Air Fresheners? Or Air Pollutants?

There seems to be a large market for “air fresheners” these days. Most air fresheners even come with a “fresh fragrance”.

But do these air fresheners really refresh the air? Frankly, No.

First of all, lets look at the basics of what fresh air really is.

One could define fresh air as air that is uncontaminated by pollutants, toxins, germs, pollen or other additives. Just plain air, in other words. With nothing else added.

We can usually tell whether air is fresh or not, by our sense of smell. When we smell something other than fresh air (which is actually a smell of “nothing really”) we consider it “un-fresh” or bad.

Air gets polluted when tiny particles of some substance or material mix in with the air, and float along. They are usually as small as molecules, but sometimes bigger. These particles enter our nose, where they get picked up by olfactory nerves (nerves that sense smell). We then usually recognize what it is. In some cases such, as in the case of chocolates, we tend to react positively toward the smell. In other cases, such as bad feet, we tend to react negatively (well at least most people do) – in this case we would state that the air is definitely not fresh.

But in both cases, the chocolate or the bad feet, the same principle occurs. Minute particles of chocolate or bad feet float in the air and enter our nose. The same principle applies to any other odor or smell that we detect, it is simply small particles of whatever substance we are smelling or detecting.

Here is where the “air freshener” that releases a “pleasant” odor comes in.

This “Air Freshener” is not removing any of the unpleasant particles from the air. It is simply adding a stronger odor in order to overpower the “bad odor”. But the bad odor is still there, and your senses are simply being overwhelmed by the “fresh pine smell (made up of chemicals that have never been near a pine tree).”

In the above case, we now have doubled or tripled the amount of pollutants and toxins into our environment with our “air freshener.”

A few simple basics about fresh air:

An unwanted odor is always caused by something. Adding a heavier “pleasant odor” does not remove the unwanted odor from the environment. It simply makes the air even unhealthier.

To remove an unwanted odor, one needs to find the source and remove or address that. In the case of the bad feet smell, it might be time to remove all the old socks from under the bed (for example). It might also be as simple as ensuring there is adequate ventilation.

In the case of living quarters, kitchens or bathrooms, the “un-fresh” air is most often caused by dirt building up over time in hard-to-get places, or through lack of thorough regular cleaning. So, in most cases, a thorough cleaning job to remove the sources of the odors will do the trick.

Keep in mind that most cheap (and some expensive) cleaning chemicals contain a “perfume,” so that the area smells “fresh” once you are done, in order to add to the illusion that it really is clean. Unfortunately these “perfumes” are usually made out of cheap low grade chemicals that can be toxic to humans and pets in the long run.

There are, however, some good natural products that actually remove odors. One of the best (and incidentally also one of the cheapest) natural products that usually does a fantastic job in actually removing odors is plain old baking soda.

One can simply add a few tablespoons of baking soda to a bucket of water and then rinse surfaces with it, to completely remove the odors. This also works great with laundry. Add some baking soda to your wash and it will leave your clothes smelling of completely nothing – fresh, in other words.

Another way to use baking soda to remove odors from smaller spaces is by placing a bit of baking soda in a saucer and adding a slice of lemon on top. The backing soda will attract and absorb the foreign particles from the space and leave it smelling fresh.

If you own a pet and it has had an accident on the rug, first clean with water and soap or detergent, and then follow up by rinsing the area with a water and baking soda solution. This should remedy the situation.

The point really is that odors are caused by something. They are not fixed or handled by adding a stronger odor which is more acceptable. One finds the source of the smell and removes that.

After that, if you want a room smelling of roses, by all means, put a vase of roses in the room. They smell great and look fantastic.

By | 2014-11-10T16:16:03-08:00 July 3rd, 2008|Green Living, Nontoxic|

About the Author:

Megan helps others understand how they can use green technologies and tecniques to live cleaner and healthier lives, utilize natural resources, and adopt environmentally friendly living standards.


  1. Debbie August 7, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Thank you SO much for posting this, you couldn’t have explained it better!
    I’m typically interested in protecting my sense of smell because I value it and depend on it so much. Connecting with natural scents has put me in the right frame of mind to be able to free myself from many health harming addictions! So it is important that I keep my olfactories clean!
    Just these past two weeks I was unfortunately forced to breathe for hours in a room contaminated with air fresheners, in my pursuit of a much needed job! Because of this my sense of smell has been altered and I’m not picking up the right scents to any of my naturally scented products nor any natural scents outdoors! I believe the molecules of the synthetic stuff has attached to the inside of my olfactories so all I smell is that! There may be an intentional chemical designed to do so added to this product so the user will always smell it, crave it, buy it, etc. A cruel marketing tactic, I guess. But I want no part of it.
    People get so offended when I ask them to kindly remove the contaminant, because they feel I’m ~controlling~ them. But actually (( I )) am the one being controlled! I’ve lost my sense of smell and I do hope I get it back shortly. I might have to do a nasal wash with saline!
    I will be sure to print and pass this info on to all who criticize me for requesting ‘no fragrance air freshener’ environments to work in!
    Thanks Again Cheryl. 😉

    • Cheryl October 14, 2010 at 3:00 pm

      In a (rather late) response to debnose, I’d like to stress that I always appreciate it when people don’t wear perfume or scented body products or spray the air with scented air fresheners, and I am not even really allergic or super-sensitive. You just don’t know what effect these artificial odors will have on any particular person, so it would be a kindness to not spread them around in the atmosphere, particularly indoor atmosphere. I’ve known people who had to leave the theater during a public performance because of all the perfume worn by others in the audience.

  2. Katy June 24, 2009 at 12:29 am

    Pretty cool post. I just came across your blog and wanted to say
    that I’ve really liked reading your posts. Anyway
    I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon!

  3. Cheryl December 28, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    People with allergies are allergic to the particles of the substance, including particles taken in through the skin, the mouth, and the nose. In other words, if a person is allergic to wheat, he or she may also be allergic to the smell of wheat bread baking. Odors in the air are a very common allergen of chemically-sensitive people (which is all of us, to a greater or lesser degree).

  4. manystories July 4, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    Very well explained! This also applies to perfume worn on the body. It adds particles of a chemical nature to the air and affects not only one’s own air, but the air of everyone else who smells it!

Leave A Comment