Three out of four U.S. homes use an air freshener to fill a room or an entire home with a pleasant fragrance. This fragrance is produced by droplets that are vaporized and diffused into the air. Air fresheners can either mask an existing odor or add a new, pleasant odor into the home.
Unfortunately, that seemingly pleasant odor is often the result of very harmful substances that are being dispersed into the air. These include:
1. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs are manufactured and naturally occurring chemical compounds. Many VOCs cause respiratory and immune-system disorders.
2. Phthalates (pronounced “thal’-ates”). Thalates are manufactured chemical compounds used in many plastics. They are linked to liver, lung and kidney disorders. They are also associated with reproductive-system abnormalities.
Two air-freshener styles, both contain chemicals
There are two basic styles of air fresheners, both of which may emit VOCs and phthalates:
A) Instant action air fresheners are aerosols or atomizers that dispense when needed by pushing a button.
B) Continuous-action products use a heat source to vaporize the fragrance. Air fresheners that plug into the wall, scented candles and incense burners are also in this category.
Researchers at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) tested a variety of air fresheners for emissions of VOCs and phthalates. One popular product was found to contain more than 20 VOCs, many of which were toxic or hazardous. Twelve out of the 14 air fresheners tested by NRDC also contained phthalates, including products advertised as “all natural” or “unscented.” To learn more, visit the NRDC website.
Strategies to control indoor odors
There are effective ways to reduce or eliminate indoor odors rather than using air fresheners. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends three basic strategies for improving indoor air quality, including odors: source control, ventilation improvements and air cleaning.
1. Source control. Often the most effective ways to control odors is to eliminate them at their source. For example, the key to controlling mold and mildew is to eliminate the source of moisture upon which they feed. The best way to control smoke odor is to never allow smoking indoors. These are examples of source control.
2. Ventilation improvements. Better ventilation will help control and eliminate many indoor odors. This includes a range of options from opening windows and doors, when weather permits, to using energy-recovery ventilators as well as other mechanical-ventilation systems.
3. Air cleaning. While some air cleaners are effective at removing particles from the air, most air cleaners are not designed to remove gaseous pollutants including VOCs and phthalates. Air filtration to control gases (including odors) is accomplished through the processes of adsorption and absorption. In these processes, atoms or molecules of a gas or liquid adhere to a filter surface or are absorbed. The most effective adsorption medium is high-quality activated carbon.
IQAir recommends its GC MultiGas™ system to control odors. The GC MultiGas has four disposable gas-phase filter cartridges. These cartridges contain a total of 12 pounds of the highest-grade activated carbon. The GC MultiGas also contains alumina pellets impregnated with potassium permanganate. These pellets specifically target and absorb formaldehyde and other VOCs in the air.
For more information on controlling and improving Indoor Air Quality, visit the EPA online publication.