Non-Toxic Air Freshener Guide

Written by:

Maia James

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When I started dating my now-husband, I loved that his bachelor pad always smelled so nice. This was thanks to a prominent Glade plug-in in his entryway. Once I learned about what was in that air freshener, I promptly unplugged it. This meant that our apartment began smelling like whatever we’d last cooked. It was wonderful on the rare occasion when I baked an apple crisp, and less awesome after the more common meal of pan-fried salmon and steamed broccoli. So, I began the hunt for a non-toxic, natural air freshener.

Best Air Freshener Brands Gimme the Good Stuff

1. Primally Pure / 2. Aura Cacia / 3. Fontana Room Spray / 4. Good Natured / 5. Moso

A Brief History of Air Fresheners

The use of household air fresheners, in one form or another, has been around for thousands of years. 

Incense, one of the most ancient forms of air fresheners, is burned so that the smoke can mask other, less pleasant odors. Most modern air fresheners employ the same method (masking).

But unlike the burning of incense, most air fresheners disperse masking agents in other ways, and with a far more sophisticated use of chemistry. (By the way, just because we’ve been burning incense for many centuries does not mean it’s a great idea. Burnt airborne particulates, from incense to cigarettes to auto exhaust, are always bad to inhale, no matter the form.) 

Since the 1940s, air freshener manufacturers have blended various chemical agents and tinkered with a range of dispersal techniques to market products that don’t involve burning. This might seem like a step in the right direction, but the chemical agents used are hugely problematic.

My Top Pick For Best Natural Air Freshener

Fontana Essential Oil Room Spray

This 100% natural essential oil room spray is a safe way to impart a beautiful scent into your home. 

Cost per ounce: $9.99

Why Modern Air Fresheners Stink

Modern chemistry has shown us that certain chemical agents, when atomized and inhaled, are capable of blocking our smell receptors. This blunts our ability to detect odor. This is how many air fresheners work.

Other air fresheners coat our nasal passages with an oily film, and many still just cover up the original odor with better-smelling scents. 

A minority of air fresheners actually break down the offensive odor, and even those ones generally contain a heavy dose of unsafe chemicals. 

Let’s look more specifically at what is in most spray or plug-in air fresheners.

What’s Wrong with Conventional Air Fresheners?

A regular run-of-the-mill air freshener will probably contain at least one of the following toxic ingredients: 

  • Phthalates. Synthetic fragrances usually contain phthalates, and most of us know that phthalates in air fresheners and other products are bad. Phthalates are linked to early puberty, autism, obesity, and birth defects. You often won’t see “phthalate” on a label; it’ll just say “fragrance” or perhaps “parfum.” 
  • PEG-40. The Environmental Working Group considers this polymer to be moderately hazardous to human health. 
  • 1,4-dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB). 1,4-DCB is reasonably anticipated to a human carcinogen and has been shown to cause kidney and testicular cancer in rats.

Air fresheners may also contain some really gross chemicals that won’t show up on the label. A 2007 study tested 74 air freshening products and measured the concentration of VOCs in the air after use. They reported that a total of more than 350 different chemicals and allergens were detected, including (but not limited to!) benzene, formaldehyde, styrene, and phthalates. Spray bottles (aerosol) cause additional health risks due to ingredients used as propellants, such as butane and propane. 

Natural Air Fresheners Graphic

What About Non-Toxic Candles?

The majority of scented candles are toxic. Even soy-based candles aren’t truly non-toxic or earth friendly. Soy wax can still be processed with petroleum-based chemicals, which isn’t always disclosed.

We have found one brand of candles that are truly toxin-free. Fontana Candle products are made from natural beeswax and essential oils. These candles smell amazing and are completely natural. Even the wick is non-toxic! 

