"Clean” is Not a Smell

October 20, 2020

Harmful effect of fragrances in cleaning products

People are often under the impression that something needs to smell “clean” for it to be clean. But this is not true. We have been taught this through marketing and perceptions we have picked up since childhood. It is easy to understand why because scented products are everywhere in our daily lives. Fragrance is added to many personal care and household products we use everyday.  Most products used to clean, sanitize, and disinfect contain fragrances. Air fresheners and scented candles are often used to make indoor areas smell better. But fragrances do not clean the air. They disguise the smells by adding more chemicals to the air.  

Fragrances in cleaning and sanitization products 

Manufacturers of cleaning products use fragrances to not only make the product smell nice but also to make you associate a smell with the use of their product. Fragrances can even mask the chemical smell of the product you are using. 

Some people think if a smell is not left behind after a cleaning product is used, it means the product does not work and the area is not clean. Products that have a fragrance contain additional chemicals that may pose health risks and are unnecessary.  

Did you know that even “unscented” or “fragrance-free” products may have chemicals that are added to mask the smell of the chemicals? It is still better to buy a fragrance-free product than one with fragrance.  

The dangers of fragrances  

Fragrances are chemicals and enter the body in many ways. They are absorbed through the skin; inhaled into the lungs; and can be swallowed, especially by children. Fragrances in air fresheners and cleaners, sanitizers and disinfectants can cause health effects. They can irritate the lungs, trigger asthma, headaches, and allergic skin reaction like dermatitis.   

Long-term effects of exposure to fragrances 

Long-term effects of exposure to fragrances include reproductive problems in women and certain types of cancer. Phthalates are often used as solvents and carriers for fragrance. There is evidence that phthalates are endocrine disruptors and can accumulate in the human body.  Endocrine disruptors, mimic or disrupt the body’s own hormones. They are also excreted in breast milk. Phthalates have been linked to an increase in prostate and breast cancer, adverse reproductive system outcomes liked reduced semen quality and altered male genital development.  

 Are air fresheners hazardous? 

Air fresheners are particularly concentrated sources of fragrances with hazardous chemicals contained in the fragrance that do not have to be disclosed on the label. Some chemicals in air fresheners are sensitizers that can lead to allergies. They can also trigger asthma, allergic reactions, wheezing, headaches, and contact dermatitis.  

Are "natural" air fresheners any safer? Claims of products that are “green,” or “natural,” or “organic” have in fact no legal definition. Many lab tests have found "natural," "green," "organic," products can give off chemicals that are considered toxic or hazardous even if it contained only essential oils. 

Rise of scent-free workplaces 

More and more organizations are developing scent-free policies because of people becoming sensitized to fragrances. In the US, air fresheners can violate the Americans with Disabilities Act because people who experience disabling health effects from air fresheners cannot access the public facility.  

How to avoid fragrances in your cleaning products 

You can avoid fragrances by looking for 3rd party certified labels that state “unscented” and “free and clear.” Look for products without fragrance listed as an ingredient. Avoid products with a strong smell. Use ventilation, open the window, or turn on a fan, rather than using an air freshener next time.   

For more information on the chemicals in a product, you can always read the Safety Data Sheet from the manufacturer or check on the manufacturer’s website.