Artificial Fragrances in Your Home

Fresh outdoors smell

Artificial fragrances lurk unmarked in many of your household cleaning products. These fragrances can be bothersome as they leave residues, irritating when they are allergens, and harmful when they pose known health risks.

“Fragrance affects us all. For some, it can enhance a moment, invoke a memory, or even improve a mood. As consumers, we seek it out in all kinds of products we use in our everyday lives. And for many of us, there’s a positive sensory experience associated with fragrance. But unfortunately, this may not be without consequence. In addition to the potential health consequences of certain fragrance ingredients linked to cancer, interference with hormones, and reproductive harm, a significant portion of the population suffers from fragrance-related allergies.” Women’s Voices for Earth, “Secret Scents: How Hidden Fragrance Allergens Harm Public Health,” February 2013.

Bothersome, Irritating, and Harmful

Fragrances are just bothersome when they leave a residue. I’ve been writing about residues and the consequences for your cloth diapers, so you probably have an idea that residues of oil, minerals, or any other substances can hold on to nasty stink. It’s just strange to me that we allow ourselves to be convinced that we need to spray fragrance around our homes or plug oil burners into our outlets. Both of these leave a film on the walls, the fabric of furniture, and everywhere else in our houses. That is the least of what artificial fragrances in household products do.

Worse, artificial fragrances are often allergens. Even some cleaning products formulated to be allergy-safe have unlisted ingredients that are known to cause problems for those with sensitivities or allergies. There is a lot of work being done right now to expose then remove allergens from household products.

Worst of all, though, are the toxic chemicals in household cleaning and freshening products that expose us to a long list of harmful effects. We don’t even know all of the effects because these chemicals are not tested and approved for use.

Naturemom works hard to help you remove toxins from your home by choosing carefully which products to sell at and by educating customers about the problems with conventional products. She told me that if she could convince parents to do just two thing to keep toxins away from their children, those would be: 1) ditch artificial fabric softeners, and 2) don’t use fragrances that are sprayed around the house. Those artificial fragranced plugins are her worst nightmare.

So, you avoid the problem ingredients, right? Not quite so easy. You can’t avoid them because toxic fragrance ingredients aren’t on labels. Now what?

Disclosure of Ingredients

Have you ever noticed “fragrance” as an ingredient on shampoo, cleaners, or laundry detergent? What is “fragrance”? Can I get a Material Safety Data Sheet on that? No, of course not. Manufacturers are not required to list individual ingredients. They argue that proprietary blends must be kept secret.

Sure it’s a problem that manufacturers include toxic ingredients in their products marketed to clean our houses, but it’s an even bigger problem that they aren’t required to disclose ingredients. How can I stay away from allergens, irritants, and even neurotoxins or carcinogens if I don’t know what is in these products? I can’t—unless I read studies that have independently tested these products for the offending ingredients.

Some manufacturers argue that their websites (or side project websites, away from consumer traffic) are the best place to list ingredients. That just makes the information more difficult to find when we make our buying decisions. Deep on those websites where they are difficult to find and even more difficult to download to your phone while you are shopping, a couple of manufacturers have provided master ingredient lists. These lists don’t help me know which products to avoid because of specific allergens, though. They are not helpful in the way that we as consumers need help.

Listing ingredients on products should be the standard. Some companies (Clean Well and Seventh Generation) use peel-back labels to list all of their ingredients. The methods are available. Not listing ingredients is a choice that large manufacturers are making because it masks their inclusion of toxic chemicals.

Simple Actions You Can Take

  • Go through your house, pull up the Environmental Working Group database, and check every household cleaning, freshening, laundry, kitchen, bathroom, floor, furniture, and other product. Ditch the toxic cleaning products.
  • Use simple ingredients like boiling water, vinegar, and lemon to give your house a cleaner clean.
  • If you want to add fragrance to your homemade cleaning products, use natural smells, such as orange peels in vinegar for cleaning, or add essential oils, that contain no undisclosed chemicals. When you control what you smell, you can avoid anything that causes allergies or sensitivities for your family members.
  • Learn about chemicals of concern and the chemical body burden. The research and campaigns below will give you a lot of information to share with your friends and family.

Consequences of Artificial Smells

One of the consequences of all of the conditioning to artificial smells is that you begin to believe the underlying message: your smell is wrong. If you or your house are stinky, there is a remedy for that. Find the source and clean it up. Doesn’t that sound simple?


A 2007 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found pthalates in air fresheners, even those labelled “all natural.”

