Air Fresheners Safety: Can Air Freshener Make You Sick?

If you have ever sprayed an air freshener and then felt a bit choked in its mist, you most likely have questioned how healthy the spray is. It’s not just aerosol sprays; plug-ins, electric wax heaters, candles and oil diffusers have also caused health concerns among users.

So should you be worried of what you chemicals are breathing in from an air freshener? Can air fresheners cause headaches? Can air fresheners cause cancer? Can air fresheners cause sore throat?

The bottom line is this: yes, you should be worried about the safety of air fresheners. They can cause headaches, dizziness, sore throats and nasal irritations. Some can even cause cancer.

Make sure you check the formulation of any air freshener before you buy it to make sure it is free of harmful ingredients that could put your health at risk and damage the environment.

You need to be especially careful if you have kids at home as they are at a higher risk of experiencing health side effects.

But don’t panic to the point of completely avoiding store-bought air fresheners. Even though most will still have a chemical or two that’s not so good, many studies have shown that exposure is too low to cause any harm.

Some Background

Aerosols were the first types of modern air fresheners developed for use at home. They became popular as manufacturers created a wide variety of fragrances.

But health and environmental concerns followed. So manufacturers have switched to what they say are safer ingredients such as essential oils and natural fragrances. Other types of air fresheners such as reed and oil diffusers, wax heaters and electric plugins have also gained popularity. They are viewed as being healthier than traditional aerosol sprays.

But ultimately, the ingredients are what matters. There are plenty of aerosols that are safe and healthy. A good example is the Febreze Air Freshener Spray that uses natural ingredients.

You may not feel particularly sick from using a certain air freshener but that doesn’t mean it’s not causing long term health damage. You may also be allergic to some air freshener ingredients even if they are natural. Some normally harmless chemicals may also cause side effects if you have an existing health problem such as asthma.

So check the ingredients list for any specific chemical that is likely to cause trouble.

The Chemicals To Be Wary About

The following chemicals are considered harmful by many experts. Take extra precautions when buying air fresheners with any of them.

1. VOCs

VOCs or volatile organic compounds are a group of highly volatile organic chemicals emitted by numerous products including many household items such as upholstery and cleaning chemicals.

While VOCs are not extremely toxic, some have long term health effects. Some are potential carcinogens while others can cause various symptoms including throat and nose irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue.

If possible, buy an air freshener that’s marked as VOCs-free. If you can’t find one, there are some precautions that will keep your family safe. Make sure you use the air freshener in a well-ventilated room, keep out of reach of children and pets, follow the label instructions and properly dispose used containers.

Additionally, avoid room air fresheners with dangerous VOCs such as formaldehyde, benzene and Perchloroethylene.

Note that even natural air fresheners that use essential oils or wax also emit significant amounts of VOCs. Take the same precautions as you would with any other air freshener.

2. Allergens And Irritants

If you have a diagnosed respiratory allergy or existing respiratory health problems like asthma or COPD, take extra care with air fresheners.

Even a simple common cold can be exacerbated by the ingredients of an air freshener. The problem is that most air fresheners contain irritants that can aggravate already inflamed airways. VOCs in the air fresheners, even if they are few, can worsen your health condition.

Depending on which health condition you are suffering from, you may be able to use certain air fresheners such as essential oils. For many health conditions, ask for your doctor’s advice and recommendation.

3. Phthalates

Phthalates are another group of potentially harmful chemicals found in cosmetics and plastics among other products.

According to the NIH, current levels of 7 common phthalates have minimal health effects though studies are on-going. But too much exposure to most phthalates can cause long term health problems especially in children.

The best advice: avoid air fresheners with phthalates since it’s hard to judge how much exposure you will experience.


As you avoid the most dangerous air freshener formulations, be careful even with those deemed ‘safe’. Make sure your home or car is well ventilated, don’t overuse them and now and then, open the windows and let fresh air freshen your home.

And if you experience a sore throat, dizziness, a headache or any other adverse symptoms, stop using that air freshener and look for some natural replacements.

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