An ad for Febreze Air Effects, which “sweeps away those stale and stifling odors and leaves a fresh scent,” shows blindfolded “real people” being led into a stinky room that has been sprayed with the product. They’re asked to take a deep breath and describe what they smell. “Very springtimey,” one man says. Another cites “a forest thing going on,” and a woman says she feels as if she’s in a spa.
All are shocked when the blindfolds are removed to reveal an old, defecating goat; a dead fish; and a sweaty bodybuilder. (Watch the ad on YouTube.) Ads for other Febreze products show their prowess against, for starters, a sofa covered in dog fur, an old shipping container, a smelly boot, and the Azerbaijani wrestling team.
Lacking a goat, we stunk up a sealed room with a plate of sardines and a box filled with several days of litter scoopings from two large cats. We let the stuff sit for 4 hours, sprayed the room thoroughly with Febreze Air Effects, then brought in five blindfolded panelists one by one to tell us what they smelled.
Next, we ventilated the room and sprayed a second product, Febreze Air Effects Pet Odor Eliminator, which is designed to work against pet waste. We hid the malodorous litter behind a screen, and asked three new panelists to describe the resulting scent.
Bottom line. Clean the cat box, don’t leave fish on the counter, and take out the trash. Although the sprays hid some of our odors, they didn’t work as well as implied by the ads, and any effect was temporary.
After we’d sprayed Febreze Air Effects, most blindfolded panelists still identified odors characteristic of fish or cat litter or both, and most also noticed a fragrance or chemical/detergent scent. Among their comments: “I wanted to throw up,” “Flowers gone bad, dirty diapers, old garbage,” and “Like a men’s room in a truck stop.”
The Pet Odor Eliminator fared little better with our next set of panelists. One said, “It’s not exactly pleasant, and I don’t want to inhale.” Another imagined “air freshener, cat urine, and a hamster cage.”
Did you know?
Procter & Gamble says, “Our entire line of Febreze products is safe for use around both humans and pets when used according to the label instructions.” But air fresheners and other volatile organic compounds can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, a reason for people with respiratory problems to use other means to keep odors at bay. Most household cleaners, including air fresheners, don't have to list all of their ingredients, so fully assessing their safety can be difficult.