We all want our homes to smell good. But it might be wise to forgo commercial air fresheners; the National Resources Defense Council found that 12 of 14 air fresheners it tested, including those labeled "pure" and "natural," contained phthalates. In high doses, phthalates -- used to spread fragrance through the air -- are thought to cause hormonal abnormalities, reproductive problems, and birth defects. In addition, air fresheners often emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene, which the EPA has classified as a known human carcinogen. Scented candles, oils, and plug-ins can contain many of the same ingredients as air fresheners.
Air fresheners typically serve to mask underlying problems that should be cleaned, not covered up (see Cleaning Kit for tips). To absorb lingering odors, such as those from smoke or pungent foods, try setting out a bowl or pan full of vinegar in the offending area for a day or two. Zeolite, a natural mineral, strategically placed in a closet or other "smelly" area can also work wonders. And, of course, opening the windows will help freshen the air.
Phthalates are commonly found in products that list "fragrance" in their ingredients list (such as cosmetics, carpet cleaners, and dishwashing liquid), and they also appear in plastic water bottles. Their widespread use is even more reason to limit your exposure when you can. If scenting the air is important to you, read the results of the NRDC's analysis, and choose brands rated phthalate-free.
Most candles in the United States are made of paraffin, a petroleum derivative; burn only beeswax and soy-based candles with cotton wicks. Chances are you heard these lines while growing up: "Who left the TV on?" "Turn out the lights!" "Don't spend all day in the shower!" Truth is, what may have seemed like nagging was probably your first lesson in "green" living.
Today, conserving energy is essential. According to the Energy Information Administration, residential energy use is projected to increase almost 25 percent from 2006 to 2030. Most of this energy will likely come from coal- and gas-fired power plants -- hardly welcome news for the planet.