7 Non-Toxic Air Fresheners & How To Remove Odors Naturally

By Marilee Nelson |

7 Non-Toxic Air Fresheners & How To Remove Odors Naturally

It is estimated that 75% of US households use some type of air freshener (Time).

They come in many forms – sprays, gels, oils, hanging disks, potpourri, oil stick diffusers, air wicks, and plug-ins. Sadly, 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 formaldehydeacetaldehyde, glycol, ethers, free radicals, and ultrafine particles. 

In addition to the health issues linked to synthetic fragrance recipes, other chemicals used to make conventional air fresheners have been shown to cause migraine headaches, earaches, metabolic syndrome, nausea and so many other things -- plus they're toxic to our furry friends.

Air fresheners come in many forms – sprays, gels, oils, hanging disks, potpourri, oil stick diffusers, air wicks, and plug-ins. Many of these continually put out fragrance into the home. 

Keep reading to learn how to create a safer and more healthy home with non-toxic air fresheners.

Related: Wondering why it's easy to feel dependent on synthetic fragrances? Check out The Emotional Attachment to Fragrance

The Dangers of Conventional Air Fresheners, According to Scientists

Dr. R. Anderson, toxicologist, and president of Anderson Labs has studied the acute biological effects of polluted air on laboratory animals for 30 years. When Anderson Labs tested air fresheners, each sample was placed in a closed box. Air was blown over the sample and mice were exposed to it (Source).

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 increased 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.

Plug-in air fresheners are also known to release formaldehyde which is a known 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 from 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 (Source). 

So, What Should I Do? 

It is hard to believe that products like this could even be sold to be put in our homes as they are so toxic. But, you made it here, to this article, so you have a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in your family’s health.

First, go around your house and completely remove all of the air fresheners you have. It's tough to do, but it's the best option for your health. 

We completely understand we all love to have clean, fresh smelling homes! However eliminating the source of odors truly improves air quality instead of trying to cover them up with conventional air fresheners that pollute a home's air and harm our health.

So how do we improve air quality without using synthetic air fresheners?

Here's how: 

1. Toss toxic products to eliminate the source of 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.

Related Reading: The Best Fragrance-Free Cleaning Products

2. 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 one part inexpensive, un-flavored vodka and three parts distilled water into a spray bottle and use as an air mister. It will help reduce stale and musty odors. And remember, just like any sprayed product (even if non-toxic), you do not want to breathe in while the sprayed solution is still aerosolized.

3. Utilize 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 boxes -- 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 by storing baking soda boxes in inconspicuous places! 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.

4. White Vinegar to the rescue! 

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.

5. Try 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. 

6. Other 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.

7. If you're feeling fancy...Simmer Pots! 

Try one of our favorite simmer pot recipes! Boil these ingredients together, and then simmer in water to eliminate lingering odors and freshen the air:

  • Cinnamon sticks and cloves
  • Sliced lemon, rosemary and a splash of vanilla extra
  • Orange, rosemary sprigs and cinnamon sticks
  • Cranberries, cloves and apples

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

Further Reading:

Why are synthetic air fresheners so bad?

Find out in:

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.