Each of the ingredients used in Fontanta’s candle making process is hand-selected, including beeswax, coconut oil, natural essential oils, and wooden wicks. You won’t find any petroleum byproducts, stabilizers, fragrance oils, or harmful dyes in these candles  Fontana candles are now the first to be MADE SAFE® certified and have always been certified cruelty-free by the Leaping Bunny Program. 

How to Find a Natural Air Freshener: Which Air Fresheners Are Safe?

Rather than masking odors with other, more potent odors, or disabling your sense of smell altogether, there are ways to absorb unwanted odors. Sodium carbonate (otherwise known as baking soda) has been safely used as an odor sponge for generations with no known ill effects. There are also ways to employ specific types of charcoal products to scrub unwanted odors from indoor air.

When it comes to spray air fresheners, the good news is that there are regulations regarding what can and cannot go into them. The bad news is that there are gaping loopholes in these regulations, the most obvious of which is “trade secrets.” This allows companies to refuse to name all the ingredients in an air freshener. Without this disclosure, it’s very challenging to figure out if your air freshener is toxic just by looking at the label. 

We’ve done the research for you here, so read on for which natural air fresheners are truly safe and effective.  

Good Stuff

Aura Cacia Natural Air Freshener

Aura Cacia has a demonstrated committment to product safety as well as sustainability. Their spritzer air freshener is made from essential oils and water and also uses no propellants.

Aura Cacia also makes a plug-in room diffuser that you can use with their selection of essential oils.

Natural Air Freshener Lavender Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Lactobacillus Ferment, Benzoic Acid, Lavandula Intermedia (Lavandin) Oil, Lavandula Latifolia (Spike Lavender) Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, Citric Acid. 

Cost per ounce: $1.62

Fontana Essential Oil Room Spray

This home spray is my favorite in terms of the scents. It’s entirely safe and comprised of only essential oils.

Lavender Ingredients: Hammamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel), distilled water, LAVENDULA ANGUSTIFOLIA (lavender), PELARGONIUM GRAVEOLENS (geranium), CITRUS SINENSIS (sweet orange)

Cost per ounce: $9.99

Fontana Wax Melts Air Freshener

If you want something that’s 100% natural but best mimics a conventional plug-in air freshener, we recommend the Fontana Wax Melts. These are made with only natural and non-toxic ingredients like coconut oil and beeswax.

You can choose from a variety of essential oils scents, including vanilla, lavender, and citrus peel & pine. All wax melts are made with ingredients that have passed MADE SAFE screenings. To use, you’ll also need to purchase a wax warmer. The Fontana wax melt pucks burn for 20 to 25 hours.

Sample Ingredients: Cocus Nucifera (coconut oil), Apis Mellifeca (beeswax), Aromatic Vanilla Extract: Natural Triethyl Citrate, Vanilla Planifolia Fruit Extract, MENTHA PIPERITA (steam distilled peppermint oil), MENTHA SPICATA (steam distilled spearmint oil)

Good Natured Brand Air Freshener Spray or Concentrate

Good Natured Brand Room & Linen Spray or Concentrate has a lingering sweet lemongrass scent that freshens the air with only natural essential oils. You can purchase the pre-mixed spray bottle to start. Then, if you want to save money (and bottles!), you can order the refill concentrate. You mix 1 ounce of concentrate with 15 ounces of water to make one bottle of spray.

Ingredients: Water, Decyl Glucoside, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus (Lemongrass) Oil.

Cost per ounce: $0.22

Moso Natural Air Freshener/Purifier

While these charcoal bags are different from a spray air fresheners, they are surprisingly effective at reducing indoor odors. Moso bags contain activated bamboo charcoal, which serves as a filtering agent (as opposed to a masking agent). The great thing about most filtering agents is that they not only remove unwanted odors, but they also scrub the air of some of the nasties that may be floating around your home—things like formaldehyde, ammonia, benzene, chloroform gases, and bacteria/allergens. After a couple of years of use, simply throw the charcoal on your garden–it’s 100% biodegradable. The bags range in size, and will cost between $10 and $22.