In a 2011 study, Women’s Voices for the Earth looked at toxic chemicals in popular household products, including not just air fresheners but laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, disinfectant sprays, and more.

Women’s Voices for the Earth created the report card The Dirt on Cleaning Product Companies to show what major manufacturers are doing about toxic chemicals in their products.

Campaigns & Organizations
NRDC Take out Toxics campaign points out that 80,000 chemicals permitted in products in the U.S. have never been tested for health effects.

Safer Chemicals / Healthy Families is a coalition of professionals, businesses, advocacy groups, and others. This is an active organization you can follow on social media for alerts about toxics and efforts to remove them from household products. Safer Chemicals / Healthy Families lists the major chemicals of concern and their consequences.

Women’s Voices for Earth Secret Scents campaign focuses primarily on the issue of allergens used as fragrance ingredients in common products.

Women’s Voices for Earth What’s That Smell? campaign focuses on chemicals of concern used as fragrance in cleaning products.

Image © Erik Reis |

Anti-bacterial Ingredient Triclosan Found to Weaken Muscle

Washing Hands with Liquid Soap

Triclosan, a chemical added to many dozens of household products, has been in the news this past week as a new study finds that the chemical weakens muscle by interfering with the movement of calcium in cells. Data from the study “provide strong evidence that the chemical is of concern to both human and environmental health.”

Where are the environmental protections that we rely on? Earlier this year, the Canadian Ministers of Environment and Health announced a finding that “triclosan is not harmful to human health, but in significant amounts can cause harm to the environment.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control Fact Sheet on Triclosan still says, “More research is needed to assess the human health effects of exposure to triclosan.” Despite the slow-moving national regulation of chemical additives, the research finally seems to have reached a tipping point.

Environmental Working Group, in their 2008 report on Triclosan, recommended removing the chemical from all consumer products. That might seem an extreme conclusion at first. For those companies that add the chemical to dozens of products, it might seem impossible to discontinue its use. Continued research and persistent pressure have brought us to the point where a ban on triclosan seems possible, even probable.

Claims As a Germ Killer

Triclosan has been added to consumer products as a germ killer. We know it best as an ingredient in anti-bacterial soap. Does antibacterial soap work better than other soap to kill bacteria? No, dozens of studies have found that triclosan does not work better than plain soap.

It’s Not Just Soap

You might think you would find this so-called anti-bacterial pesticide just in anti-bacterial soap, but it is used in consumer products throughout your house: toothpaste, toys, filters, vacuums, cart covers, and even hockey helmets.

A few of the products containing triclosan include: Colgate Total, Revlon ColorStay LipSHINE Lipcolor Plus Gloss, Faberware Microban Cutting Boards, Fellowes Cordless Microban Keyboard and Microban Mouse Pad, Biofresh socks, Playskool toys (Stack ‘n Scoop Whale, Rockin’ Radio, Hourglass, Sounds Around Driver, Roll ‘n Rattle Ball, Animal Sounds Phone, Busy Beads Pal, Pop ‘n Spin Top, Lights ‘n Surprise Laptop), Ticonderoga Antibacterial pencil, Bauer hockey helmets, Miller Paint Interior Paint, Dupont Air Filters, BioEars earplugs, Petmate LeBistro feeders and waterers, Infantino cart covers and baby carriers, Bissell Healthy Home Vacuum, Rival Seal-A-Meal Vacuum Food Sealer, CleenFreek SportsHygiene Yoga Mat. (See Beyond Pesticides for their list of products containing triclosan, and see the SkinDeep database for a list of cosmetics that include triclosan. Check the Good Guide for product ratings, and download their app so you can scan bar codes as you shop.)

Especially as more research shows potential harm from triclosan, you might find that the chemical disappears from some of these products. As Beyond Pesticides points out, “many companies are quietly taking triclosan out of their products Remember to always refer to product labels to determine whether triclosan is contained in your product.”

Getting Rid of Triclosan

As with so much of the chemical body burden resulting from the experimental innovations of modern synthetics, chemicals accumulate in our bodies. There is a way a woman can rid herself of these chemicals: breastfeed. That’s right. Triclosan and other chemicals are found in breastmilk then passed to babies. It is unlikely we can prevent all exposure to Triclosan and other dangerous chemicals without a complete ban from consumer products, but we as individuals can limit our exposure by understanding the products that use these chemicals and avoiding those products.

Environmental Working Group recommended in 2008 that Triclosan be banned from all consumer products. Just this week, Johnson & Johnson announced that they will remove Triclosan from all products by the end of 2015. Consumer pressure does work to remove these dangerous ingredients from the products that surround us. It helps us all to vote with our dollars and avoid products with experimental chemical ingredients, but we also need to keep up the pressure as consumers to encourage changes like this.

