Nontoxic Air Fresheners: Remove Odors Naturally

Nontoxic Air Fresheners

It is estimated that 75% of US households use some type of air freshener.  Air Fresheners are among the most toxic products found in our homes. They are a primary source of 100’s of harmful volatile organic compounds VOCs and some of these create what are called secondary reaction products if there is ozone in the air. These are formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, glycol ethers, free radicals, and ultrafine particles. In addition to the health issues linked to synthetic fragrance recipes, the other chemicals used to make “air fresheners” have been shown to be toxic to pets, cause migraine headaches, earaches, metabolic syndrome, depression, breathing difficulties, loss of coordination, nausea, cancer, irregular heartbeat, diarrhea in babies, liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage.

Air fresheners come in many forms – sprays, gels, oils, hanging disks, potpourri, oil stick diffusers, air wicks, and plugins. Many of these continually put out fragrance into the home. Dr. R. Anderson, toxicologist, and president of Anderson Labs has studied the acute biological effects of polluted air on laboratory animals for 30 years. Anderson Labs (802-295-7344) tested air fresheners.  Each sample was placed in a closed box. Air was blown over the sample and mice were exposed to it. The following adverse effects were observed with the smallest quantity of freshener tested.  

  1. Severe pulmonary irritation was comparable to asthma in humans.  
  2. Sensory irritation increasing over twenty minutes, becoming severe and remained severe until the freshener was removed.
  3. Neurological impairments were so severe some of the mice were close to death. 
  4. Neurological effects which displayed as aberrant behaviors.  The EPA states if neuro-toxic effects are seen in animals, then neuro-toxic effects are expected in humans.

According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 86% of plug in air fresheners tested contain phthalates. Even trace amounts of phthalates interfere with production of the male hormone testosterone, have been associated with reproductive abnormalities, and can cause allergic symptoms and asthma. The US Government’s National Toxicology Program warns plug-in air fresheners also release formaldehyde which is a known human carcinogen that has been linked to cancers of the nose and throat, ongoing irritation of the throat and airways, potentially leading to dangerous infections, frequent nosebleeds, asthma, and other respiratory ailments. These risks are particularly elevated in the elderly, infants, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems. In  2013 a study of more than 2,000 pregnant women (reported in the International Journal of Public Health) found that women who used plug-in air fresheners during gestation were statistically far more likely to have babies that suffered from serious lung infections.

The 24/7 chemical emissions from these plug ins deeply incorporates into porous materials like drywall. So special outgassing techniques are sometimes necessary after you remove plug-ins from your home – see instructions below.

It is hard to believe that products like this could even be sold to be put in our homes – they are so toxic. Our health is being ambushed BUT YOU are doing something about it. This is such a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in your family’s health! Put them all in a box and remove them from your home.  

We all love to have clean fresh smelling homes! Eliminating the source of odors truly improves air quality instead of trying to cover them up with conventional air fresheners which pollute a home’s air.  So how do we remove odors and improve air quality without using synthetic air fresheners (which really only mask the odors)?


  • Eliminate the Source – The simple no cost action of taking a box and removing products with harmful ingredients from your home  immediately dramatically freshens and improves your home’s air quality.
  • Category by Category –  Use this guide to help you start creating your Heathy Home. You can take it category by category or one step at a time.

the three v’s – vacuum, ventilate, and vodka

  • Vacuum – We often mention how important it is to do regular HEPA vacuuming and its benefits for your health. Did you know that vacuuming is actually one of the best ways to remove odors as well? For normal maintenance, aim to vacuum once a week. If you are noticing a particular odor, try sprinkling the area (carpet or upholstery) with baking soda and let it sit for 30 minutes before vacuuming. The baking soda will deodorize the area and absorb the odor, which you can then vacuum up entirely. Repeat as necessary until odor disappears.
  • Ventilate – One of the simplest way to freshen the air in your home is to open the windows and turn on a fan. In fact, regularly opening your windows throughout the year, even for just 10 minutes morning and evening, increases oxygen, and flushes and clears the air.  So don’t be afraid to bring in fresh air the old-fashioned way with a nice cross breeze. 
  • Vodka – Vodka is an excellent, unscented air freshener. Simply pour inexpensive,  un-flavored vodka into a spray bottle and use as an air mister. It will help reduce stale and musty odors. If you would like to add a scent, try adding a small amount of a wildcrafted or organic essential oil processed without solvents. 