Moso Natural Unscented Air Freshener Spray

This is a fast and scent-free solution for bathrooms, garbage areas, and other areas prone to odors. This powerful formula uses probiotics that actively target and destroy odor-causing molecules, without the use of overbearing fragrance. 

Ingredients: Water, Proprietary Blend Of Non-GMO Probiotics, Sodium Citrate, Potassium Phosphate, EPA Safer Choice Ordenone, Plant-Based Surfactants

Cost per ounce: $3.80

Poofy Organics Natural Air Freshener

Poofy’s aromatherapy blend contains nothing concerning, and imparts the room with a pleasantly herbal kind of fragrance. 

Ingredients: Distilled water, Organic Aloe Juice, Organic Saponified Coconut oil, Organic Saponified Shea butter, Organic Saponified Olive Oil, Organic Saponified Sunflower oil, Organic Saponified Jojoba Oil, Organic Glycerin (coconut), Organic Guar Gum, Organic Calendula extract, Rosemary Extract, Organic Lemon (Citrus Medica Limonum) Essential Oil, Organic Lime (Citrus Aurantifolia) Essential Oil, Organic Orange (Citrus Aurantium dulcis) Essential Oil.

Discount code: MAIAJAMES for 10% off

Cost per use: $1.12

Primally Pure Air Freshener Room Spray 

Primally Pure Room Spray comes in seasonal scents like warm citrus spice to purify your home. The spray smells extra luxurious to me–and it makes a beautiful gift. It contains a blend of wildcrafted botanicals with antibacterial, antiviral, and antiseptic properties to help purify the air in addition to imparting a scent. You can spray the air freshener directly into the air or onto linens, couches, and curtains, too

Sample Ingredients: Distilled water, grape alcohol*, essential oils of cardamom*, wildcrafted orange, blood orange*, cinnamon bark, wildcrafted cacao, wildcrafted ocotea, wildcrafted manuka and roman chamomile*

Cost per ounce: $16

Use code: GIMMETHEGOODSTUF10 for 10% off sitewide.

Bad Stuff

Glade PlugIns are some of the top selling air fresheners in the United States. SC Johnson moves well over 20 million units of these guys a year, which is scary when you know what’s in them. PlugIn units contain a small heating element, which heats the “scented oils” (not to be confused with actual essential oils), and causes them to disperse into the air. Using the trade secret loophole, Glade will not release their entire ingredient list. We do know that PlugIns have parabens and phthalates, which is enough to earn them a Bad Stuff designation. 

Lysol Neutra Air Sanitizer evokes a feeling of cleanliness and safety, thanks to the use of the word “sanitizer.” Not so much. Besides including the pesticide dimethyl benzyl ammonium saccharinate, this product comes in an aerosol can and uses butane and propane as propellants. It’s not good to breathe any of these volatile gasses, and don’t light a match around them. Lysol Neutra also contains trace levels of phthalates. Lysol earns extra demerits for the “New Moms” section of their website, where they promote cleaning and disinfecting with Lysol products! 

Febreze is one of the only air fresheners that actually neutralizes odors (in addition to masking them with a big burst of fragrance). Think this makes Febreze Good Stuff? Nope. EWG examined Febreze Air Effects (Hawaiian Aloha) and found air contaminants associated with asthma, allergies, and environmental toxicity. 

Sneaky Stuff

Caldrea Linen and Room Spray is advertised as follows: “ This safe and versatile essential oil air freshener creates a signature scent.” “Safe” is a stretch, considering that among the ingredients are benzisothiazolinone, which irritates skin and is linked to cancer, and methylisothiazolinone, which carries with it immune system and allergy concerns. 

Mrs. Meyers Air Freshener claims to be earth-friendly, but contains synthetic fragrance, and Mrs. Meyers doesn’t divulge what specific chemicals make up the scent. On top of that, this product contains PEG-40, which is neither natural nor non-toxic. 

