Living room

Are Plug-in Fragrances Safe?

We all want our homes to smell delicious, welcoming, and homely. If you have a pet wandering around, then having a method of masking any potential nasty niffs is even more important, but how exactly do you achieve this aim?

Do you constantly air your home, keeping your windows open all the time? Do you love candles? Do you search out new scents to spray? There are many ways to keep your home smelling wonderful.

Whilst once upon a time it used to be all about sprayable air fresheners, nowadays we have gone all electrical, and we use plug-in air fresheners instead. But are these relatively new technological developments safe? Can something which literally gives you a fantastic smelling home be too good to be true?

There has been a lot of debate about the safety and health-related issues which come attached to plug-in fragrances, and whilst some of these claims have turned out to be false, some health concerns have been backed up by surprising and even alarming evidence.

Are plug-in air fresheners a fire hazard?

Of course, big-name air fragrance brands always test their plug-ins for fire safety, and whilst there was a lot of noise about these products being a fire hazard when left plugged in, most of this turned out to be untrue.

Whether you take the risk yourself is a personal choice, and many people choose to unplug their electrical air fresheners when in bed or when out of the house. Aside from that however, it is the health issues which these products can cause which many find even more worrying.


What Are Plug-in Fragrances?

First things first however, we need to know exactly what type of product we are talking about here. A plug-in fragrance is basically shaped exactly the same as a plug you put into your power socket.

Behind the plug you will find a cartridge of liquid, and when it is plugged into the wall and switched on, this liquid heats up and emits a rather pleasant scent over a period of time. When you turn off the plug, the cartridge no longer emits the scent, but it is still present in the air for a while afterwards.

From that description you can understand the attraction of such a product, because there is no chance of any unpleasant smells permeating your home whilst it is switched on. Households with pets are often particularly heavy users of these plug-in fragrances.

Now, we know what they are, let’s explore the “are plug-in fragrances safe?” argument.


Health-Related Claims Associated With Plug-in Fragrances

It has to be said that everyone’s potential susceptibility to health issues is different, and if you are living in a household where you have someone with asthma, their overall susceptibility is going to be higher than those who have no particular breathing issues. This section however will give you balanced information on a few different studies which have been undertaken in relation to plug-in fragrances.

There has long been a large amount of speculation about these products and whether they can affect your health, and the main findings have been about their ingredients.


Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical, and Environmental Hazards undertook a study into plug-in fragrances and found that these products have a tendency to produce a chemical called Formaldehyde in quite large amounts.

Formaldehyde is known as a carcinogenic, and is associated with DNA and cell mutation, which can lead to cancer formation. Obviously, this isn’t going to be the case in every single person who comes into contact with such a chemical, but the findings were significant enough to show evidence as proof.


The other basic ingredients that go into plug-in fragrances are also connected with an increased chance of developing asthma, both in adults and in children. Obviously, for those who already have asthma, this can exacerbate and worsen the condition and its symptoms, leading to breathing difficulties for some people.


A further study undertaken by the natural Resources Defence Council in the USA, named the ‘Clearing The Air’ study, showed that a huge 86% of the plug-in fragrances cross-sectioned and tested were shown to contain phthalates.

Phthalates are dangerous chemicals which can affect fertility and reproductive health, especially in men, where testosterone production levels can be quite badly affected when the person is exposed to large amounts of phthalates.

Should you use plug-in fragrances?

The health-related issues of using these pleasant smelling products are really down to their ingredients, rather than the function of burning the scent (through electricity). Many big-name providers of such products have been forced to look into the ingredients of their brands, and this means that perhaps in the future we could look forward to a safer way to enjoy a more pleasant smelling home. For the time being however, whether you use these plug-in fragrances or not, is an entirely personal decision for you to make.

When to avoid plug-ins

  • Asthma: If you do have someone in your home who is an asthmatic, or someone who has general respiratory problems, it is perhaps best to avoid this type of fragrance, because of the study evidence to show that it can make such symptoms worse.
  • Children and babies: Those with small children and babies may also be concerned about the risk of their little ones developing asthma, but you could say that it depends how often you use plug-ins, and how long you use for them.

Occasional use will obviously not cause the same level of risk and harm, compared to when you use them constantly, even on a daily basis. Using the product for several hours at any one time can also exacerbate breathing problems in those who are already susceptible, so short bursts may be more preferable.

Again, this is all down to personal choice after being informed of the study-related risks.


Alternatives to Plug-in Fragrances

Bottle of essential oil
Essential oils are a healthier alternative to plug-in air fresheners.

If you’re reading this and you’re sure that you don’t want to take the risk of using plug-in fragrances, then the good news is that there are a few alternatives you can look into, which will still leave your home smelling rather delicious.

The quickest way to keep your home smelling fresh and wonderful is to make sure that you take your rubbish out regularly, at least twice per day if at all possible. This will ensure that no nasty niffs permeate the air for a length of time, leaving your home with a lingering scent. Of course, opening your windows and allowing air to circulate will also give you a fresh air feel and smell, and doesn’t cost a penny!

Many people choose to have an air purifier in their home, which works in two ways – firstly you have peace of mind that any allergens or dust is removed from the air that is circulating in your home, and secondly, it helps to remove any unpleasant smells too.

Anyone who has a member of the household with asthma will also benefit from such a machine. If on the other hand you prefer something more scented, you could try these following DIY options:

  • Use essential oils – All you need is your favourite natural essential oil, a few drops of water and a small, empty (totally clean) spray bottle. Simply mix together, pour into the bottle, shake well, and spritz. Alternatively, use an essential oil diffuser.
  • Head online and find out how to make your own candles – There are many kits you can buy, which use only natural ingredients, and that means you can create your own bespoke scents, as well as getting a little crafty at the same time!
  • Use cinnamon sticks for winter scents – During the winter months, you might want a warm scent in your home, and this can be done very easily by boiling up a pan of water and dropping in a couple of cinnamon sticks. This will easily scent your home for a good few days, and will give you that warm, winter feel too.


So, Are Plug-in Fragrances Safe?

You might be reading this and thinking it’s a big ‘no’ to plug-in fragrances, but you need to keep a balanced view on the situation. There is no solid evidence to suggest that plug-in fragrances (when purchased from a reliable brand which has been tested for fire safety) are a big fire risk. Of course, that does mean that you need to use them responsibly. You wouldn’t leave a candle burning unattended, so really don’t do the same with a plug-in fragrance.

In terms of health-related risks, you can’t ignore the studies which have been done, but you do have to bear in mind that prolonged and constant use is more likely to cause issues, than occasional, short-term use.

For that reason, it is a personal decision whether you use plug-in fragrances, but it is certainly always better to go down the route of a reliable brand name, rather than one which has never been heard of, simply because it comes up cheaper in terms of cost.



Here’s a quick overview of this article’s main points:

  • Modern plug-in fragrances are unlikely to be a fire risk
  • Plug-in air fresheners can produce the carcinogen formaldehyde
  • Many plug-ins contain phthalates, which negatively affect fertility and reproductive health
  • Plug-ins aren’t recommended for people with asthma