all the way back to another place, in another time – it’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?
Warm banana bread straight from the oven instantly brings me back to my childhood; spending my weekends at grandma’s house, baking sweet treats and eating way too much chocolate for my own good.
Fresh cut grass always takes me back to hot summers and splashing around with the sprinklers in the backyard of our home in the Chicago suburbs.
A new box of crayons… Fresh pencil shavings… My mom’s old perfume… Our sense of smell is unbelievably powerful!
But you know what’s even more powerful?
Artificial and synthetic scents and fragrances.
Spring Rain. Fresh Linen. Hawaiian Breeze…
Sure, they sound nice and inviting, but the truth is the word “fragrance” has now become a sort of euphemism for the more than 3,000 different chemicals that make up fragrance compounds.
So what’s the problem?
While they may smell nice, the harmful effects these products have on our health and the environment would shock you. Here’s why scented products, especially air fresheners, should really be avoided at all costs:
- They release harmful particles into the air, called volatile organic compounds, which according to the EPA can cause respiratory irritation, headaches, liver and kidney damage, and even cancer.
- They contain phthalates, which are known to “cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems.” (source)
- And if the product uses an aerosol spray, it also contains propellants like butane and propane, which come with their own list of dangers.
Not to worry, because thankfully there are several options for nontoxic air fresheners to keep your home and living spaces smelling clean and fresh.
I’ll start with five DIY and homemade options, since most of our readers love making their own products. And then we’ll explore some options that you can find in natural/health food stores and online.
Finally, at the very end, there’s an entire section that talks about candles and why I don’t recommend using them, except for a select few safer options.
But before I get to the list, a few things to remember:
- Nothing is healthier or smells better than clean, fresh air. So when possible, try airing out your home by opening up the windows and turning on the fan to circulate the air. Did you know indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air? Sounds crazy, but it’s true!
- Air fresheners aren’t the only products with synthetic fragrances; they’re also in your cleaning products, laundry products, and bath and body care products. So while switching out your air fresheners is a great first step, you also want to start thinking about switching to the fragrance-free version of your other products.
- Remember how strong and powerful our sense of smell is? Depending on how long you’ve been using these products (for most of us, that’s decades!), it will take some time to retrain your senses to appreciate and fully enjoy the more natural and non-toxic air freshener options below.
And one more thing: this post has hours and hours of research behind it, so it’s very LONG. I’d suggest skimming through it the first time just to get a feel for what’s covered, and then going back through it again to focus on the specific parts that work for what you’re looking for. 🙂
So let’s get started! What are your options for non-toxic air fresheners?
Non-Toxic Air Fresheners You Can Make
These homemade options are fairly simple and easy to put together. They use ingredients that you most likely already have on hand (or can easily find), and the best part? They don’t cost much.
1. Carpet & Room Deodorizing Powder
These carpet and room deodorizers are so easy to throw together and can be used in two ways: either sprinkle them on your carpets before vacuuming for a quick, refreshing pick me up; or place them in small rooms (like bathrooms or closets) to absorb odours. Add some essential oils for a light, refreshing scent. Get the recipe here >>
2. Air Freshener Spray
I keep one of these natural air freshener spray bottles in each bathroom for a quick, easy way to freshen up the bathrooms. With three small children sharing one bathroom, weird smells are just a part of life around here. This spray has been a life saver on many occasions. It’s also great for sprucing up a bathroom before guests come over. Get the recipe here >>
3. Reed Diffusers w/Essential Oils
Reed diffusers are all the rage these days, but the questionable ingredients in those “fragrance” oils are enough to make your head spin. Artificial fragrances are the worst offenders in household products, so a natural alternative is key.
This homemade reed diffuser solution uses essential oils for fragrance and a few other easily-sourced ingredients. These are best used in small enclosed spaces, as they’re not powerful enough to scent a large room. Get the recipe here >>
4. Stove Top Simmer/Potpourri
This is one of my favourite ways to liven up the home/kitchen, especially during the cold winter months when we can’t open the windows to air out the house! And it’s so easy to put together.
