Common Odorants Not People- or Pet-Friendly

August 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm 3 comments

Today’s 60-Second Science podcast from Scientific American exposes some eye-opening information on the odorants added to products like detergents and air fresheners.  Apparently, the manufacturers of these products are not required to list all the ingredients in their them.  So — instead of listing all the odorant chemicals in the product, the labels often simply state that they contain a “mixture of perfume oils.”  Thanks FDA!

After hearing that many people reported feeling sick when exposed to strong scents in many of these products (count me in as one of those people – I DETEST artificial odorants), Dr. Anne Steinemann of University of Washington analyzed several of the products.  From SciAm:

According to her report in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review, plug-in air fresheners, scented sprays, dryer sheets and detergents all contained a mixture of volatile organic compounds.

(…) five out of the six products Steinemann tested emitted one or more so-called hazardous air pollutants, which are carcinogens determined to have no safe exposure level by the EPA.   While the study did not test for any human health risk from exposure to these chemicals, Steinemenn says the next time the air in the house smells stale, maybe you just open a window. reported that:

Steinemann decided to do the study, she tells WebMD, after receiving more than 200 consumer complaints about side effects from fragranced products.

“I actually witnessed someone having a seizure when exposed to an air freshener,” she says. She picked six fragranced products — laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, and air fresheners in solid, spray, and oil form.

In a laboratory, she put each product in an isolated space at room temperature. Then she analyzed the surrounding air for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — small molecules that evaporate from the surface of the product into the air. She used advanced methods called gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify the VOCs.

Thank you Dr. Steinemann for reminding my why I gave up fabric softeners and now make my own laundry detergent and air freshener spray.  Also big thanks to bff Audrey who made me a couple of batches of laundry detergent (one liquid and one dry), gave me a kit and some recipes and got me hooked on the best, cleanest — and cheapest — way to clean clothes. reports that:

In the current study of the six products, Steinmann found almost 100 different VOCs emitted by the products under scrutiny.  None of the products listed any of the toxic ingredients on their labels.  Of the six products, five of them emitted at least one carcinogenic substance classified as a “hazardous air pollutant” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and for which there is no known safe level of exposure.

Of all the VOCs revealed in Steinmann’s analysis, 58 of them tested above the 300 micrograms per cubic meter mark, a level considered hazardous or toxic for them all, according to EPA standards.  The plug-in air freshener alone emitted more than 20 VOCs.  The product’s label listed these toxic VOCs as simply a “mixture of perfume oils.”

There are no regulations in the United States that require ingredients labels to list all substances used in the manufacture of personal care and grooming products, laundry products, and air fresheners.  The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires an ingredients list for cosmetics but no federal agency requires a list of the chemicals required to produce the fragrances the cosmetics or other products emit.

So, let’s get this straight.  If I am buying a personal care or grooming product, a laundry product, or an air freshener — the FDA doesn’t care what kind of toxic waste ingredients the manufacturer puts in it?  Lovely.

In a bit of unfortunate (for the manufacturer, Proctor & Gamble) timing, Febreze issued a PR release last week announcing their new “pet-friendly collection.”  The release states that:

Febreze, the leading line of home freshening products and a favorite among pooches and purrs, is extending its revolutionary Pet Odor Eliminator technology into a complete pet-friendly collection. Febreze Fabric Refresher and Air Effects Pet Odor Eliminator offerings will be joined this summer by Febreze Candles Pet Odor Eliminator and Febreze NOTICEables Pet Odor Eliminator, delivering breaths of fresh air to pet-loving homes across the country.

Unlike many air fresheners that just cover up pet odors with a heavy perfume, Febreze Pet Odor Eliminator products eliminate pet odors in the air while at the same time delivering a light, fresh scent. Febreze has come full circle with the entire line, now offering pet owners a wider array of tools to de-stink and freshen up, while maintaining a happy and healthy home for their furry loved ones.

Happy maybe.  Healthy — now that’s debatable.  Given the results of Dr. Steinemann’s research, I think I’ll either open my windows to blow bad odors out of my home, or I’ll use a home-made essential oil spray to cover them up.


Entry filed under: dogs, health, pets, science. Tags: , .

Unique Boxer in the News The Black Dog of Meridan

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Caveat  |  August 15, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    What bugs me about news releases like this is that they never name the products.

  • 2. Audie's Gramma  |  August 16, 2008 at 4:38 am

    So, hows about that detergent formula? I’m pretty happy with the no-dyes, no perfumes stuff from Costco, but I’ll bite.

    The very best kitchen cleaner I’ve ever found is just washing soda and water in a spray bottle. Couple drops of orange oil and it even smells nice.

    Getting our old house “staged” for sale, I used a lot of cleaning products and air fresheners — it does get stale in there with no one living there and the windows closed. That’s with new paint and new carpet, even.

    Gawd that stuff STINKS. Fake apple pie air freshener does NOT smell like apple pie to me. But our realtor assures us that people want it/like it/expect it. Given the amount of aisle space devoted to air “fresheners” in any grocery store or big box, she’s got to be right. How much do people spend to avoid cleaning or opening a window?

    I’m pretty attuned to the difference between real odorants and flavors and artificial ones. Most people are so tone-deaf to their chemical senses, they either can’t tell the difference or prefer the fake stuff.

    And if the dogs don’t roll in anything and we keep the cat box clean — there are no “pet odors” to contend with. Because clean, healthy pets don’t stink. (When the dogs do stink, such as today, they don’t smell like “dogs.” They smell like turkey shit or dead squirrel. And it is not something that Febreze is going to fix. Tonight was the full bath with Vanessa’s Labrador Lavender shampoo, made with real lavender oil, not a chemical knock-off.)

  • 3. Dorene  |  August 17, 2008 at 1:04 am

    Yeah, I want the detergent recipe, too. My husband can’t stand the smell of laundry detergent, so I have to buy the no-dye/no perfumes stuff for him, too.

    I use herbs, flowers, essential oils and homemade potpouris for the air; although keeping the windows open works the best. We use baking soda and vinegar for most of our other cleaning.

    If I keep the litter box clean, the cat has no odors. Unfortunately, Pepper often smells, but that’s becuase she rolls in anything dead/any type of poop and/or the stale water of the canal when it’s really hot. I don’t think Febreze was made for that — nothing like a bath with a vinegar/rosemary herbal rinse to make the dog smell better!

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