Guide To Pet Safe Air Fresheners For Your Household

Chihuahua dog in background with candles and air freshener on the table.

Your desire for a home that smells like pumpkin spice or fresh linens comes with hidden dangers: candles and air fresheners can be harmful, even toxic, to your pets. Air fresheners and scented candles are one of the most highly overlooked household products that can cause harm to your furry companions at home.

Unlike chocolate where the adverse effects present itself almost immediately after consumption, air fresheners and scented candles cause irreversible harm through prolonged use. These nice smelling products can release volatile organic compounds as well as toxins like lead, naphthalene, formaldehyde, and phthalates.

If you frequently light candles at home or use pressurized air fresheners in your bathrooms, you could be unknowingly exposing your pets to the dangers lying in these scented products that have potential health consequences to your pet. Learn about safer alternatives such as certain essential oils or fragrant houseplants that you can use to still obtain that great smelling home!

Dangers Of Scented Candles and Air Fresheners For Your Pet

It is no surprise that the ingredients list for candles and air fresheners are filled with ingredients that we can barely pronounce, much less recognize. According to a research article published on Science Direct, less than 10% of the ingredients on air fresheners are disclosed to the public [1].

Air fresheners are designed to add fragrance to indoor surroundings or to disguise unpleasant odors, aiming to enhance the indoor ambiance. Nonetheless, despite this purpose, air fresheners release a variety of potentially harmful air pollutants that could compromise air quality.

A big red flag in the ingredient list are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). VOCs can cause health problems such as eye/nose irritation, headaches, to more serious effects such as cancer to humans. Needless to say, they pose a bigger threat to our furry counterparts considering their smaller size compared to us humans.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Review published a research study on top-selling air fresheners and in their examination, they identified 133 distinct VOCs emitted from the 25 products, averaging 17 VOCs per product.

Among these 133 VOCs, 24 are categorized as toxic or hazardous according to U.S. federal regulations, and each product emitted at least one of these compounds [2]. Common VOCs found in air fresheners include formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes. Interestingly, emissions of these compounds from “green” products did not significantly differ from those of other products.

Another area of concern regarding candles are the wax and essential oils used to scent the product. Firstly, many candles use synthetic waxes to reduce cost due to their cheaper value. Synthetic wax such as petroleum based paraffin wax, contains carcinogenic toxins such as paraffin, lead, benzene, and acetaldehyde that are released into the air when they are heated.

With these toxins released, it can cause lasting neurotoxic effects since canines are typically more prone to nasal irritation due to their significantly more sensitive noses. According to an article released by VCA Animal Hospitals, it highlights that a canine’s nose contains approximately 300 million smell receptors, compared to six million in a human [3].

While that tea tree candle smells absolutely clean, herbal and warming to us, according to the Pet Poison Helpline, certain oils in candles can induce skin irritation, hind leg paralysis, vomiting, and hypothermia in dogs. These essential oils may also contribute to nervous system damage and can lead to liver damage or renal issues if ingested [4].

Scents That Are Toxic For Your Pet

Essential Oil Tea Tree against brown background with Green Leaves

Compared to an air diffuser or air freshener spray, you cannot control the amount of essential oil that is permeating through the air once you’ve lit the candle. While some essential oils are tolerable for your pet, some take a couple of drops to cause problems. Tea tree oil being one of them, especially for cats, is harmful when inhaled, ingested or when in contact with their skin. In general you should avoid:

  • Tea tree (Melaleuca)
  • Pennroyal Mint
  • Pine
  • Wintergreen
  • Ylang Ylang

Signs and Potential Health Risk

Cat with Asthma with nose and mouth in inhaler

Dog owners shouldn’t feel completely restricted from using candles, but it’s crucial to pay extra attention to the type of candle and take additional precautions when using them. While some scents give us headaches, or the occasional sneezes, for our furry friends, they do not have the initiative to leave the room or alert us. Therefore, looking out for potential signs of discomfort in your pet is important.

Keeping a close eye on your pet when any air fresheners are in use is always wise, as you want to prevent any accidental knocks or burns (especially for those with cats). However, it’s not just the flame or heat aspect of candles that you need to consider. Here is a list of symptoms you should look out for when you’re burning a candle or having your air diffuser on.

  • Unsteadiness on their feet
  • Difficulty in breathing, often indicated by heavy panting and quick breaths
  • Watery or red eyes
  • Hypothermia, often indicated by lower body temperature (cold paws, light colour gums), in serious cases

If your pet is showing any signs of the aforementioned symptoms, airing the room or transferring them to another room with fresh air would hopefully have their symptoms subside. If the symptoms are still persisting, or if they’re showing more serious symptoms such as vomiting, a trip to the vet is necessary.

With continued exposure to VOCs or toxic essential oils, long term effects can also happen. Coughing and respiratory disease are quite common in cats, but with the exposure to air fresheners or candles, the airways of cats’ can get inflamed– which is sometimes called asthma [5]. Such cases would require long term assistive care with inhalers.

