There have been baby steps in the right direction—Reckitt Benckiser (RB), the maker of Lysol and Air Wick—recently announced it will be the first company to disclose fragrance allergens on its website for products sold in the United States.
Companies already have to do this when selling cleaning and air freshener products in the European Union. Lysol's parent company will now list allergens if they fall in the European Union's list of 26 specific fragrance ingredients, ones known to cause allergic reactions in the skin. Potentially toxic fragrance chemicals that could trigger other health problems like dizziness, migraines, asthma attacks, and blackouts don't necessarily have to be listed.
The moral of the story? It's great that companies are warming up to the idea if letting us know what's actually in the products they sell, but disclosing certain ingredients doesn't mean there aren't other potentially toxic, even more harmful ingredients inside of those air freshener bottles.
Unlike food producers, makers of cleaning products and air fresheners don't have to legally let you know what's in a product.
Air fresheners often contain a variety of hazardous ingredients that coat your indoor air with pollutants. "Generally, air fresheners, particularly the aerosol formats, are composed of propellants, petroleum solvents, and fragrance," explains Alexandra Scranton, director of science and research at Women's Voices for the Earth. Chemicals like petroleum distillates, butane, propane, 1,1 difluorethane, and others are common ingredients. "Safety Data Sheets associated with air fresheners routinely warn that exposure to the product can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as dizziness, nausea, and headache," Scranton adds.
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Lysol's announcement comes a year after Women's Voices for the Earth released its Secret Scents: How Hidden Fragrance Allergens Harm Public Health report, a roundup that highlighted the fact that tens of millions of people are suffering from fragrance allergies. Lysol's parent company announced it would remove the harmful antibacterial chemical triclosan from its products, too.
To help protect your family from potentially toxic air freshener chemicals linked to neurological problems, hormone disruption, and even cancer, consider ditching store-bought options and using these Women's Voices for the Earth–approved tactics for dealing with bad indoor odors:
• Put an open box of baking soda in your refrigerator
• Open windows to air out your home.
• Open the bathroom window to decrease humidity after a shower, deterring mold and mildew growth.
• Sprinkle baking soda or coffee grounds in your trash can to absorb bad odors.
• Add spices, such as cinnamon or vanilla, or cut-up fruit like lemon or apple to a pot of boiling water, letting it simmer on the stove.
For nontoxic (and cheap!) cleaning products that will help keep your home odor free, check out our green cleaning recipes.