Peter Jackson
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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: pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pjackson_NL

Organizations: Febreze, National Animal Poison Control Center, Yahoo Natural Resources Defense Council American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Geographic location: U.S., Good Dog

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Recent comments

  • terry
    February 17, 2014 - 02:36

    Your product does not alimenate odors. just masks the smells for a short period of time. It is no different than any other air freshener . Sorry glade has the same affect and is cheaper.

  • Some people
    February 16, 2012 - 20:02

    Some people are good at baking or fixing things or teaching or writing or whatever the case may be but when you’re stuck in a job just because it pays the bills, it never actually makes you feel any better to try and drag others down to your level. To improve your situation you would need to DO something about it but that requires effort.

  • sealcove
    February 16, 2012 - 08:53

    Febreze is not safe to use around pets

  • Jerome
    February 16, 2012 - 07:14

    It's interesting you mentioned pets. A couple of years ago, I sprayed Febreze on my cats' bed. She never slept in for two days.

  • Eizabeth
    February 15, 2012 - 22:14

    Get over it! The children's' stories do not corroborate the mother's, the teacher I'm sure meant well and was trying to rid the classroom and the child of an odour that most of us would find offensive. As we can see from this article Febreeze is harmless...the mother in this situation is more caustic! Who in their right minds would fry up a feed of caplin in the middle of the day when one has to leave the home and mingle with other people...obviously the mother does not hold a job outside the home or she would know better. This story should never have made the news and shame on the reporters who provided this attention seeking woman an audience and then ran with her story. The only victims in this case are the teacher and the poor little boy who is the victim not of his teacher or classmates but of his crazy mother!

  • Wescol
    February 15, 2012 - 13:42

    It's not necessarily what you use - it's how you handle the situation. As the person in charge, with all of the supposed sensitivity training teachers have been given with respect to bullying, the fact is that the teacher took the victim of the bullying, and addressed the issue of "the smell" instead of taking all of the bullies making fun of the child and letting them know that their actions are unacceptable. These kids are 10 years old. They are certainly old enough to be disciplined for their actions. She reinforced the validity of the other children's right to pick on this one student and make fun of him. I've witnessed children who were bullied from the first day they started school, until they graduated. The teachers all knew about it. But that was 'back then', and not today, when so much emphasis has been placed on the problem of bullying. The fact that this was a situation that happened in outport Newfoundland, in a place that has such close connections to the fishery, makes the teacher's actions all the more reprehensible. I doubt she'll douse another child with Febreze. But I wonder if she'll ever have the courage to stand up to bullies, and act like the grown-up in a similar situation.

  • tris
    February 15, 2012 - 10:00

    A normal person may be fine with Febreeze, but still there may be some who have reactions. My daughter had a reaction to aloe vera, and she gets congested around any spray fragrance, including febreeze. A person with allergies, may have reactions to almost any thing.