Back in the ’70s, scientists began to suspect that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the chemicals used in aerosol cans, were damaging the atmosphere. By the hairspray-heavy ’80s, CFCs were identified as the main culprit in causing the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica. Environmentalists soon convinced consumers to avoid aerosols like the plague. But recently a host of “eco-friendly” aerosol products have begun to appear on store shelves. What gives?

The claim

Aerosol sprays are bad for the ozone layer.

The facts

You might be in the habit of guiltily looking to the sky every time you reach for a spray can, but aerosols haven’t contained CFCs for a while now. In 1987, 57 industrial nations signed the Montreal Protocol, the first international agreement to deal with global atmospheric problems, and CFCs were phased out. Today there are virtually no aerosols on the market that contain CFCs. Instead, cans are usually pressurized with safer substances, like hydrocarbons, and research shows the ozone layer is on the mend. Still, experts don’t expect it to recover to 1980-levels for another 50 years or so. 

The conclusion

Today’s aerosols won’t contribute to the ozone hole, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for the environment. Hydrocarbons are highly flammable, and the aerosol canisters can’t be recycled unless they’re totally emptied. (Local recycling rules vary.) Bottom line: Aerosol sprays are much less troublesome now than they were in the past, but it’s still better to choose products that use a pump mechanism if you have the option.

This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2007. The story was added to in June 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2007