Throw Household Products off the Scent

Throw Household Products off the Scent
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Volatile chemicals in consumer products such as air fresheners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets may be hazardous.

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In addition to meat, exposure to common household chemicals may exacerbate or induce allergies, asthma, and eczema. Researchers at Harvard and all around the world collected air samples from where children slept, and demonstrated for the first time that the bedroom concentration of propylene glycol and glycol ethers was significantly associated with an elevated risk of multiple allergic symptoms, runny nose, and eczema. This class of chemical compounds is found in cleaning fluids, paint, pesticides, PVC pipes, varnishes, and may be one of the reasons we’ve seen an increase in these kinds of diseases around the world over the last few decades.

Recently, researchers put a few consumer products to the test: air fresheners, a laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets—each with annual sales over $100 million. Six products; nearly a hundred volatile chemicals identified, though none were listed on the labels; it usually just says something like “fragrance.” And ten of the chemicals they found are regulated as toxic or hazardous—with three officially classified as hazardous air pollutants.

For example, the fabric softener they tested. On the label, it just says “biodegradable fabric softening agents.” And it even smells like mom, when she leans in for a good night kiss. But this is what they really found, including the carcinogenic hazardous air pollutant acetaldehyde.

What about if you just stick to the naturally scented products? Even products advertised as green, natural, organic emitted as many hazardous chemicals as standard ones. For example, a soap boasting pure essential oils and organic tea infusions also contained all of these.

Yeah, but what if you somehow know for certain it’s all just natural— like the limonene, right? That’s a real phytochemical found in real citrus. Until it photo-oxidizes with ozone in ambient air to form dangerous secondary pollutants, including formaldehyde.

When it comes to consumer products, the best smell is no smell.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

In addition to meat, exposure to common household chemicals may exacerbate or induce allergies, asthma, and eczema. Researchers at Harvard and all around the world collected air samples from where children slept, and demonstrated for the first time that the bedroom concentration of propylene glycol and glycol ethers was significantly associated with an elevated risk of multiple allergic symptoms, runny nose, and eczema. This class of chemical compounds is found in cleaning fluids, paint, pesticides, PVC pipes, varnishes, and may be one of the reasons we’ve seen an increase in these kinds of diseases around the world over the last few decades.

Recently, researchers put a few consumer products to the test: air fresheners, a laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets—each with annual sales over $100 million. Six products; nearly a hundred volatile chemicals identified, though none were listed on the labels; it usually just says something like “fragrance.” And ten of the chemicals they found are regulated as toxic or hazardous—with three officially classified as hazardous air pollutants.

For example, the fabric softener they tested. On the label, it just says “biodegradable fabric softening agents.” And it even smells like mom, when she leans in for a good night kiss. But this is what they really found, including the carcinogenic hazardous air pollutant acetaldehyde.

What about if you just stick to the naturally scented products? Even products advertised as green, natural, organic emitted as many hazardous chemicals as standard ones. For example, a soap boasting pure essential oils and organic tea infusions also contained all of these.

Yeah, but what if you somehow know for certain it’s all just natural— like the limonene, right? That’s a real phytochemical found in real citrus. Until it photo-oxidizes with ozone in ambient air to form dangerous secondary pollutants, including formaldehyde.

When it comes to consumer products, the best smell is no smell.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Avani Tanya.

Doctor's Note

Check out my other videos on allergies as well as my other videos on asthma

For more context, see my blog post: Mushrooms and Immunity.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

20 responses to “Throw Household Products off the Scent

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  1. Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Check out the other videos which address allergies and asthma. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!




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  2. I’d heard that scented products are generally “bad,” but the evidence put together here is so compelling that I’m buying unscented products for our home for the first time. Surprisingly, I am not missing the scents like I thought I would. Thank you, Dr. Greger!




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  3. Love the videos! Do you have a suggested list of household products that are “lower offgassing” and safer for our newborn? Thanks for your help Doc.




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  4. For all sorts of home and bath products, many of which you can’t avoid (like soap and toothpaste) the absolute BEST source I’ve found is Environmental Working Group. You can check to see the toxicity of your current products, from make-up to shaving cream, to just about anything else.  Check it out here:  http://www.ewg.org/

    It reminds of this website – informative and user friendly!




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  5. Could you post a link to your video regarding cleaning and getting chemicals off vegetables? I know I saw a title regarding this but I’m having no lick finding it. Thanks a lot for all your work.




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  6. Hi Dr Greger,
    I have a burning question regarding the cookware we use to cook our food. Apparently some articles I read mention that metals such as nickel, chromium that made up the stainless steel cookware could bleed into our foods when we eat and thus our food is contaminated with toxic carcinogens. May i ask how true is that? As I am a nickel allergic, which is the best cooking hardware to use. Heard of a type called the surgical stainless steel, which is good for cooking as it retains its nutrients more than the others, however it is also made up of higher nickel components. Hope to hear your views on it!




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  7. Dear Dr Greger, first of all, great job! But I have to criticize your latest video on household products and monoterpenes. Yes, our household products contain limonene and alpha-pinnene, but also all living plants emit these compounds and especially Mediterranean threes (sometimes up to ppm). What worries me, is that, knowing this, walking trough Mediterranean forest (where ozone concentrations and UV radiation are extremely higher that in closed rooms) or introducing flowers with intensive smell or Christmas threes into your home, you will get the same effect. So when you say that introducing plant monoterpenes IN OUR HOMES it is being transformed into formaldehyde (which quoted paper does not say and it describes very controlled experimental set up for testing processes in atmosphere), you are ignoring the fact that you don’t have a proof of that (at least not in this video). Also these processes are part of our natural environment and this is what happens to all monoterpenes in our atmosphere. My criticism is that you are giving a wrong impression and only half information when you say that monoterpenes such as limonene is transformed into formaldehyde and therefore bad for us, without actually connecting it with handhold products or mentioning any concentrations and what do they mean. I can imagine that now a lot of people will avoid anything that has limonene written on it, but if someone wants to really avoid limonene, he can just stop breathing. From perspective of your video and knowing for example that tomato plant is emitting a lot of limonene, eating tomato on sunny day in the garden might be toxic. I like your work very much, but with the last part of this video, I think you have stepped into “the gray zone” of science and I am sure you don’t want to be there.




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  8. We have heard of the recent scare surrounding the use of propylene glycol in Beneful Dog Food. We have been using Listerine mouthwash for years with ALCOHOL and decided to seek something a little safer. So my husband picked up Listerine ZERO at the local market. True while it does not contain alcohol, the 3rd item listed is PROPYLENE GLYCOL and the 4th is sodium lauryl sulfate. I have looked for warnings about propylene glycol in human food and cosmetic items. All say “considered safe” for human use preferably not ingested.

    WHAT SAY YOU?




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  9. eugene

    Aug 10, 8:59 PM

    Which cooking pans are the safest and dangerous to use? Aluminum, cast iron, stainless, Teflon, ceramic, glass, etc..?
    thanks for the reply




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  10. First of all, I would like to congratulate Dr. Greger for your book “How Not To Die”. It is life changing and I really hope there are plans for a Spanish edition soon (I would love to send several copies to friends and family in Spain).
    Back to this really informative video, I would like to share a homemade recipe for natural air freshener: Mix 6 tablespoons of water and a tablespoon of vodka (yes, really) in a spray bottle along with 10-30 drops of your favourite essential oil. One of my favourite scent combinations is Orange and Lemon (for the kitchen area). I hope you like it too.




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  11. Are all personal care products using essential oils vs synthetic fragrances bad for you? Do they all emit formaldehyde when they mix with air?




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