You’ll find Citrus Magic air fresheners in most health food stores. The most recent study I found (which is from 2007) showed that Citrus Magic contained trace amounts of phthalates. I have not been able to confirm whether or not this has been remedied. The label of their solid air freshener still just reads: “fragrance.” 

Safe Air Fresheners That Also Clean the Air 

Some air fresheners use essential oils that help purify the air. But to truly CLEAN the air, you need an air filter. Indoor air doesn’t easily mix with fresh air, allowing contaminants to accumulate.  

Using an air filter can help remove contaminants from the air rather than just masking smells. Toxins air filters can help remove from indoor air include: 

  • Particulates, like dust, smoke, mold spores, pollen, diesel exhaust, flame-retardants, bacteria, and viruses. 
  • VOCs, like formaldehyde, acetone, benzene, butanol, carbon disulfide, ethanol, terpenes, toluene, and more.

The combination of air-tight homes and toxic agents (such as cleaning products and off-gassing furniture and carpets) is a real health risk, especially when we consider how much of our lives we spend indoors.

To choose the best air filter for your home, check out our Air Filters Safe Product Guide. And here are the three that I have in my home:

Make Your Own Natural Air Fresheners

Sometimes I will make the effort to simmer spices on the stovetop to make our house smell nice. Clove and orange peels, for instance, lend a really nice aroma to my apartment. Just be sure to keep enough water in the pot so that your homemade potpourri doesn’t burn. 

I look forward to your comments!

Stay sane,

Maia, Founder & CEO

Note: This article contains affiliate links or sponsored content, which means that if you make a purchase, we may earn a commission. We only recommend products that meet our strict standards for non-toxicity and that we use (or want to use!) ourselves. Thank you so much for supporting the brands that make Good Stuff! 

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Leave a Reply

  1. Erika Avatar

    Hi. Can you tell me about Pura? They advertise as non toxic eco friendly and safe for pets and kids. Just wanted to get your take. Thanks!

  2. Erika Avatar

    Have you heard of Pura diffuser and their scents? It’s supposed to be safe for environment, pets and kids. Wondering your thoughts on it.

  3. Cathy Avatar

    My understanding is the Scent Fill 100% natural oil air wick plug in is non toxic is this a good room deodorizer to use.

  4. Ricardo Hamilton jr Avatar

    I had made a request which may have been incorrect! I had spoken to some people I reside with this morning ( text message from 347-931-4200) and said in paraphrase ” don’t light incense in the hallways and other rooms as people may pass out, but light it in the bathroom for shitting. I asked to spray the hallways and rooms with Lysol neutra air.” I had in a questionnaire on social media asked to smoke out the subway tunnels than spray oil air freshener to capture the smoke and drag it to the ground and install indoor breathing plants. I would like to know if I should retract that statement also, as the subway tunnels get moist sometimes. I spoke also to folk about putting scented oil on their nose holes instead of smoking, but that maybe extraordinarily strong also. I am trying to find out about ECO-ME with a natural nonflammable propellants and nozzle combination that can spray a strong enough mist to capture building spaces properly.

    My contact info
    Ricardo George Hamilton jr.
    1060 Walton avenue Bronx,NYC,NY 10452 between 165st and 166st
    347-931-4200 Cell Phone 718-293-3136 House number
    (soul embryo)8 to 9(blood clot cell) months before 01/14/1990( date separated from mother)
    ***-**-1071 Last 4 of my social security number
    NY010732345 My workforce 1 number I have multiple job interviews with them which need to be documented!
    I have help from America Works also!
    I am getting a review of my case management with Yaritza Gomez-Nacht my ID # 722675099 and her number is 646-265-0687 from Empire blue cross blue shield and
    I left a message and spoke about working with Michelle Kirk, (Administrative Specialist Trainee 2, SNAP Policy/Field Operations Bureau, Employment and Income Support Programs)