Is That Artificial Air Freshener Harming Your Daughter?

Artificial Air Fresheners May Pose Health Threat To Young GirlsMy mother, a long-time smoker, loves every product on the market that makes her house smell “clean” and “fresh”. As for me, I’m not so sure. The intellectual part of my brain eschews this whole concept of corporate fragrance, but those smells from a bottle do fill my heart.

“What’s the harm?” My emotional brain pleads with the intellectual brain.

For the longest time, Intellectual Brain could only argue that those fragrances were so strong and artificial, there simply had to be something wrong with them. Science will figure it out someday.

Well folks, that day is here. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has linked dichlorobenzene, one of the chemical common to air fresheners, to early puberty in girls.

In the past 100 years, the age of a girl’s first menstrual cycle has decreased about 4 years, with the average onset now around 12 to 13 years. In the 1990s, nearly every American tested was positive for the presence of dichlorobenzene in their urine.

This chemical illustrates how indoor air quality should be a significant health concern in everyday life. Here we have a chemical that is found ubiquitously in Americans, it is a potential carcinogen, and we are only exposed indoors!

Dichlorobenzene is a solvent that is commonly found in:

  • Solid toilet bowl tablets
  • Some types of mothballs
  • Many types of air fresheners

Of course, the timing of puberty has many factors. Obesity and nutrition are thought to play a large role in the trend for early puberty.

To account for this in their study, scientists took urine samples from girls and tested it for a host of known pollutants. Only dichlorobenzene correlated with the timing of puberty. They also looked at other factors that can give misleading results in this type of study, like race and physical attributes.

Why is early puberty a concern? The early release of hormones is linked to health effects, including greater risk of breast cancer over a woman’s lifetime.

Something else to consider about exposure to dichlorobenzene is how fast it is broken down. Within hours, it can be broken down and removed from the body. When a chemical is so pervasive in the population and also has a short residence time in the body, it clearly points to a widespread and constant exposure.

What can you do to protect your family?

  • Remove the sources of dichlorobenzene from your home (read labels on toilet bowl tabs, mothballs, and air fresheners)
  • Use air purifiers to remove natural odors and chemical pollutants from your home
  • Consider adding plants with the ability to remove VOCs from indoor air

What does clean and fresh smell like? I honestly can’t answer that. In our house, we battle potty training, mold, dog, cat, and old house smells; so we feel pretty good when we don’t smell those bad things. Now I’m thinking we need to add dichlorobenzene to that list of things we’d rather not smell!

Have tips for keeping your home smelling fresh without artificial air fresheners? Share them below! We would love to hear from you.

Photo Credits: Girl on Slide © Darrengreen; Girl in Pink © Ladyminnie both at

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  1. Pam

    I can’t speak to Brita in particular but any filter that has activated carbon is going to do a good job of grabbing stuff out of the water. I looked briefly at house water filter systems and some got dichlorobenzene out and others didn’t. In general, look for a filter that promises to remove VOCs.

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