Health & Wellbeing

Scented laundry products found to emit harmful chemicals from dryers

Scented laundry products found...
A University of Washington study has found hazardous chemicals from scented laundry products in dryer exhaust (Photo: Randolph Jonsson)
A University of Washington study has found hazardous chemicals from scented laundry products in dryer exhaust (Photo: Randolph Jonsson)
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A University of Washington study has found hazardous chemicals from scented laundry products in dryer exhaust (Photo: Randolph Jonsson)
A University of Washington study has found hazardous chemicals from scented laundry products in dryer exhaust (Photo: Randolph Jonsson)

Recent research from the University of Washington (UW) has revealed that freshly-scented laundry comes with an unexpected price. In the first study to examine dryer vent exhaust, fragrance components in some of the best-selling liquid clothing detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets were found to infuse the vented air with a veritable rogue's gallery of hazardous pollutants, including two known carcinogens.

"This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored," said Professor Anne Steinemann, lead author of the study.

In previous work, the UW team examined the host of chemicals released by consumer goods such as scented laundry detergents, air deodorizers, household cleaners, body lotions and other personal care products. In this study, conducted in Seattle area homes, the focus was on dryer vents. Careful analysis yielded more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), several of which the EPA considers hazardous air pollutants: acetaldehyde, benzene, ethyl benzene, methanol, xylene and toluene. Two of those, acetaldehyde and benzene, are known carcinogens with no safe level of exposure.

"If they're coming out of a smokestack or tail pipe, they're regulated, but if they're coming out of a dryer vent, they're not," Steinemann adds.

It's interesting to note that the Environmental Protection Agency identified a lengthy list of polar volatile organic compounds in consumer products way back in 1991 and yet it appears to have taken a full twenty years before legitimate peer-reviewed science has begun to sound the alarm. Hopefully, the current UW study will effect some much-needed change to the current "anything goes" policy with regard to hazardous ingredients in household goods.

In the meantime, what's a chemically-sensitive consumer to do? While fragrance-free fabric softeners may seem to be the way to go, even that isn't always a safe bet. Sometimes, chemicals can be added to "mask" other unwanted scents, so the toxins are still there, without the tell-tale smell. Instead, when using scent-free detergent, try adding a quarter cup of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to the wash cycle to soften clothes. To eliminate static cling, pour a quarter cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle. Your laundry may no longer be "meadow fresh," but your body and the environment will thank you!

Being a chemically-sensitive consumer I haven\'t used dryer sheet on my own clothes since I started doing my own laundry. Opening the box gives me a headache.
Now if we can get a study showing that walking around in a toxic cloud doesn\'t make you more attractive.
The Village Smith
I have viewed fabric softeners as a hazard since the 70s, but for a different reason. They make your clothing more readily flammable. In my experience (I worked as a welder for years) the sheets are worse than the liquid. I heard about using vinegar a couple of years ago and find that it works rather well. I use borax (sodium tetra-borate) in the wash cycle, along with a phosphate, fragrance, dye and UV enhancer free detergent at half the manufacturers recommended amount. My laundry comes out clean and soft with no objectionable smell and costs a little bit less for supplies. The "green thing" is just a coincidence.
Mr Stiffy
Saw a great old movie / theater / public safety campaign on people doing home dry cleaning using gasoline - and \"Yo HOT Momma\" when the house exploded.
Warns housewives about the effects of cleaning clothes with Gasoline.
Gene Jordan
I found an online recipe for making my own laundry soap at home from three ingredients. One is a bar of soap (Fels-Naptha), one is powered Borax, and the other is Arm & Hammer Washing Soda. Optional is your favorite flavor of essential oils. Each batch makes about 10 gallons, lasts me about a year, and costs less than a penny per load. Plus, I know that there is nothing in it that is going to hurt me. The best part is not having to pay for and lug home a heavy container of laundry soap from the store every few weeks. All of the water in the soap that I make comes out of the tap at my house.
IFRA North America
Consumers can continue to use and enjoy laundry and fabric care products safely and effectively, as they have every day for decades.
While it makes for an eye-catching headline, the study referenced in this article was poorly designed and included a sample size of only six--too small to be meaningful. The researcher, Anne Steinmann, makes unsubstantiated claims and exploits her findings. Her study falls short of being detailed enough to replicate or allow for a proper review of the findings.
Read more about the many flaws in this study and the fragrance manufacturers' response to the findings here: Laundry Products FINAL D
Mr Stiffy: Fels-Naptha contains titanium dioxide (Titanium dioxide dust, when inhaled, has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen possibly carcinogenic to humans.)
It may be better to make your own soap. Too bad they don\'t have a product without the unnecessary additions.
What kind of sorry-ass world do we live in when it turns out dryer exhaust needs to be regulated. And everyone accepts that it should be. Of course it should, everything else is. We\'re so far removed from common sense that nobody bats an eye. Pitiful, ain\'t it?