Air Freshener Spray: The Safety of Febreze and its Toxic Ingredients
Why we love Febreze...or DO we?
We all have those days when we don’t feel like taking out the trash or cleaning the kitty’s litter box. Normally the odor from delaying such chores would become overwhelming, and urge us nose-first out of doors en route to the dumpster, offending substance in tow. But now, thanks to technology, the lazy segment of society has a new best friend: Febreze. The product that enables us to eliminate odors without moving a muscle—except those in our index finger--- and envelop our senses in the aroma of an intoxicating apple spice, lavender, or pumpkin mist.
No harm in giving that dirty laundry a squirt or two while you’re at it, misting the carrion-loving family pet, or sneaking a quick spritz on your child with the soiled diaper…right? Perhaps that’s going a bit far. But, aside from the obvious problems with these scenarios, a deeper, darker reason exists as to why Febreze should not be used around pets, children, adults, within homes, or anywhere, ever.
Febreze air freshening products have been proven not just unhealthy, but toxic. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which conducts research and scientific testing to identify health and environmental threats to the working community, analyzed Febreze Air Effects in 2009 to determine its safety as a school cleaning supply (1). EWG results reveal that this line of Febreze products, and therefore likely others, is unsafe not only in the workplace but in many other situations as well.
EWG’s test of FEBREZE AIR EFFECTS in HAWAIIAN ALOHA
The packaging of Febreze Air Effects in Hawaiian Aloha disclosed the presence of three air contaminants; EWG experiments detected 89. This means a total of eighty-six ingredients were not identified for consumers by manufacturers (1,2). Manufacturers instead used generic umbrella terms such as “fragrance” to represent chemical cocktails without naming their components, and despite any health risks associated with their use.
The EWG does state that many ingredients in generic air freshener “fragrance” have as of yet unstudied effects on health (2). However, others commonly present—such as phthalates and synthetic musks—may cause birth defects, allergies, and hormone imbalances (2).
Unidentified ingredients are not insignificant. Among the several found in Febreze Air Effects were substances linked to cancer and reproductive, brain, and nervous system toxicity, among other health problems (1). The public has inadvertently damaged its health due to vague, deceptive packaging and overly lax regulations which fail to mandate full manufacturer disclosure.
Fortunately groups such as the EWG can help by providing us the information we need to protect ourselves.
16 Potentially Toxic Chemicals
Here is a partial list of substances found in Febreze Air Effects:
Acetaldehyde is one of the ingredients found by the EWG that was not disclosed on the Febreze Air Effects label. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers acetaldehyde a probable carcinogen and it is also a classified neurotoxin, endocrine toxin, respiratory toxin, and immunotoxin (7). Animal-based studies linked its exposure to anemia and kidney abnormalities, and low birth weight, skeletal abnormalities, and postnatal death were seen in the embryos and offspring of mice after maternal acetaldehyde exposure (3).
Another undocumented ingredient, 2-ethyl-hexanol, is a skin and eye irritant as well as being irritating to the respiratory tract when inhaled, a quality it shares with acetaldehyde and with two other Febreze Air Effects ingredients: Benzyl acetate and Hexadecane (4,5,6). Benzyl acetate contact is a suspected risk factor in the development of pancreatic cancer (5).
Diethylene glycol monoethyl ether alters brain and liver mass and impairs sperm motility in laboratory animals exposed to high doses (8).
Dichlorohydrin, or 1, 3, Dichloro-2-Propanol, is considered moderately toxic when inhaled or upon skin contact; however, two humans died from hepatic failure after breathing unspecified amounts (9). Exposure shows a positive correlation with liver, tongue and oral cavity, squamous cell, and thyroid tumor formation in lab animals (9).
The acute inhalation of Denatured Alcohol vapor may cause lightheadedness, headaches, eye and respiratory tract irritation, fatigue, nausea, and convulsions (10). Longer exposure can permanently impair the central nervous system and result in vision loss, pancreatic damage, and death (10).
Linalool and Limonene, mixed with air, produce allergens that trigger allergic responses in susceptible individuals (11, 12). Linalool has also been associated with organ system toxicity (16).
Alpha-pinene causes respiratory irritation, skin allergies, and vomiting in lower doses and serious nervous system dysfunction at higher levels (13). Repeat exposure has been linked to bronchitis (13).
Buytlated hydroxytoluene, like several other ingredients, is an eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritant; however, its use has also triggered severe asthmatic responses (14). Laboratory testing indicates butylated hydroxytoluene causes cellular mutations (16).
Benzothiazole is the main chemical released into the environment from synthetic rubber turf and is considered a respiratory system irritant and a skin sensitizer (15).
Geraniol has been linked to allergies, is toxic to non-reproductive organ systems, and is considered an eye and skin irritant (16, 20). Products sold in the European Union containing geraniol require warning labels (18).
Butylphenyl methylpropional is another allergen used in perfumes and fragrances and for which the European Union requires a consumer warning (18).
Methyl pyrrolidone is a skin, throat, and eye irritant that can cause swelling of the skin after chronic, repeat exposure (17). Evidence suggests it may be a reproductive toxin and an immunotoxin (18).
Alpha-ionone is a respiratory system irritant that can cause damage to the lungs, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and central nervous system depression (19).
The TRUE Importance of this Study
Though this EWG study was done in 2009 and the specific formulation of the analyzed Febreze air freshener may have changed (possibly due to bad post-study publicity), it is highly unlikely that most of the suspect substances have been removed. (Current labeling as of February 2013 includes only 9 ingredients; this means either Febreze is still failing to disclose the full contents in its air fresheners or else it miraculously eliminated 80 of them).
The dangerous ingredients found are not unique to Febreze; they are components used by several other companies as well. Therefore the relevance of this study will never diminish as it points out the dangers in obscure labeling by huge corporations for the sake of profit and at the risk of the health of millions.
Through their research, the EWG has given these millions the opportunity to make an educated choice about whether to purchase and use similar and potentially harmful products.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.