Greenwash Of The Week: Febreze-“It’s A Breath Of Fresh Air”.

November 19, 2008

Um, no, not really. A chemical product designed to be sprayed around your house and stinky family marketed as a “breath of fresh air”? Don’t think so. How about opening some windows or stepping outside for your fresh air? Febreze’s main active ingredient is Cyclodextrin, which binds or entraps various hydrophobic compounds that cause odors. (Wikipedia). It is a starch based compound that swallows odors, encapsulating them inside the compound. It does not actually clean your fabrics at all, it just traps odors for a while. So not only are you using chemicals to try to reproduce a “breath of fresh air”, but said chemicals are only masking any odors in the house – it doesn’t clean anything. And while their television advertisements try to sell you on smothering yourself in pillows covered with it and dousing your home from top to bottom, you might want to think twice after reading their MSDS sheet:

  • Possible mild gastrointestinal irritation with nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
  • Inhalation of high concentrations of ethanol vapor may cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, drowsiness, and fatigue.
  • Use chemical goggles and protective gloves (rubber, neoprene) during spill clean-up.

Still want to spray it around your family to try to make them smell better? Safer alternatives for a better smelling home include soy candles, cinnamon sticks in boiling water, bowls of vinegar in the smelly areas, and opening your windows and doors. Or, you can try cleaning with a non-toxic cleaner, since that will actually help to remove odors and not just mask them.

“A breath of fresh air” from a can filled with fragrances and chemicals. I don’t think so.

Filed in: toxic • Tags: ,

About the Author:

After a varied past of being a test driver for automotive television programs, a Hollywood studio lackey, and an online media sales director, David is now the publisher and editor of The Good Human. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, drinks good beer, and builds stuff in the garage. You can follow him on Twitter at @thegoodhuman or G+ at Google
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Comments (13)

  1. Tara Burner says:

    OMG “fresh air” ummmm NOT!
    I get an instant vein popping migraine at the smallest inhalation of Febreeze or any other chemical funk people spray!
    It’s so bad I can’t even walk down the “cleaning” aisle at stores.
    You cannot imagine how many times I’ve tried to get people to grasp the concept of covering up odors with chemical funk isn’t the way to go & they don’t grasp it, yet they have health/medical issues now and I don’t…see the connection? they don’t :(
    Excellent blog as always :)

  2. David says:

    Yea, it’s quite stupid to use chemicals to cover up smells. How backwards is that?

  3. jim says:

    Fresh air does not cause “Possible mild gastrointestinal irritation with nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.” Plus fresh air is free.

  4. Becca says:

    I am guilty of having used Febreze, I thought it was healthier just b/c it wasn’t an aerosol and because it is safe for fabrics and I believe they say safe for pets. UGH, gross, never again.

  5. For the life of me, I never understood why someone would want to spray a nasty aerosol into their home to mask a foul odor with a less foul odor. Try opening a window… it’s free.

    If it smells that bad, just light a match (humor intended) or consider being less of a slob.

  6. David says:

    Strange, as the products I use in my house don’t say things like:

    “Ventilate area of spill. Eliminate all sources of ignition.
    Remove all non-essential personnel from area. Clean-up personnel should
    wear proper protective equipment and clothing. Absorb material with
    suitable absorbent and containerize for disposal.”

    That to me is not safe, and NOT a breath of fresh air, which is the point of the article.

  7. bustersmom says:

    The MSDS for Febreze indicates that the gastrointestinal upset comes from ingesting the stuff. Note that the purest, most natural soap will cause terrible gastrointestinal upset if you eat it. The inhalation problem comes from inhaling alcohol fumes, which can happen if you use regular rubbing alcohol to clean things.

    From the distilled white vinegar MSDS:
    3. HAZARD IDENTIFICATION
    Emergency Overview: Do not ingest. Avoid skin and eye contact. Avoid
    exposure to vapors or mists.
    Potential Health Effects:
    Eyes: May cause irritation.
    Skin: May cause irritation.
    Ingestion: May cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
    Inhalation: May cause irritation to respiratory tract.

    6. SPILL OR LEAK PROCEDURES
    Steps to be Taken in Case Material is Released or Spilled:
    Ventilate area of spill. Eliminate all sources of ignition.
    Remove all non-essential personnel from area. Clean-up personnel should
    wear proper protective equipment and clothing. Absorb material with
    suitable absorbent and containerize for disposal.

    No, I’m not shilling for Febreze — I just like real science.

  8. Linda Vear says:

    My family had had horrible reactions to Febreeze and also Victoria’s secret air fresheners. Shortness of breath, chronic hacking cough,recurrent bronchitis, diarrhea, rashes. It is highly toxic in my opinion. Recently a friend’s niece sprayed her bed and pillow with it and developed Steven’s Johnson syndrome. I would recommend no one ever use this in their home. You can make your own non-toxic air freshener very easily. 10 ounces of vodka (yes Vodka! it is non-toxic compared to denatured isopropyl alcohol) to 1/4 oz. of your favorite essential oil scent. Purchase your essential oil at a health food store and not a drugstore. I like the “Now” brand or “Snow Lotus Aromatherapy” brands because they are processed by distillation and not solvents.I have been using this recipe for years with no side-effects. I like Lavender and lemon, but let your nose be your guide.

  9. rovert says:

    Seems to be a very unreliable article scientifically, see bustersmom’s comment.

    Also, what kind of consumer could possibly think febreze cleans things by being sprayed on them? Of course it only masks the odor, that’s the purpose of the product.

    Also also, just because the active ingredient is a chemical with an unfamiliar name, doesn’t make the product unsafe. Febreze is essentially a solution of this chemical, alcohol and perfume in water. There are far grosser things to interact with in the average home than this.

  10. ceti says:

    This product is a toxic, hazardous substance which should not be allowed to POLLUTE indoor air. Greenwashing and sience-washing are equally BS attempts at buttressing the corporate profits of the chemical industry. The synthetic chemical fragrance in febreze is enough to knock a lot of people out, but let’s look at other ingredients:

    Febreze also contains: acetaldehyde, Benzaldehyde (a member of the formaldehyde family; carcinogenic) and many other chemicals which are allergenic and irritating to people with asthma, chemical sensitivities, and many other health conditions. Don’t breze me bro!

  11. Vegalante says:

    Nonesense. How can you call this PRODUCT ‘Green’ when it’s a). chemical b) not organic c). TESTED ON ANIMALS – Proct and gamble are huge testers. The people who buy this product probably have pets, and the company makes money from hurting animals.

  12. Sharon says:

    Every washroom in my office has a Frebreze can in it and my coworkers spray it like mad every chance they get. And the washrooms are right next to everyone’s desks. If they go into the washroom just to wash their hands, they’ll spray it just because they think it smells nice. IT DOES NOT! Not even counting the horrible chemicals that are in it, Frebreze just smells plain awful! I never thought it smelled good at all.

    I keep telling my coworkers that just closing the bathroom door and turning the fan on will get rid of odors in about 15-20 mins. But that crappy Febreze smell lingers in the entire office for over an hour!