Do you use scented laundry detergent? Fabric softener? Dryer sheets? You might want to think of alternative options.
The study outlined that air that is vented from clothes dryers using conventional, popular scented laundry detergent and scented dryer sheets contains hazardous chemicals. Two of these chemicals include toxic carcinogens.
Published online this week in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, the research further expands on past studies that have already looked at which chemicals are released by laundry products, air fresheners, cleaners, lotions and other scented consumer products. Labeling guidelines do not require manufacturers to disclose the ingredients used in fragrances, cleaners, laundry products, and household items.
The lead is author Anne Steinemann, a University of Washington professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs. She explains, “This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored. 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.”
The recent study focuses on chemicals that are emitted through laundry vents. To do the study, researchers first purchased and pre-rinsed new, organic cotton towels as their test subjects. They then asked two homeowners to volunteer their washers and dryers, cleaned the inside of the machines with vinegar, and ran full laundry cycles using only water to eliminate as much residue as possible.
Then they got to the task at hand. At the first home, they ran a regular laundry cycle, then followed by analyzing the vent fumes. This analysis included three parts: the first load included the use of non products at all. The second load included using the leading brand of scented liquid laundry detergent. The third load used both the popular detergent and a leading brand of scented dryer sheets.
To accurately analyze the emissions, a canister was inserted in the dryer vent opening. During each of the loads, it captured the exhaust 15 minutes into each drying cycle.
The research team then repeated the same procedure in the second home, using the different washer and dryer but the same three loads.
The canister led to the eventual analysis of the different captured gases discovered. In fact, the vents emitted more than 25 volatile organic compounds, among these seven hazardous air pollutants. Out of these compounds, two chemicals, acetaldehyde and benzene, are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogens. The EPA says that there is no safe exposure level for these. They can affect your personal health, but also environmental health, finding their way into the air and our waterways, and, essentially, leaking out their poisons in the air we breathe and the water we drink.
The study was completed in the Seattle area, and researched have hypothesized that the acetaldehyde emissions from this brand of laundry detergent would be approximately equivalent to 3 percent of the total acetaldehyde emissions coming from automobiles. They estimate that emissions from the top five brands would total about 6 percent of automobiles’ acetaldehyde emissions.
The researchers recommend using laundry products without any fragrance or scent.
For other ways to do a greener load of laundry, check out our article “Tips for greener laundry“, which outlines ways for you to keep your laundry a little more planet (and hydro) friendly. Ditching those laundry sheets definitely makes the list.
For an alternative to laundry detergent, explore the possibility of soap nuts. Soap nuts are literally nuts from the Sapindus genus of trees, also known as soapberry trees. The shell of the nut contains saponin, a natural substance designed by Mother Nature herself for effective cleaning. It has been used for centuries around Asia for both clothing and skin. Read more in our article about soap nuts here.
Read the full report of the study: Anne C. Steinemann, Lisa G. Gallagher, Amy L. Davis, Ian C. MacGregor. Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products. Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 2011; DOI: 10.1007/s11869-011-0156-1