Natural Air Fresheners

indoor air Feb 07, 2018

by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée


Air fresheners are everywhere—in home kitchens, personal vehicles, restaurant bathrooms, hotel lobbies, taxi cabs, and retail clothing stores.

Why are they used so frequently? To mask odors, or to enhance ambiance.

These air fresheners come as sprays, aerosols, plug-ins, scented candles, gels, reed defuses, potpourri, scented paper, and essential oils.  

While noses may enjoy the scent, bodies may not.

Health Effects

Standard air fresheners are made from a mix of chemicals that may participate in our biological processes. That chemical cocktail usually includes one (or more) of these ingredients:

  • Phthalates. Phthalates help fragrances last longer. However, they may also contribute to hormone disruption, liver and kidney abnormalities, cancer, birth defects, infertility, obesity, endometriosis, development abnormalities, allergies, and asthma.(1)
  • Solvents. Solvents can enhance a product's performance (like paint), prevent clumping, and dry quickly. They may also be toxic to the nervous system; damage the liver, kidneys and reproductive system; and contribute to cancer and dermatitis.(2)
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs also serve a purpose, like help paints dry more quickly. Health effects from VOCs can be short- and/or long-term, ranging from dizziness and headaches to liver and kidney damage.(3)

Natural Air Fresheners

Consider freshening air without the synthetic chemicals! Before purchasing (or making) an air freshener, identify the purpose: Is it to mask odor, or to enhance ambiance?

Addressing Odors

Remove offending odors. For example, if the kitchen garbage can smells like rotten food, then wash the garbage can with nontoxic soap and warm water to remove the rotting food particles that may be stuck to the can.

Or, if laundry is the offender, wash offensive smelling laundry with nontoxic, fragrance-free soap and baking soda; and rinse with vinegar to remove bacterial-causing odors. For fragrance, you can store the clean clothes near a diffuser of essential oils, or spray clean laundry with diluted 100% pure essential oils.

Enhancing Ambiance

Freshening air for ambiance can be achieved with natural ingredients! Look for air fresheners that are made from all-natural ingredients, such as baking soda, 100% pure essential oils (vs. synthetic essential oils), and natural citrus (such as orange or lemon).

Making Your Own Air Fresheners

Air fresheners can be made using ingredients found in most homes. The DIY solutions below are easy, and can be created within minutes.

  • Scented Simmer. In a small pot, add water, citrus peel, cinnamon, clove, herbs, or flower petals. Simmer on low heat(4). Done! Relax and enjoy the smell.
  • Smudging. Increasingly, people are "smudging," or clearing energy at home by burning sage (with windows open), Palo Santo, or even cinnamon. If you enjoy these scents, then this energy-clearing/rebalancing practice has the added benefit of leaving your home smelling nice.
  • Vinegar Bowl. Fill a small bowl with vinegar, and place it in the area that has an undesirable smell. That’s it! The smell of vinegar will dissipate. If there is a smelly spot that needs cleaning, use vinegar and water solution to wipe it up.(5)
  • Baking Soda Jar. Leaving baking soda in a box might be effective in absorbing odors, but the box gives an undesirable look. Instead, pour baking soda into a colored Mason jar or decorative container. Leave the lid off so that the baking soda can best absorb the odors.(6)
  • Good Old Fashion Fresh Air. Open windows to air out odors. Fresh air, especially with a cross-breeze, helps dilute odors, blowing the ‘stinky air’ outside. Plus, it doesn’t cost a thing!(7)

In Summary

Whether you’re masking odors, or adding scent for ambiance, consider choosing air fresheners made of all-natural ingredients.

  1. Remove sources of odor by cleaning them with natural cleaners, or discarding them from the home completely.
  2. Use ingredients that Mother Nature creates, such as water, citrus, spices, herbs, and flower petals.
  3. Consider vinegar, baking soda, and opening windows.

Choose ingredients that your nose and body both enjoy!



(1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7) A to Z of D-Toxing, Works Cited Part 2

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Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

Some of the services and products recommended on this website provide compensation to Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living. All recommendations are based foremost upon an honest belief that the product, service, or site will benefit our site visitors in some way.  

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