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a fantastic odor-absorber.

  • Carpet and Upholstered Furniture – Sprinkle baking soda on surface, let sit 30 minutes or overnight, then vacuum away to freshen and remove odors.
  • Bedding – Refresh your mattress with baking soda. Sprinkle on mattress stripped of all bedding, let sit 30 minutes or overnight, then vacuum away odors.
  • Refrigerator – Keep your refrigerator smelling fresh with two baking soda odor absorbers one for fridge and and one for freezer. Use new boxes every month to absorb and deodorize food odors*.
  • Closets – Keep your closets smelling fresh with baking soda odor absorbers. Use new boxes every month to absorb and deodorize odors from clothes and shoes*.
  • Clothes – Freshen and deodorize clothes. Add a cup or two baking soda to your laundry wash load.
  • Shoes – Sprinkle shoes with baking soda overnight to absorb odors. Dump or vacuum out.
  • You can also set out a bowl (or box) of baking soda in an inconspicuous area of your home to absorb and neutralize odors in the air. However, over time,

*Baking soda will slowly lose its odor-absorbing powers. If you notice it is not as effective anymore, swap out the baking soda for a fresh batch.

White Vinegar

White vinegar is a useful odor-remover.

  • Clothes – Add one cup vinegar to washing machine during wash cycle to freshen and soften clothes and remove odors
  • Room Freshener – Pour a cup of white vinegar in a small bowl and place in a safe spot somewhere in your home.
  • Cooking Odors –Boil a teaspoon of white vinegar in ½ pint of water to remove unpleasant cooking odors in the kitchen.
  • Smoking Odors and Perfume – A mixture of 1 teaspoon of vinegar to a pint of water, kept in a hand sprayer, can neutralize these odors.

Note: although vinegar is edible, we recommend keeping this bowl out of the reach of children and pets. Don’t forget to swap out the vinegar after it is no longer absorbing odors.

Charcoal Air Fresheners

You can make your own DIY activated charcoal pouches, which can be placed anywhere you need an odor absorber. If you’d like to skip the DIY options, we do recommend Moso and Breathegreen brand natural air fresheners. These pouches are versatile and can be slipped in a stinky shoe or tucked inside your car.

natural Air fresheners

If you would like to add fragrance to your home’s air consider:

  • Fragrant Houseplants – There are many houseplants that can act as natural air fresheners whose flowers or leaves scent the air in
    your home. In addition plants oxygenate and revitalize the air .
  • Air Cleaning Plants – Take advantage of plants that have been tested to remove harmful chemicals from your home’s air. These plants can remove chemical odors as well as oxygenate your home.
  • Lemon Peel – Grind up lemon peel while running hot water into your garbage disposal to remove odors in the disposal and freshen the kitchen air.
  • Herbs and Spices – Grow your own basil, mint, lavender, thyme, oregano, etc. as natural air fresheners that will also provide you with ingredients for cooking.
  • Wildcrafted and Organic Essential Oils Processed without Solvents – diffuse to add scents to your home
  • Vanilla Extract – Place a cotton ball soaked in vanilla extract in a small saucer in your home to freshen the air.
  • Cinnamon Sticks and Cloves – Boil and then simmer in water to eliominate lingering odors and freshen the air.

.If you’d like to know more about the hazards of using scented products, check out “Fragrance is the New Secondhand Smoke”.

What’s your favorite way to remove odors from your home? Do you have a suggestion we should add to this list? Let us know by leaving your comment below! 


