NEWS

Safe scents: Freshen your home without harmful chemicals

Kathryn Sucich

There are myriad choices for home air fresheners, with scents ranging from citronella to jasmine to vanilla. They may smell sweet, but are they good for your health?

 Air fresheners can contain volatile organic compounds, such as formaldehyde, that experts say can be harmful. Jess Lerner, a green-living consultant in Brookline, Mass., and owner of Green on the Inside (www.greenontheinside.net), says if you’re concerned about the risks of air fresheners, there are natural ways to freshen your home.

Fresh air:

The best way to freshen your home is to get the air in. No matter the season, opening your windows and putting the fan on will get air flowing and help your home smell cleaner.

Essential oils:

Put a dab of an essential oil such as lavender or peppermint on a cotton ball, tissue or wreath to get a pleasant aroma without all the added chemicals.

Dried plants:

Take pieces of dried plants such as eucalyptus braches, pine branches or cloves and place them around the house. Make sure the plants do not create too much dust, which can be inhaled.

Neutralizers:

Use baking soda in the fridge or in trash receptacles to absorb bad odors. Surprisingly, you can also use vodka as a neutralizer, as the alcohol helps kill foul smells.

'Eco-friendly'

As for products that are marked “eco-friendly,” don’t take the label at face value, Lerner says. Steer clear of products that don’t have a list of ingredients. If the ingredients are listed, make sure there’s no formaldehyde or VOCs. And, in general, the longer the ingredient label, the less healthy the product.

Sidebar:

Health risks of air fresheners

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to volatile organic compounds can lead to adverse health effects. These include:

Irritation:

People exposed to VOCs can experience eye and respiratory tract irritation, skin irritation, nausea and headaches. In some people these manifest as allergic reactions.

Neural and organ damage:

Other people experience a more severe reaction due to prolonged exposure and could suffer central nervous system, liver or kidney damage.

Cancer:

Studies have shown that VOCs cause cancer in animals; they are suspected of causing cancer in humans.