Don't Boil Fabuloso! Your Favorite Smells Might Be Triggering Your Child's Asthma


In just the past month of visiting homes with my co-worker Hannah, we have been alarmed to come across two different families who heat Fabuloso in a pot on the stove in order to make the house smell nice. Both of the moms we spoke with had children with asthma and mentioned that heating Fabuloso was something that others they knew were also doing. As Healthy Housing Specialists, Hannah and I have been to many homes where Fabuloso is a favorite cleaning product and where it leaves a scent just from using it for cleaning. Boiling Fabuloso strengthens the scent yet is not what the product is marketed to be used for.

Concerned about the safety of this practice, I took a quick look at the back of a bottle of lavender-scented Fabuloso and read the warning label: “DO NOT DRINK. If product contacts the eyes rinse thoroughly with water. Call physician if irritation persists. Contains Glutaraldehyde. Do not use with chlorine bleach to avoid irritating fumes.” Out of curiosity of what the big g-word chemical was, I searched “glutaraldehyde” on my phone. Instantly, an article from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appeared that describes the chemical as a strong, medical-grade disinfectant that is associated with health problems such as nose, throat and lung irritation, sneezing, wheezing, dermatitis, difficulty breathing and even asthma.

A guide about glutaraldehyde from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mentions research that studied the health effects of exposure to glutaraldehyde, “all of which document an association between exposure to glutaraldehyde and the development of asthma”. The OSHA guide also cites studies where symptoms of irritation occurred at air level concentrations of less than 0.2 parts per million.

Glutaraldehyde is an example of just one ingredient in one product. Products with strong smells, like air fresheners, perfumes, paint, and cleaners, may contain other chemicals such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and fragrances which can trigger allergies or worsen asthma symptoms. As a society, we use many chemical products without really knowing what is in them, how they should be properly used, or how they might be affecting us.

Hannah and I met with these parents because they decided to become more informed about how things in their home environments might be affecting their children’s health. Because they wanted to better understand how to keep their kids' asthma symptoms under control, we were able to identify a habit that might have been unintentionally contributing to the problem. In general, we advise parents to avoid products with strong artificial scents and instead try using products that are natural and fragrance-free whenever possible. It is also fairly easy and inexpensive to make your own cleaners instead using natural ingredients with green cleaning recipes.

No matter what type of products you are using, please be sure to read the safety labels and use them according to the company’s guidance.

Written by Jennifer Spiller, Program Manager at the Healthy Homes Coalition