Scents have strong associative powers. They inspire memories, trigger moods, and speak to us in ways words often can’t. But in the quest to invite attractive (think: fresh, comforting, calming, and clean) aromas into our daily lives, we’ve twisted scents into artificial, abrasive, and even dangerous chemicals that linger much longer than they should. Air fresheners make for a great example for how a well-intentioned concept can take such a toxic turn. Common air fresheners have negative health effects, but now you can make a safe homemade air freshener easily and affordably that works just as well.
Skip the Toxins
Since the 1940s, air freshener manufacturers have been blending chemical agents and experimenting with various dispersal techniques to market products that don’t require burning, like candles and incense. Practical, yes. Dangerous, also yes.
Conventional air fresheners are often chock-full of chemical colorants, detergents, and perfumes including:
Phthalatae are agents found in household cleaners, food packaging, fragrance, cosmetics, and personal-care products, phthalates have been linked to asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, obesity, type II diabetes, low IQ, neuro-developmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development, and male fertility issues. A 2007 review by the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council found that 12 out of 14 widely available air fresheners contained phthalates.
Used as an emulsifier, PEG-40 is linked to asthma and respiratory problems, skin allergies and irritation, development and reproductive toxicity, DNA damage, and cancer.
3. 1,4-dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB)
Animal studies show that breathing 1,4-DCB can harm the liver, kidney, and blood. The Department of Health and Human Services has determined 1,4-DCB to be a reasonable carcinogen. EPA classifies 1,4-DCB as part of Group C, which means it is a possible human carcinogen of low carcinogenic hazard. California lists 1,4-DCB under Proposition 65, which indicates it is a known carcinogen.
But these harmful chemicals are only the beginning. In one study, researchers tested 74 air freshener products and measured the concentration of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the air after use. The researchers detected more than 350 different chemicals and allergens, including benzene, formaldehyde, and styrene, among others.
Adding Essential Oils
Instead of shunning fresher air altogether, you can integrate a homemade air freshener into your living or work space and enjoy the sensory benefits, without all that junk. Air fresheners made with essential oils can do the trick. Plus, essential oils do more than just make your home smell nice; many offer antiviral, antifungal and even antibiotic properties.
Here’s a handy list of essential oils by property type. Take a look:
1. Antibacterial Essential Oils
Bergamot, Clove, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Lemon, Lime, Marjoram, Melaleuca, Oregano, Patchouli, Peppermint, Roman Chamomile, Rosemary, Sage, Sandalwood, Wild Orange, Wintergreen
2. Antiviral Essential Oils
Cinnamon, Clove, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Lemon, Melaleuca, Oregano, Sandalwood, Thyme
3. Antifungal Essential Oils
Eucalyptus, Lavender, Lemon, Melaleuca, Patchouli, Sage, Sandalwood, Thyme
Air Dispersal Hacks
Any combination of these essential oils can help purify the air in your home. With so many ways to use essential oils to clean your indoor air, they’re easier to use than you think! And once you replace artificial scents with natural ones, you’ll never want to go back.
1. Room spray
It’s easy to make your own spray to mist around your house and freshen the air. Fill a spray bottle with one-half to one cup water and eight drops each of three different air-freshening essential oils. (We recommend mixing wild orange, sandalwood, and clove essential oils. Tea tree, eucalyptus, and lemon also make a fragrant combination.) Mist the spray around your home whenever the air smells stale.
2. Disinfectant cleaner
Dirty homes are stinky homes! Disinfect surfaces with this natural cleaner made using pure essential oils. Simply combine four tablespoons white vinegar, three cups water, and 10 drops of your favorite essential oil in a spray bottle. Use the cleaner anywhere that needs sanitizing or cleaning — counters, toilets, door knobs — it’s a mild cleaner good for any room in your home.
3. Vacuum refresher
Add a few drops of an antimicrobial essential oil to a couple of cotton balls and stick them in your vacuum’s canister. As you vacuum, the essential oil will diffuse throughout your home, cleansing the air and making your whole house smell fresh. You can also douse cotton balls in a refreshing essential oil, such as lemon, and stick them in closets and drawers to keep closed off areas smelling fresh.
Spread a fragrant — and powerfully purifying — combination of essential oils throughout your home by using a diffuser or oil burner. Mix a few drops of your favorite essential oils into a portable or plug-in diffuser and breath in the spa-like scent.
5. Stovetop air freshener
If you don’t own a diffuser or an oil burner, you can create your own using a pot of boiling water. Simply simmer a pot of water on your stovetop and add a few drops of the essential oil of your choice. The scent of this homemade air freshener will permeate throughout your house. Just remember to keep adding water and essential oil as the water continues to evaporate.
Air Freshener Recipe
This homemade air freshener recipe is inexpensive, easy, and much healthier than common synthetic air fresheners found at the store.
This air freshener recipe is a safe and aromatic way to freshen up the air in your home or work space, without the toxins.
- 1 ½ - 2 cups distilled water
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 5 to 6 drops of your favorite essential oil (lavender for a calming effect, lemon/orange for an energy boost, mint or eucalyptus for a clean, fresh scent).
- In a small bowl, stir together the baking soda and essential oils. Transfer the baking soda to a spray bottle and then fill the remainder of the spray bottle with water. Shake until the baking soda has dissolved.
- Use the air freshener in all rooms of your house or office, paying special attention to closet spaces, the kitchen, and bathrooms.
Brands We Trust: Essential Oils
Take your time to research quality essential oils on the market. Just like any other well-intentioned product, essential oils may be prey to greenwashing practices, being diluted with a less potent (and often cheaper) carrier oil, or infused with chemicals and preservatives. Look for 100% pure (preferably organic) essential oils. We trust the following five brands:
2. Aura Cacia
Ready Air Fresheners and Diffusers
Strapped for time, creative energy, or motivation to create a homemade air freshener unit? Don’t worry, the market has evolved to heed your healthified air freshener needs. Nothing will beat a homemade level of pureness, but these five products come pretty darn close.
Chemica-l and cruelty-free, Eco-Me’s line of natural plant extract air freshener sprays are packed with not only essential oils but also vitamins that make the hair healthier to inhale.
Simply add 5-10 drops of your favorite essential oil(s) into this plugin unit and luxuriate in the aromas!
Essence of Vali’s mists are made with plant essences in distilled water.
Moso’s air-purifying bags are fragrance-free, but while they won’t add aromas to your environment, they will take away bad odors (and more) from the surrounding air. The Moso bag is filled with moso bamboo charcoal, which effectively absorbs odors, allergens, and harmful pollutants. The Moso Bag will absorb excess moisture to prevent mold, mildew, and bacteria from forming. It is chemical-free, fragrance-free, and non-toxic to keep you and your pets safe.
5. Ecco Verde
Ecco Verde’s organic air freshener sprays are made with two ingredients: alcohol and natural essential oils. Simple.