Rethinking petroleum based aerosol

Petroleum based consumer products range from spray deodorants to cleaning products and air fresheners to fly spray. There's probably a lot of them right now under your kitchen sink. The problem is, there's very little regulation and multiple concerning health issues associated with using them.

Something doesn't smell right

Air pollution isn't just from consumer products, it can be from many sources such as radon (a colourless, odourless radioactive gas) and second-hand smoke to name just two. The seriousness of such exposure however is clear, as even if products don't directly kill you, they can cause some serious health problems.

  • Each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, with more linked to exposure to indoor pollutants [7].
  • As many as 99,000 deaths across Europe in 2012 were caused by indoor air pollution [7].
  • There are few regulatory controls on indoor pollution [7].
  • Lemon and pine scents air fresheners can react chemically to generate air pollutants [7].
  • Ozone-based air fresheners can also cause indoor air pollution [7].

It's getting a little volatile in here

Petroleum-based chemicals are used in items like cleaners, paint strippers, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, cleansers, disinfectants, moth repellents, air fresheners, stored fuels, automotive products, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, pesticide, paints, glues, perfumes, soaps, deodorants, and other personal products.[2, 8]

  • These products have been found to emit as much volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as motor vehicles [2].
  • VOCs can be dangerous to human health and include effects such as eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system [8].
  • Some VOCs can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans [8].
  • VOCs can also develop into a type of pollution called PM2.5 that has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer.[2].
  • Roughly half of the VOCs in the air could be attributed to consumer products [2].
  • For every kilogram of fuel that is burned, only about one gram ends up in the air. For these household and personal products, some compounds evaporate almost completely.
  • Many of these sources, including cleaning and personal care products, aren’t controlled.
  • It has been found professional cleaners or people who regularly use cleaning sprays or other cleaning products at home appear to experience a greater decline in lung function over time than people who do not clean comparable to smoking somewhat less than 20 packs of cigarettes per year [4].

Car fumes or D5?

  • D5 siloxane is produced mainly as an additive for deodorants and hair care products. [6].
  • On average, people use products that contain a total of about 100-200mg of D5 every day – roughly the weight of half an aspirin tablet [6].
  • Some fraction of these products end up going down the drain when we shower, but the majority of what remains on our bodies ends up in the atmosphere. D5 can also be found in many other places, including soil, oceans and the tissues of fish and human beings [6].
  • During peak commuting times in several US cities, the mass emission rate of D5 from personal care product usage is comparable to that of benzene due to traffic [5].

Let's freshen up

  • Air fresheners (also known as room sprays, plug-in deodorisers, odour neutralisers, air sanitisers, or aromatherapy candles) don’t get rid of smells; they just mask them, either with perfume or by interfering with your ability to smell by coating your nasal passages with an oil film or releasing a nerve deadening agent.
  • Known toxic chemicals that can be found in air fresheners include formaldehyde, camphor, ethanol, phenol, petroleum-based artificial fragrances (which contain their own mix of toxins) and benzyl alcohol. These chemicals can cause symptoms like headaches, rashes, dizziness, migraines, asthma attacks, mental confusion, coughing and more. Some of the substances in air fresheners are also known carcinogens and others are hormone disruptors.
  • Using air fresheners as little as once a week can raise the risk of developing asthma in adults.
  • Indoors we can also be exposed to NO2 from gas cooking and solvents that slowly seep from plastics, paints and furnishings.

Let's not freak out

To reduce the amount of pollution going into your air ways we recommend:

  • Avoid deodorant sprays and air fresheners.
  • Use natural cleaning products or ones marked hypoallergenic which have lower VOC amounts.
  • Get house plants which will naturally purify your indoor air.
  • If you can't find an alternative keep your home - not just the room - well ventilated during and after use.


[1] GBD 2016 Risk Factors Collaborators, 2017. Global, regional, and antional comparative risk assessment of 84 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burder of Disease Study 2016. 
[2] McDonald, B.C., de Gouw, J.A., Gilman, J.B., Jathar, S.H., Akherati, A., Cappa, C.D., Jimenez, J.L., Lee-Taylor, J., Hayes, P.L., McKeen, S.A., Cui, Y.Y., et al., 2018. Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions.
3] Chen, Y. C., Ho, W.C., Yu, Y.H., 2017. Adolescent lung function associated with incense burning and other environmental exposures at home.
4] Svanes, O., Bertelsen, R.J., Lygre, S.H.L., Carsin, A.E., Antó, J.M., Forsberg, B., García-García, J.M., Gullón, J.A., Heinrich, J., Holm, M., Kogevinas, M., et al., 2018. Cleaning at home and at work in relation to lung function decline and airway obstruction.  
5] Coggon, M.M., McDonald, B.C., Vlasenko, A., Veres, P.R., Bernard, F., Koss, A.R., Yuan, B., Gilman, J.B., Peischl, J., Aikin, K.C., DuRant, J., et al., 2018. diurnal variability and emission pattern of decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5) from the application of personal care products in two north american cities.
[6] Coggon, M., 2018. Your shampoo, hair spray and skin lotion may be polluting the air.
7] Royal College of Physicians, 2016.
8] United States Environmental Protection Agency. Volatile organic compounds' impact on indoor air quality.

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