Cashins & Associates Blog

Household Products and Indoor Air Quality

Posted by Mike Cashins on Mon, Aug, 27, 2012 @ 14:08 PM

cleanersWe are routinely asked by family and friends about household products and how they may impact indoor air quality. We came across a study pertaining to the various fragrances that are now available in household cleaners, laundry products, etc. and wanted to share that with our followers.

Household products now come in more odiferous varieties than ever before in human history. Scanning the web, we were able to collect a dozen or so names of these "smells" quite quickly. They include:


  • Sun blossom
  • Lavender Serenity
  • Clean breeze
  • Mountain Spring
  • Outdoor fresh
  • Apple Mango Tango
  • Powder Fresh
  • Citrus.

We could go on all day here. The point is, smells are popular. But how do they get the authentic odor of a fresh spring day into a dryer sheet or fabric softener?

The answer is: they don't.

These odors are not "authentic" in the true sense; they are created in a laboratory using various concoctions of chemicals. The question is then begged "What chemicals? Are they safe for humans? Are there any problems with using such products? Can they negatively affect Indoor Air Quality?"

The problem is, these chemicals are all but invisible to consumers. In a study performed by Carol Potera, a writer for "Environmental Health Perspectives" journal, 25 different scented products were tested in order to discover what chemicals were being emitted. The study included air fresheners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, disinfectants, dish detergents, all-purpose cleaners, soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorants, and shampoos.

Results show that these products gave off more than 133 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Twenty-four of these compounds are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. law. And perhaps the most surprising part – only ONE of these compounds was listed on any label.

You might think to yourself: "well, I'm okay because I use organic products." Come to find out in this study, the "organic" and "all-natural" products gave off similar compounds. It turns out that these labels do not signify the absence of potentially harmful chemicals.

Some of the most common chemicals found in the study were limonene, α- and β-pinene, ethanol, and acetone. To make things worse, some of these chemicals can react with ozone in ambient air and create dangerous secondary pollutants.

Currently, manufacturers are required by the Food & Drug Administration to list the term "fragrance," on the packaging, but not the actual constituents of the fragrance. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which oversees laundry products, air fresheners, and cleaning supplies, does not require manufacturers to even list the term "fragrance" on the labels.

It seems that there may be hope. The Household Product Labeling Act, which is now under review in the U.S. Senate, would require manufacturers to list all of the ingredients that make up the fragrances.

In the meantime, it is best to stay away from the scented products. After all, what good is a fresh pine scent when it may impact your health?

Topics: indoor air quality

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