SEATTLE - A new study by University of Washington researchers finds toxic chemicals hidden in household air fresheners and fabric softeners - including carcinogens not listed on the labels.
"People may think that these air fresheners in some way disinfect or clean or make a healthier environment when the opposite true," said UW professor Anne Steinemann.
Researchers at the UW have uncovered nearly 100 "volatile chemicals" found in the leading brands of air fresheners, laundry detergents and fabric softeners.
"Of these compounds, 10 are regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal law," Steinemann said.
Researchers say some of the chemicals in these products are so toxic it's almost like opening a bottle nail polish remover to freshen the air.
Product manufacturers often argue the level of toxins is so low that they're not harmful, but Steinemann says she found cancer-causing chemicals so dangerous the EPA considers them unsafe in any amount.
She worries about long term effects - especially in children:
"These chemicals are subtle," Steinemann said. "They get into our system. They affect our neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular system and we really don't know or we may not realize that they're having an adverse effect."
There is no law forcing companies to list the chemicals in air and fabric fresheners - often simply listed as "other" on the label.
So Steinemann recommends people go back to basics: Open a window to clear the air, use baking soda to get rid of odors and use scentless detergents or those scented with natural oils.
Researchers did not name specific products in their report, but Steinemann says she didn't find a single product free of potential toxins.
Her advice is to stay away from scented products all together.