Naturally Antibacterial

As you pack your child’s school bag, if you are looking for naturally antibacterial cleaners that do not add to your child’s chemical body burden, consider Clean George (Made in USA) and Graydon (Made in Toronto). Both products use essential oils as the antibacterial ingredient.

Image © Umiterdem |

Plastic-free Products: Sleeping

Fine cotton baby blanket

When the U.S. CPSIA banned certain phthalates in children’s sleeping products, I think they had in mind primarily sucking products. Pajamas count here, too, since there could conceivably be soft plastics in surface decorations or in the skid-preventing patterns on footie pajamas. Kids can suck those, but they aren’t designed to be sucked. Basically, because very young children put so much in their mouths, everything made for children under 3 becomes a suckable item.

It’s not a bad thing to avoid plastics in pillows, blankets, and all of the other sleep products for kids, but it is just silly to consider that an organic cotton blanket is subject to testing for soft plastics. It is not difficult to see why manufacturers and retailers who are concerned about toxic chemicals in children’s products are still unhappy about the U.S. law.

Still, I’m using the CPSIA as my guide this week for switching from products that contain plastics to plastic-free products for feeding, sleeping, and toys for children.

Easy Plastic-free Changes

As with my plastic-free feeding recommendations, the easiest changes we can make are to switch to plastic-free products that do much the same thing as the plastic products. These are the painless changes.

Vinyl-free bedding

Whatever our blankets and pillows breathe out, we breathe in all night. Because of the sweet, carcinogenic, endocrine-disrupting smell of vinyl chloride, it is particularly important to get vinyl out of bedding.

Baby Mattress PadA lot of parents are concerned about leaking diapers and wet beds. There are a couple of ways to approach this problem. Use a diaper that doesn’t leak or use a mattress pad. A vinyl-free mattress pad is a start, but it isn’t necessarily plastic-free, since a lot of waterproof items still have microfibers or polyurethane laminate or both. The truly plastic-free, waterproof mattress pad is wool. A wool changing pad will work if your baby doesn’t move much during the night, or a larger wool blanket can but put under the sheets to prevent leaking into the mattress.

Baby blankets of 100% cotton or 100% soft, merino wool are naturally absorbent. They will keep your baby warm enough while still breathing to avoid the wrapped-in-plastic feeling in the morning.


As with blankets, natural materials are the least toxic choice for your sleeping child. You don’t need soft plastic printing or decorations on the pajamas, you don’t need microfiber for absorbency, you don’t need toxic fabric treatments. It isn’t easy to find untreated, natural fiber pajamas, but it is worth the effort.


A baby gets more than nutrition from breastfeeding. They suck for comfort. There are plastic breast-substitutes available, but letting a baby suck is the natural, stuff-free way to go. held off stocking pacifiers for almost 5 years, but customers asked time and time again for an all-natural, non-toxic option they could trust. So, they stocked the Natursutten pacifier in natural rubber, the safest pacifier on the market. NOTE: If you are planning to breastfeed, it is highly recommended that no pacifier or bottle be introduced until you have a strong nursing relationship established.


Wool diaper coverNighttime diapering is not mysterious. All it takes is enough absorbency and enough leak protection. Trying to use the same diapers for 8-12 hours that a baby wears during the day for 2-4 hours is asking for an accident, so don’t! It is easy to adjust absorbency of cloth diapers. You will need to adapt to your baby’s needs—how long does she sleep, when does she wet at night and how much. Start with 2-3 organic cotton prefolds and a nice, Canadian-made, 100% wool Aristocrats wool soaker and adjust from there.

That ammonia smell that can become very concentrated in a baby’s diaper by morning may cause chemical reactions in soft plastics. Polyester, polyurethane, and other polymers are broken down in the recycling (depolymerization) process with, among other chemical agents, ammonia. (Feedstock Recycling of Plastic Wastes, José Aguado and David P. Serrano, p55.) So, avoid plastics in diapers and diaper covers in order to avoid this particular science experiment.

Those are a few, simple first steps to take, but this is still a STUFF-oriented approach. After I finish by writing about toys tomorrow, I will follow with further steps at the end of June in our second week of focus on plastic.

Plastic-free Products: Feeding

Wean Cubes glass baby food jarsIn our Focus on Plastic, we want to take positive steps to reduce the use of plastic for our families. For the rest of this week, I’ll write about plastic-free products for children.

