The three major culprits of air pollution in your home
It’s common knowledge that good indoor air quality is incredibly important for your health. To achieve clean air, people may purchase air purifiers or even display air-purifying plants, but few understand what contributes to poor air quality in their homes. Today we’re going to explore three major contributors that pollute indoor air: candles, air fresheners, and fragrance plug-ins.
Let’s first ask what causes poor indoor air quality? According to the American Lung Association, there are many sources of indoor air pollutants including, but not limited to, bacteria and viruses, building and paint products, carpets, cleaning supplies, household chemicals, dust, water damage, formaldehyde, lead, mold, pet dander, secondhand smoke, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Candles, air fresheners, and fragrance plug-ins all fall under the last category of VOCs.
VOCs are toxic gases that are released into the air when you use certain products. They evaporate readily at room temperature, so they can quickly become part of the air that you breathe1. Breathing VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, can cause difficulty breathing and nausea, and can damage the central nervous system and other organs. Some VOCs can even cause cancer2.
When you burn candles, spray your pillows, or even plug-in an air fresher, the fragrance and accompanying VOCs are polluting your air. The terms “fragrance” or “perfume” are used as placeholders on products for a wide range of VOCs and other toxic chemicals3. Unfortunately, companies are not required to disclose the ingredients that make up their scents because they are considered trade secrets4. A survey of selected scented consumer goods showed many products emitted more than 100 VOCs, including some that are classified as toxic or hazardous by federal laws5. Even products advertised as “green,” “natural,” or “organic” emitted as many hazardous chemicals as standard ones6.
This leaves us, as consumers, in a position where we’re forced to do more research to protect our health. The Environmental Working Group, to empower consumers, has rated 307 air fresheners, including sprays and plug-ins. Over 77% of those products were rated a D or an F. This should be worrisome and shocking, as any exposure to these VOCs can negatively affect your health.
So how can you swap these products that make your house smell so good?
Instead of paraffin or petroleum-derived wax candles (which additionally release chemicals into the air when burned), opt for all-natural beeswax candles. Beeswax is the purest and most natural of all waxes and acts as a natural air purifier! Etsy is a great place to find high-quality beeswax candles while also supporting small businesses. Fair warning, a lot of companies are greenwashing their candles, so be sure to read the ingredients. A beeswax candle should have one ingredient: beeswax!
Instead of sprays and fragrance plugins, opt for diffusing high-quality essential oils. Essential oils capture the “essence” of a plant through distillation or mechanical pressing. Essentially, these oils are concentrated extracts that retain, and even magnify, the fragrance and effect of their source7. Ensure you’re purchasing from a reputable company, as many essential oils on the market are fake and made from the same chemical fragrances we’re trying to avoid. If you’re interested in learning more about sourcing high-quality essential oils, Plant Therapy is a great resource!
Ensuring your home is a safe and non-toxic space that promotes health is incredibly important. Small swaps, like the type of candles you burn or scents you spray, can be a significant step on your journey to living a more holistic and non-toxic life!
- 1. Poslusny, Catherine. “Is Fragrance Bad For You? Personal Care and Cosmetic Products.” Molekule Blog, 8 June 2020.
- 2. “Volatile Organic Compounds.” American Lung Association.
- 3. Poslusny, Molekule Blog.
- 4. Id.
- 5. “INDOOR AIR QUALITY: Scented Products Emit a Bouquet of VOCs.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- 6. Id.
- 7. “Essential Oils 101.” Essential Oils | Plant Therapy.