Picking The Right Candles To Use Around Your Pets

Though most air fresheners and candles might not be suitable for use around your pets, it is still possible to navigate around the dangers and reduce the potential hazards linked to scented candles if you follow these guidelines:

  • Opt for candles crafted from natural, pet-friendly ingredients.

Steer clear of paraffin wax and instead select candles made from soy, coconut, or beeswax, which are safer alternatives.

  • Avoid purchasing cheap candles that commonly contain synthetic fragrances or essential oils from unidentifiable sources.

Prioritize candles with natural scents and those that include pet-safe essential oils from reputable brands as cheaper fragrances typically contain other unnamed ingredients that can potentially cause harm to not only your pet, but to yourself as well.

  • Pick candles with wicks made from cotton, paper, or wood.

While lead, or metal cored wicks are of the past, it is essential to check the type of wick used as wicks made of lead, metal, or other synthetic material can be harmful. To be extra safe, you can also ensure that the wicks haven’t been treated with chemicals.

  • Keep candles out of your pet’s reach to prevent accidental ingestion or burns.

Never leave candles burning unattended, as this could lead to accidents or potential fires especially households with cats that could easily jump up counters, tables, or shelves.

  • Use candles in well-ventilated areas to prevent the scent from being trapped in the room and become overpowering. Adequate ventilation helps maintain a comfortable environment while minimizing any potential respiratory issues.

It is also important to find safe alternatives when it comes to scents. Here are some scents that are safe for all pets while also giving them a calming, aromatherapy session!

  • Frankincense
  • Chamomile
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Lemon
  • Cedarwood
  • Orange

Pet Friendly Fragrant Houseplants As An Alternative

Cat Sniffing Orchids

Bringing plants into your home not only adds a touch of natural beauty but also serves as a great alternative to candles or air freshener sprays. These green companions not only purify the air but also emit refreshing fragrances that enhance your living space.

However, deciding on which plants to have at home can also be a hassle since some are not pet-safe for your furry companion. For example, lilies are toxic to both dogs and cats despite their fragrant smell.

Here are some pet-friendly plants known for their aromatic qualities, ensuring a safe and pleasant environment for both you and pet:

  • Calendula
  • Marigold
  • Lemon balm
  • Orchid
  • Rose

In addition to selecting the appropriate plants, it’s essential to consider other factors. Avoiding fertilizer and pesticides helps safeguard your furry companions from potential harm as most plant additives are toxic for pets.

Furthermore, selecting non-toxic mulch materials like wood chips or peat ensures a safe environment where pets can roam freely without risk of ingestion-related issues.

Make Your Own Air Fresheners

Natural Air Diffuser

Infographic on how to make a pet safe natural air diffuser.

If you are seeking a completely safe and natural method to refresh your home, we have just the solution: an eco-friendly, natural air diffuser to brighten your space. You’ll need:

  • Fruit peels and herbs safe for pets
    Examples of herbs: lemon, mint, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, star anise, ginger
    Examples of fruit peels: orange peels, lemon peels, lime peels, grapefruit peels
  • Water
  • Pot
  • Optional: Vanilla essence
Steps:
  1. Fill your pot with the fruit peels and herbs.
  2. Fill the pot with water enough to cover the fruits and herbs.
  3. Bring the pot to a boil, and reduce to a simmer and then add a few drops of vanilla essence.

The fruit peels and herbs will fill your house up with an aromatic scent that’s completely pet-safe. For a longer lasting fragrance, leave the pot on the stove to simmer and top with water if needed, but for a short fragrance boost, simply take the pot off the stove once it boils for 5 minutes, and let the mixture diffuse into the air.

Pet Safe Air Freshener Spray

Infographic on how to make a pet safe air freshener spray

For a more lasting and targeted fragrance spray to combat pet odor, we’ve got a perfect DIY air freshener spray that is chemical and VOC free! Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 cups of water
  • 20-30 drops of pet safe essential oil
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • Spray bottle
Steps:
  1. In a small dish, combine your essential oil with the baking soda.
  2. Stir to get a paste.
  3. Add water and mix thoroughly till the baking soda is dissolved.
  4. Using a funnel, transfer the liquid into a spray bottle.

We’d recommend essential oils such as lemon, or chamomile that are safe for both cats and dogs. The baking soda acts as a great odor eliminating agent in the spray. It is advised to shake before use to incorporate the separated essential oil and baking soda-water solution. Since this is pet safe, you can use it sparingly on surfaces where your pet frequents to get rid of any odor and have your house smelling great!

 

References

[1] Ten questions concerning air fresheners and indoor built environments – Anne Steinemann, January 2017 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360132316304334

[2] Fragranced consumer products: Chemicals emitted, ingredients unlisted – Science Direct, April 2011 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195925510001125

[3] How dogs use smell to perceive the world – VCA Animal Hospital https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/how-dogs-use-smell-to-perceive-the-world#:~:text=They%20have%20more%20than%20100,part%20of%20the%20human%20brain.

[4] Essential oils and dogs – Pet Poison Helpline https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/pet-safety-tips/essential-oils-dogs/

[5] Asthma in cats – International Cat Care, July 2018 https://icatcare.org/advice/asthma-in-cats/