Laundry Products, Air Fresheners Don’t Pass the Smell Test

Harmful chemicals are found in the fragrances of best-selling laundry and air freshener products.

Leah Zerbe September 29, 2008

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A University of Washington researcher recently found harmful chemicals in top-selling laundry and air freshener products. By law, ingredients in these types of products don’t need to be listed.

THE DETAILS: Six best-selling, fragranced products (three air fresheners, three laundry products) were tested. Study author Anne Steinemann, PhD, professor of public affairs and environmental engineering at the University of Washington, did not disclose the brands. But she suspects many other fragranced products on the market contain similar chemicals. Tests on the six popular products turned up nearly 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—10 of which are regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws. It’s likely the chemical fragrances in these products that contain these toxins, says Steinemann. “These products are part of our everyday culture; they’re supposed to be pleasant to us, not make us sick,” she says. “But they can contain several hundred chemicals, none of which needs to be disclosed.”

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WHAT IT MEANS: VOCs can cause asthma, allergies, headaches and possibly cancer. But avoiding them is tricky: You won’t usually find them listed on product labels, since regulations allow manufacturers to list any of nearly 7,000 chemical ingredients simply as “fragrance.” In the laundry room, use clear and free detergents that don’t contain fragrances or dyes. To fight odors around the house, forget store-bought air fresheners. Instead, get rid of whatever’s making the stink and set out a bowl of white vinegar or baking soda to eliminate lingering odors.