Two Big Issues with Plastic Use

The first issue, off-gassing.

New car smell. You know that characteristic smell and that of a new shower curtain or plastic doll. You may be smelling the sweet, mild smell of vinyl chloride, which is used to make PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Short-term exposures can cause dizziness and headaches, while long-term exposures can cause liver damage, cancer, and reproductive effects. The smell tends to go away over time.

The polymers (long chains of molecules) that make up soft plastics are more likely to have unreacted monomers (single, unchained molecules). Outgassing happens as unreacted chemical monomers are released. Once the unreacted monomers are released, the smell is more mild or even undetectable.

We get used to the smell and even crave it to trigger memory. What else could explain the desire to buy “New car smell spray”? Some people sniff glue, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Vinyl research is extensive, and research on other soft plastics is building. We’ve trained ourselves to crave what is harming us.

In the case of outgassing, there is no further chemical reaction necessary to release the toxins since they are not chained to the polymers. We might detect their release as smell, or they might leach into our water from plastic single-use water bottles or plastic linings of reusable water bottles.

The second issue, chemical reactions changing the plastic.

Unreacted chemicals in plastics can be released, but there can also be new reactions that change the plastics and allow the release of further toxins. Putting an acidic food like tomatoes in a plastic lined metal can will create a reaction. BPA (bisphenol A), a plastic chemical that “functions like a synthetic estrogen,” has been found in canned foods. This is the endocrine disruption that has been in the news for years. Unsafe levels of BPA are also found in 1 of 3 cans of infant formula.

Another issue, closely related to the second, radiation.

If you leave plastic water in the car in the sun, microwave food in plastic containers, or leave plastic toys in the yard, there could be a reaction between the ultraviolet light or the radiation and the plastic. Heating plastic can degrade the chemical bond. That chemical reaction could then leave toxins in the plastic that can be released.

In a microwave, the particular dangers come with fatty foods cooked at high temperatures. Even the most conservative advice urges us not to let plastics, like thin plastic wrap, touch foods in the microwave.

These are only a few of the possibilities. Frankly, like so many toxic situations in our world, it’s overwhelming. But, the point of today’s post is to consider eco baby steps.

Danger Areas

The U.S. CPSIA bans six phthalates in children’s products, three permanently and three pending further review. Those plastic chemicals banned are prohibited in children’s toys and child-care articles, which includes feeding, sleeping, and sucking.

Following this logic, I’ve divided products into three areas to discuss plastic-free alternatives: feeding, sleeping, and toys. Today, feeding. Sleeping and toys will follow in the next two days.

Easy Plastic-free Changes

The easiest changes we can make are to switch to plastic-free products that do much the same thing as the plastic products that have become so common over the past half century. There is little lifestyle change required to make a switch to plastic-free feeding products.


Glass baby bottleSome of the choices for babies and children are the same for the whole family. The changes we have made in the past couple of years are: have milk delivered in glass bottles, use glass containers for leftovers, and buy more products, especially ALL tomato products, in glass jars. Our county recycles all clear glass, and, though we don’t have curbside pick-up, we make a monthly visit to our recycling center to drop off everything we have collected.

The switch to glass is easy. Before there was plastic, there was glass. When plastic is banned, glass will still be with us. already carries glass baby bottles, and glass baby food jars are coming soon. Despite calling them “baby food jars,” these small glass containers (the big photo at the top of the post) are perfect for holding spices, cake decorating supplies, or small amounts of leftovers.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel children's dishFor serving, stainless steel is a great option because a child can drop it, and it won’t break like glass or ceramics can. has a big variety of cups, dishes, and feeding accessories in stainless steel, including a cool divided tray in the shape of a bus. The one thing that really surprised me the first time I saw it was a stainless steel straw. Brilliant!

Another easy way to avoid plastic while dining out is to carry flatware with you. When I built my 72-hour bug-out bag of essentials, I saw a huge collection of different kinds of travel flatware. Some of them were camping utensils that hook all together, which can be a convenient way to keep from losing the occasional spoon in the bottom of your bag, but I choose a heavier set that came in its own snapping case. After I use and wipe down the utensils, I can just tuck them in their case and take them home to clean the utensils and the case. You don’t have to be so fancy. Just throw a few sets of flatware in a reusable cloth bag like the Planet Wise mini wet/dry bag, which is just the right size and can handle any mess you tuck into it.

Those are a few, simple first steps to take, but this is still a STUFF-oriented approach. After covering sleeping products and toys this week, I will follow with further steps at the end of June in our second week of focus on plastic.