You’re just throwing a bunch of spices, herbs, or some fruit peels into a saucepan with water, and letting it simmer on low for as long as you wish. You can also use a small slow cooker for this! This works really well for getting rid of kitchen odours, and is a wonderful way to give your home that comfy, cheery, holiday feel all year round. Get the instructions here >>
5. Car Air Freshener
You know those pine trees that once hung from the rear view mirror of practically every car on the road? Apparently, people have been making a DIY version for years, and it looks pretty easy! Just make sure to use essential oils, not perfume oils or anything like that. Get the instructions here >>
Refilling a Plug-In Air Freshener (Please do NOT do this!)
Apparently people are refilling their plug-in fresheners with a number of combinations of essential oils, carrier oils, water, and even alcohol. That last one scares me because alcohol is highly flammable!
A reader emailed me about this recently, and here’s what I had to say about that:
So here’s the thing, after doing some research on this, my short answer is that I personally would not attempt this in my home. Here’s why:
First off, it’s not as simple as just putting some essential oils in the container and plugging it in. You would need to mix the essential oils with a carrier oil – something that would carry the essential oils into the air and keep them there. Finding the right carrier oil to use in a plug-in has proven difficult…
What complicates the whole thing, mainly the carrier oil issue, is the fact that we’re plugging this into an electrical socket. We have to consider the flashpoint of any oil we use – the temperature at which it would effectively become flammable. This is the scary point for me, because if the device becomes faulty, or any oil manages to drip onto the socket and come in contact with the electrical current, it can very well go up in flames.
I’m honestly not trying to scare you, but I do want you to consider these things when thinking about this. So I can’t in good conscience recommend trying this as the risk is just too high.
Long story, short: please do NOT attempt to refill your old plug-in air fresheners with anything other than what they were intended for. There are lots of blogs out there recommending this and showing you exactly how to do it, but I personally cannot and will not endorse this.
Non-Toxic Air Fresheners You Can Buy
If the homemade route is not your style, or you just can’t be bothered (I hear you!), there are still several options you can buy either online or at your local health food store.
1. Non-Toxic Air Freshener Spray
It took me way too long to find a truly non-toxic air freshener spray! So be forewarned that it’s very hard to find them.
Thankfully I learned about this amazing company – Grow Fragrance – which is the real deal! Their air + fabric fresheners are truly all-natural, and made with 100% plant-based ingredients. I’ve personally vetted every ingredient, and can confirm that they all score very low (1-2) on the Environmental Working Group scale.
They’re very pleasant and not at all overwhelming, like conventional air fresheners. With scents like lavender, bamboo, and citrus, there’s something for everyone. Oh, and they offer free shipping and free returns, so you’ve got nothing to lose. 🙂 Try them here >>
I recently discovered this new brand, CleanClean, which makes a few odour removers and neutralizers with essential oils. They have a multi-purpose freshener, and two odour neutralizers (one fragrance-free, and one with a scent) which seem to work great for shoes and sports equipment. CleanClean is worth checking out as well.
Looking for more air freshener options? I’ve curated a list of over 25 brands of non-toxic air fresheners in my new book, Journey to a Non-Toxic Home, including options from North America and Europe to Asia, Africa, and Australia. Check it out here >>
2. Charcoal Air Purifier
These air purifying bags are filled with activated charcoal, which not only eliminates odours and allergens, but also absorbs excess moisture to prevent the growth of mold, mildew and bacteria (so they’re great for basements!).
This is your best choice if you just want to get rid of odours, without actually introducing any new scent into the air. They’re great for bathrooms, closets, cars, etc. Get them here >>
3. Ultrasonic Diffuser (for Essential Oils)
My favourite option for non-toxic air fresheners! These electronic diffusers use just regular tap water and essential oils. They work by sending tiny, ultrasonic vibrations into the water, which then breaks down the essential oils into micro molecules and projects (diffuses) them into the air.
