Natural Room Fresheners – The Traditional Indian Agarbattis

Maintaining a home is no easy feat. Day to day activities and the inevitable decay of structures are sometimes accompanied by their own undesirable scents. It’s tempting to pick up a room freshener and go to town with it. But how safe are they, really?


The Stinky Side of Room Freshers

Aerosol sprays, electric plug-ins, aromatic candles and diffusers are a multi-billion dollar market across the globe, but numerous studies show that at least one fourth of the products available on the market are carcinogenic and toxic. Most of the fresheners are made of a delicate combination of essential oils and laboratory-made chemical fragrances. They are sometimes bound together by other chemicals, which become pollutants when released into the air and cause more than just respiratory distress over time. The skin, being the biggest organ in the human body, absorbs the chemicals that settle onto it and transfers it into the bloodstream. While the side effects aren’t lethal, they’re no friends of your health, either. Room fresheners are known to cause migraine, dizziness, rashes, and asthma attacks among other complications. This has led many health-conscious folks to explore alternatives – and that path leads us back to our rich heritage.

Agarbatti – The traditional room freshener

Agarbattis (or incense sticks) and sambrani has been a time honoured tradition in India to purify the air,  calm our minds, soothe our tired bodies and rejuvenate our souls. The Vedic texts and Ayurveda even specify how they should be made. Traditionally, agarbattis were made from bamboo sticks and a paste made of charcoal dust or wood powder held together by natural adhesives. A base paste was applied to the bamboo stick and rolled in a finely powdered mixture of masalas (of natural herbs and spices derived from the fruits, flowers, barks, roots and leaves of trees) and a binding resin (amber, myrrh, frankincense, and halmaddi) while the paste was still moist.

A Slight Deviating from Tradition

Presently, the process of making the agarbatti itself has undergone a transformation. The paste is left on the stick for a couple of days to dry and it is then dipped into scented solvents made from  mixture of essential oils (or perfumes) and binding agents. Natural essential oils that are most sought after for incense sticks – agarwood, jasmine, rose and sandalwood – are very expensive. So manufacturers replace most of it with synthetic perfumes. Even one of the most common fragrances – Rose – contains over a dozen chemicals, and there is no clear FDA approval for their use in burnable products. In addition to the chemicals in the fragrances, Diethyl Phthalate (DEP), a commonly used  binding agent in incense sticks, releases toxic compounds when burned. This could have potentially hazardous effects on human health and the environment over time.

There are also incense brands that claim to be all-natural, but use low quality wood powder, adhesive or binding agent, creating just as awful an experience for users. As a result, agarbattis get the rap for being too smoky or harsh and causing deadly health effects like cancer, asthma, COPD, respiratory distress and skin allergies. But not all incense sticks are synthetic or made of poor quality ingredients. You simply need to read the fine print while choosing these fragrance sticks.

Choosing the Healthier Alternative

There are ways to differentiate between high quality agarbattis and its low quality or synthetic counterparts.

  • Hand-dipped’ or ‘hand-made’ agarbattis are usually of the synthetic variety. Instead choose agarbattis that are hand-rolled
  • Natural high-quality agarbattis produce very light smoke – but that does not reduce the aroma
  • Natural incense sticks only use ingredients directly available in nature. If you find chemicals you don’t recognise in the ingredient list, choose a different brand of incense sticks.
  • A natural unlit agarbatti does not release any strong smell. If you can smell a strong aroma even before you open the box, it is likely dipped in perfume oils, which may or may not be synthetic
  • The scent from natural agarbattis are woody, soothing, deeper yet subtle, and longer lasting
  • Natural agarbattis do not contain any artificial colour additives.

We consciously seek to work with manufacturers who embrace the natural and sustainable way of life. If a brand commits to preserving biodiversity, uses traditional practices of manufacture, and observes fair trade, we believe that it’s a brand worth buying from – and it’s a brand you’ll find at the Go Native stores.



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