Febreze, a line of deodorizers manufactured by Proctor and Gamble, has been on the market since 1996.
Most people will recognize Febreze from a spate of TV commercials that featured odour-plagued families spraying various fabrics and carpets with the product and then inhaling deeply through their noses as if snorting lines of cocaine. The ensuing wide smile was not unlike that induced by a cocaine rush.
In truth, Febreze is a fairly simple product. The basic ingredient is beta-cyclodextrin, which is little more than a carbohydrate or starch.
According to chemist Anne Marie Helmenstine, on About.com, the cyclodextrin molecule is doughnut-shaped: “When you spray Febreze, the water in the product partially dissolves the odour, allowing it to form a complex inside the ‘hole’ of the cyclodextrin. … The stink molecule is still there, but it can’t bind to your odour receptors, so you can’t smell it.”
In some cases, the product contains some sort of fruity or floral fragrance which helps mask odour.
When the fabric is properly washed, the odour molecules are released again and flushed away.
Anecdotal evidence suggests Febreze works quite well on clothing, especially on pervasive odours like fried fish. A typical case is related as follows on a Yahoo chat line:
“My dad fries fish all the time, and the clothes dryer is in the kitchen. So when my clothes are done and are folded, they sit in the kitchen until I put them away. … If he cooks before I can move them, they smell. I use fabreeze (sic) on them and it works really well. Lay your clothes down and spray it over the top of them and let it fall on your clothes. … Good luck.”
The enthusiasm with which characters on TV ads sniff freshly sprayed areas would suggest that Febreze has no negative effect on human health.
One concern, according to U.S. environmental watchdog Natural Resources Defense Council, would be phthalates, chemicals known to cause hormonal and/or reproductive problems. The council found that several air fresheners contain phthalates. That includes Febreze NOTICEables Scented Oil, the one you plug into an outlet. It contained moderate levels. On the other hand, Febreze Air Effects Air Refresher contained no phthalates.
In 1999, Good Dog! Magazine (www.gooddogmagazine.com) publisher Ross Becker investigated a widespread rumour that Febreze can be deadly to cats and dogs.
Becker discovered that a variety of email warnings all stemmed from a newsgroup for pet bird owners, on which someone posted a story about several birds dying after a smoker sprayed his clothes with Febreze. The tale morphed into a general warning to pet owners.
Becker contacted the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which put him on to its own National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC).
The result? Nothing.
The NAPCC, which consults veterinarians across the U.S. and keeps extensive records, issued a statement to that effect: “All information reviewed to date suggests that there is no evidence that Febreze represents any risk to pets when used according to label instructions.”
Some concern was raised about the corrosive effect of zinc chloride, an ingredient in many air fresheners. But an NAPCC spokesman said the one per cent or less concentration in Febreze would, at worst, cause minor irritation if sprayed directly on the skin.
Besides, he added, there are more serious household hazards to worry about when it comes to pets: caustic automatic dishwasher detergents, tub and tile cleaners, antifreeze … and chocolate.
In rare cases, Febreze has been used as a weapon. The following anecdote is taken from tumblr:
“Was just hangin’ out in my bathtub when I look over and see a giant, m--erf---ing, quarter-sized spider sitting (do spiders sit?) on the edge of the tub. You have to understand this … I. HATE. SPIDERS. Pure hatred that, unfortunately, turns into absolute terror as soon as a spider crosses my path. … You know how they see you coming after them, and they find some unreachable corner to wait in? This m---erf---er did just that. So I sprayed him with half a can of febreze and he curled up dead. But now I’m stomping around in hiking boots, paranoid that I’ll stumble upon another spider. Spiders suck.”
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.