Why are synthetic air fresheners so bad? Find out in Fragrance is the New Secondhand Smoke.

Curious about fragrances and other chemicals that might be lurking in your home already? Check out this article on the dangers of common laundry chemicals and what they do: Do You Know What’s In Your Laundry Detergent? 

SAFE-SIMPLE-Clare-Wood-Branch-Basics-Minimalist-Mama-6Ready to streamline your routine? Read Clare’s tricks in Safe + Simple: Tips from a Minimalist Mama.

Going on a trip? Check out our Healthy Travel Guide for our favorite travel snacks and tips for preventing sunburn, jetlag, and more!

Want another trick for improving indoor air quality? Find out why we’re loving Himalayan Pink Salt Lamps!

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    1. Hi Anabel,
      The vodka air freshener mentioned above (particularly with the addition of the wildcrafted scent oils) will remove odors and leave behind a light fragrance. You could also try combining measures, like the baking soda and vacuuming trick first, then spraying the scent on last. At my house, if the couch is not smelling very fresh, we sometimes even spritz with the All-Purpose Branch Basics and fluff the cushions for a quick odor-remover. Hope that helps!

  1. I like to buy the tiny crockpots at a local goodwill store, fill with either essential oils or actual ingredients: (favorite: cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, orange or any citrus peel, a few eucalyptus leaves, and rosemary) and let it “stew”. I also add a small amount of vodka (1 tsp) to make it mold free, which makes the ingredients last for several days by just adding more water. The alcohol does not smell at all. NO LID!
    I watch it and add water when necessary. I have one in my bathroom, bedroom and two in my living area since it is a bigger space. These have worked GREAT for me. You could add whatever spices you like. In summer, when there are mosquitoes around you could add peppermint, or any of the mint family for more pest control. I can get these tiny crockpots for about $5, and they are WELL worth it! I even gave them out for gifts last Christmas with a bag full of the ingredients.

  2. I mix essential oil into baking soda before sprinkling on carpets and mattresses. Let it sit for 20 minutes before vacuuming. Makes the whole house smell great. Eucalyptus, lavender and Rosemary is my go to mix. 5 drops each per cup of baking soda. A paper cup with holes punched in it makes a great shaker. Also a Parmesan cheese container works. I haven’t tried BB oils yet but I’m sure they are great.

  3. Spraying vodka is a very interesting idea! I am going to try it next time when I clean. I suppose it works. Thank you for sharing so many interesting methods. I definetely will try more than one. Best regards!

  4. I never would have thought of spraying vodka in the air to freshen a room. That’s a really interesting trick. I’ll have to give it a try this week. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Vodka is not an option for recovering alcoholics or those living with them. Can you suggest some different type of natural spray fresheners?

  6. For smelly shoes, spray with a few drops of tea tree oil in water and allow to dry naturally. The tea tree oil oil kills the bacteria that cause the smell.
    And for ‘post use’ bathroom smells, create instant, hot, activated charcoal by striking a match, letting it burn down as far as feels safe and then blowing out the flame. Wave the hot stick of charcoal through the air to pick up the smelly stuff.

  7. Another great charcoal air cleaner company: based in Nanaimo, BC Canada. Great natural and organic charcoal air cleaners to place in your home, gym bags, pet areas,cars and one for the fridge.
    I am very impressed with this company.

  8. Hi,

    Do you happen to have any suggestions for a discreet and odourless air freshener? My grandfather is old and gets cold very easily so he usually keeps the windows closed. As a result, the room starts smelling a bit strange. He is also very sensitive to fragrances as they give him headaches.

    Thank You!

  9. Thanks for sharing this information regarding shoes kinky smell. I am sure this will help as it is a common problem nowadays. We can easily get rid of this by shoe this shoe inserts. shoes odor eaters.

  10. Thanks for taking me here! I used baking soda at my fabric sofa and it really eliminates the odour. I used charcoal to freshen up the odd odour in my fridge and I’ll be looking forward to executing some of your tips.


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