They come in different sizes depending on how big of a space you want to diffuse – 100mL is good for a small room or office; 500mL is good for the main living space in a house.
There are so many brands to choose from so take some time to read reviews and choose the ultrasonic diffuser that best suits your needs.
Diffusers are especially great during cold/flu season for diffusing germ-fighting and therapeutic oils like peppermint, tea tree, thieves blend, orange/lemon, lavender and more. And they act as a cool mist humidifier to add some moisture to the air during the dry winter months.
4. Portable Diffusers
If a standard diffuser is more than you need, say for a small space or when you’re on the go, I found a few options for taking your air-freshener wherever you go! I haven’t yet tried these options, but I did read through the reviews (which are awesome), and now I can’t wait to get my hands on some of these!
This is a locket that attaches to your car’s A/C vents (much like the standard car air fresheners you can find in stores). You just add a few drops of your favourite essential oils to the reusable/washable felt pads (it comes with 8 pads), pop it in to your vent, and you’re good to go! Get it here >>
This is a new product from Plant Therapy (aka my favourite source for essential oils). It plugs into any USB outlet, like on your laptop, a wall adapter, or with the included 12V car adapter, so you can diffuse practically anywhere!
It has a small bottle that you fill with your favourite essential oil, pop it into the diffuser, then plug it in. You can then set it to your desired interval so it will diffuse every 10, 30, or 60 seconds. What’s great about this one is that it requires no water, unlike some of the other USB diffusers I came across. Get it here >>
5. Essential Oil Burner
These essential oil burners are fairly inexpensive and pretty easy to find in stores, making them a great option if you’re just starting out in aromatherapy. You just place a small tea light candle in the bottom part (find safe and non-toxic candle options in the next section below), add some water and a few drops of your favourite essential oils to the top part, then light the candle and let it go to work. This was the first kind of diffuser I ever owned, and while I really enjoyed using it, there are a few things to consider:
First, because it uses an open flame, it needs to be kept away from children and pets (which is why I’ve stopped using them since having kids). Also, while they do diffuse a nice scent, it can be pretty light and it doesn’t last that long. And lastly, heat can be harsh for essential oils as it can compromise their therapeutic properties, making them less potent.
That being said, this is still a great option for non-toxic air fresheners just because of how easy it is to set up. And they can be very pretty works of art too. You can find these burners locally at your big box store or I’ve even found them at the thrift store! Or get it online here >>
What About Scented Candles?
I know how much we all love those wonderfully scented candles and waxes that seem to come in every delicious and comforting scent imaginable.
I can still remember my excitement as a teenager, taking my allowance and going straight to that bath and body store in the mall with all the amazing scents and flavours coming from their lotions, candles, and body washes. Mmmm…
But fast forward to lots of research and many years later, and I know much better now.
The problem with most candles
Whether they’re scented or not, the problem comes down to the ingredients used to make them (surprise, surprise!). Most candles are made from paraffin wax, a petroleum byproduct, which releases black soot and toxic chemicals like benzene and toluene when burned. These chemicals are known carcinogens (cancer causers) and can aggravate conditions like asthma, lung and heart problems, and cause respiratory issues. (source)
And if that wasn’t enough, scented candles (which apparently create more soot than unscented) are also made with artificial fragrance oils and compounds. When these oils are burned they release even more harmful particles into the air.
But there are safer, non-toxic candles
Although most candles on the market are made from paraffin wax, you do still have options. The safer alternatives to paraffin candles are those made from beeswax, soy wax, or sustainable palm oil.
