Who doesn’t love the fresh clean smell of laundry drying?
But you might want to hold off on taking your next whiff. Researchers say dryer sheets and laundry detergents are bearers of a heck of a lot more than just April freshness.
Laundry exhaust reveals two carcinogens
In fact, University of Washington researchers have pinpointed 25 volatile organic compounds… including seven hazardous air pollutants and two carcinogens… wafting out of our dryer vents.
The study—published in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health—focused on three different scenarios:
- Dryer-vent fumes from a load of pre-rinsed organic-cotton towels washed with no products.
- A load washed with a leading brand of scented liquid laundry detergent.
- And finally one both washed with the detergent and later dried with a leading brand of scented dryer sheets.
The researchers placed a special canister inside the dryer vent to capture the exhaust 15 minutes into each of the three drying cycles.
They were able to easily identify a number of hazardous chemicals…including the cancer-causing compounds acetaldehyde and benzene…in the scented air of both of the loads that were treated with the laundry products.
Scented products bad for the environment too
And those chemicals aren’t just bad for us they’re bad news for the environment too.
The UW scientists estimate that in the Seattle area alone the acetaldehyde emissions from the one leading brand of laundry detergent they tested would be equal to about three percent of the total acetaldehyde emissions from cars.
Even worse, when they crunched the numbers for the top five brands that number jumped to six percent of cars’ acetaldehyde emissions.
Now, let’s face it. Neither of us is very likely going to be heading down to the nearest stream to wash our clothes the old-fashioned way… by beating them on rocks.
So what’s a clean-laundry lover supposed to do?
Go natural with unscented laundry products
You can try switching to natural, organic laundry products. But be warned, depending on the one you choose you could still be exposing yourself and your family to unwanted chemicals. In a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers found that many product products labeled “green,” “natural,” or “organic” emitted as many hazardous chemicals as standard ones.
But don’t despair. Our friends over at the Environmental Working Group have some recommendations for safer laundry products you can feel good about using. The following laundry soap and softening brands scored an A in their testing:
- Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda Detergent Booster & Household Cleaner
- Green Shield Organic Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear
- biokleen Laundry Powder, Citrus Essence
- Attitude Little Ones Night Laundry Detergent, Soothing Chamomile
- biokleen Free & Clear Laundry Liquid
- Attitude Fabric Softener, Pink Grapefruit
- Green Shield Organic Fabric Softener, Lavender Mint
Consider skipping dryer sheets altogether and opt for a greener method of handling static cling and softening of clothing such as adding a dash of vinegar to the rinse cycle, or even using a classic clothesline. If you’re pressed for time, you can combat static cling by tossing your load into the dryer for a partial cycle and then hanging the damp clothes to air-dry the rest of the way.
Oh, and if you plan on switching to unscented products, but find yourself still craving a little fragrance, try putting a drop or two of your favorite essential oil on a dishcloth and placing it in your dresser drawers. Or give an old-fashioned sachet of fresh herbs a try. Mint and lavender, for example, both smell delicious
I don’t know about you, but I must admit I never imagined that I would be adding my dryer to the laundry list of things that could kill me.
“Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products,” Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 2011; DOI
“Indoor Air Quality: Scented Products Emit a Bouquet of VOCs,” Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jan; 119(1): A16
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