Are Air Fresheners Safe To Use During Pregnancy?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are over 6 million pregnancies in the United States each year. Recent information regarding toxic chemicals in many personal care items has the EPA warning expectant mothers to avoid certain toxins during their pregnancy.

Types of Air Freshener

Aerosol spray cans may contain VOCs, which are elements used to help fragrances enter and remain in the air. VOCs can cause health problems and, according to the EPA, it is important to ensure proper ventilation exists when spraying aerosol cans indoors.

Non-Aerosol sprays will “spritz” the air and do not contain any VOCs. The formulas inside these containers are either a synthetic compound or one using essential oils.

Solid air fresheners emit a fragrance within a certain radius over time. The EPA states solid air fresheners, if eaten, usually cause death in both humans and rats.

Diffusers use a concentrated form of oil, which is either a chemical mixture or that of essential oils. Reed diffusers use stick-like wands, immersed into the fragrance mixture. As the reeds soak up the fragrance, it is emitted into the surrounding area. Other diffusers use a heat source to heat the fragrance, which then perfumes the room.


Air Fresheners contain four basic ingredients: formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p-Dichlorobenzene and aerosol propellants.

Formaldehyde is a colorless and flammable chemical used widely in building materials and many household products. The National Cancer Institute warns of short term effects from exposure to formaldehyde can include headaches, coughing, watery eyes and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and skin. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen.

Petroleum Distillates are listed by the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) pocket guide, as a colorless and highly flammable liquid which can cause headache, nausea and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.

p-Dichlorobenzene is a white crystalline solid and has an odor similar to mothballs. It is combustible and can cause cancer in animals. Exposure to p-Dichlorobenzene can cause headache, eye irritation, vomiting, weight loss and jaundice.

Aerosol propellants are mainly composed of hydrocarbons, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. This combination is flammable and the gases can cause headaches, increased heart rates and dizziness.

Natural air fresheners

Made up primarily of essential oils, these air fresheners do not contain synthetic chemical compounds and would be offered either as a non-aerosol product or in diffuser format.

While it may be common belief that anything natural must be good for us, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy advices pregnant moms to not use any essential oils during the first three months. During the remainder of the pregnancy, certain oils are recommended to be avoided as they may cause adverse reactions.

Other sources of natural air fresheners involve simple kitchen ideas such as boiling orange peels and cloves on the stove top to fill the home with a pleasant aroma.

Health Risk to Fetus

A developing fetus is growing constantly and can be exposed to undesirable elements even when in the mother’s womb. This exposure can lead to immediate or long-term health concerns.

A study published in confirmed that their does exist a relationship between child cancers and leukemia with exposure to areas with VOC uses. It is suspected the mother inhales these elements while pregnant and unknowingly passes them along to her developing fetus.

Health Risks to Mom

VOCs have been under much study as of late by organizations such as our FDA and exposure and duration of exposure.

If exposed to VOCs in poorly ventilated areas in which the concentration raises to higher levels, one may experience headache, nausea, dizziness and irritation of the skin, eyes and nose. The EPA even suggests some of these elements may be carcinogenic in both animals and human.

Toulene and Xylene are two compounds found often in air fresheners and according to the U.S National Library of Medicine, are both quite toxic. Chronic inhalation of these compounds can cause irreversible brain damage.


Everyone will have their own preference on air freshener types and whether or not to use them during a pregnancy. The information in this article has been taken from multiple sources to provide information on the type of chemicals in air fresheners and their possible health effects.

If you are uncertain about using store bought air freshener during pregnancy, consider using home-made air fresheners such as boiling spices and fruit peels on the stove or baking an apple pie.


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