- Beeswax candles are my personal favourite choice. Beeswax is used in it’s original state, without any bleaching or chemical processing to clean it up. It also has a long shelf life so it won’t go rancid anytime soon. As an added bonus, beeswax can also help improve your indoor air quality by releasing negative ions into the air, which bond to the positively charged particles in mould spores, dust, and other air pollutants (much like how electric air purifiers work!). They can be a little more expensive than the other options, but they do burn for much longer so you won’t be replacing them as often. My favourite brand (Bluecorn) is here >>
- Soy wax candles would be my next best choice, and a great vegan option for those who avoid animal products. My only hangup about soy is that most soy grown in the west is genetically modified (GMO), and I’m not keen on supporting GMO farming. That being said, I don’t think using GMO soy in candles would cause any harmful effects. Some companies will blend soy wax with paraffin wax to make them less costly, so just make sure your candles contain only 100% soy. A brand of soy candles I highly recommend is Grow Fragrance, which I talk more about below.
- Palm wax candles are something new to me, but after doing some research I feel comfortable recommending palm candles as long as they are made from certified sustainable palm (to prevent deforestation and protect biodiversity).
These three options are great alternatives to the typical candles most people have burning in their homes. They burn cleaner, they don’t produce toxic black soot, and they’re much safer for both our health and the environment.
But what about the scent?!
If you’re just looking to recreate the nice mood and ambiance of a candle-lit room, choose an unscented version of one of those safe options, and you’re good to go. Beeswax candles actually have a very nice, light honey scent which I absolutely love because it’s subtle and not overwhelming.
But what if you want to actually scent a whole room with the bright, colourful fragrances that you’ve been used to from your beloved scented candles?
This is where you have to be careful.
Just because you’re buying a scented candle made with soy or beeswax, doesn’t mean you’re completely in the clear. Many companies will still use synthetic fragrance oils to scent their candles. It’s just cheaper and more cost-effective for them, so it happens more often than not.
I’ve seen some candles that state “made with essential oils” on the label, only to find out that essential oils only make up part of their scent; the rest is, you guessed it – synthetic fragrances.
Is there such thing as a non-toxic scented candle?
Yes, there is!
Are they easy to find, affordable, and a practical option for regular use?
Not really. Now they are!
Grow Fragrance (the same company that makes my favourite air freshener mentioned above) has now come out with a 100% plant-based candle!
They’re made with a blend of soy wax and coconut oil and scented with 100% essential oils and plant extracts.
But here’s the best part about these candles:
They’re crafted in an environmentally-responsible way. What does that mean? The candles are poured into a 100% recyclable aluminum insert/refill which fits right into their reusable pure concrete vessels!
Not only does this save waste from going to the landfill, it also cuts the cost of production and shipping, so they can pass those savings on to their customers. You buy the vessel one time and then continue refilling it with new inserts as they run out. Pretty cool, right?
Some candle safety tips:
- Avoid super cheap or imported candles, like those found at the dollar store.
- Avoid candles with a metal wick, as they can contain lead. Unless your candles are very old, you most likely won’t come across these, but just in case.
- Make sure you’re burning your candles in a well-ventilated area, i.e.: not in a tiny room with no windows.
- If you choose to continue using regular candles made with paraffin and synthetic fragrance, use them very minimally and sparingly – like a few times a month at most.
What about wax melts? Or those gels? Or…?
I know there’s no shortage of clever and revolutionary air freshener products out today. I’m sure there are things I’ve never even heard of before!
But here’s the thing.
You’ve got to err on the side of caution here. Regardless of what the latest and greatest air freshener claims to be, you must do your own research before accepting their clever marketing tactics. If you’re thinking about a specific product, let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help point you in the right direction to make the best decision for your family.
We all love to enjoy a nice scent in our home, and there’s nothing wrong with that! But we do need to be more conscious of the products we bring into our home. Because that nice scent is definitely not worth the harmful effects that come with some of these conventional air fresheners.
Thankfully, you have lots of options for non-toxic air fresheners; you just have to find the ones that work best for you.
Your family’s health and well-being depends on it!