Hazardous Chemicals in Laundry Products

Hazardous Chemicals in Laundry Products

Do you like the smell of laundry detergent or fabric softener?  Do you know people who walk around smelling like Tide or Bounce?


It is time to completely rethink what is considered clean and fresh, because the chemicals in top-selling laundry products may be hazardous to your health.


The strongly scented air wafting from household laundry vents contains chemicals that pollute the air and threaten health, according to a study done at the University of Washington.


The study revealed that use of leading laundry products produces drier exhaust containing carcinogens such as acetaldehyde and benzene.


Dryer Vents Emit Hazardous Chemicals


This new research, published in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, shows that air vented from machines using the top-selling scented liquid laundry detergent and scented dryer sheet contains hazardous chemicals, including two that are classified as carcinogens.


"This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored," said lead author Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs. "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."


Learn more about car pollution in Diesel Raises Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke


The research builds on earlier work that looked at what chemicals are released by laundry products, air fresheners, cleaners, lotions and other fragranced consumer products. Manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients used in fragrances, or in laundry products.


Study on Hazardous Chemicals and Laundry Vents


For the study, which focuses on chemicals emitted through laundry vents, researchers first purchased and pre-rinsed new, organic cotton towels. They asked two homeowners to volunteer their washers and dryers, cleaned the inside of the machines with vinegar, and ran full cycles using only water to eliminate as much residue as possible.


At the first home, they ran a regular laundry cycle and analyzed the vent fumes for three cases: once with no products, once with the leading brand of scented liquid laundry detergent, and finally with both the detergent and a leading brand of scented dryer sheets. A canister placed inside the dryer vent opening captured the exhaust 15 minutes into each drying cycle. Researchers then repeated the procedure with a different washer and dryer at a second home.


Volatile Organic Compounds Emitted From Vents


Analysis of the captured gases found more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), including seven hazardous air pollutants, coming out of the vents. Of those, two chemicals – acetaldehyde and benzene – are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogens, for which the agency has established no safe exposure level.


"These products can affect not only personal health, but also public and environmental health. The chemicals can go into the air, down the drain and into water bodies," Steinemann said.


Learn more about VOC’s in Sick Building, Sick People


Laundry Product Pollutants Equivalent to Automobile Pollutants


The researchers estimate that in the Seattle area, where the study was conducted, acetaldehyde emissions from this brand of laundry detergent would be equivalent to 3 percent of the total acetaldehyde emissions coming from automobiles. Emissions from the top five brands, they estimate, would constitute about 6 percent of automobiles’ acetaldehyde emissions.


"We focus a lot of attention on how to reduce emissions of pollutants from automobiles," Steinemann said. "And here’s one source of pollutants that could be reduced."


Help clear the air by switching to unscented laundry detergent, and skipping the fabric softener and dryer sheets.


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Reference: Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health. Published Online 2011.

“Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products,” Anne C. Steinemann, Lisa G. Gallagher, Amy L. Davis and Ian C. MacGregor


11 thoughts on “Hazardous Chemicals in Laundry Products

  1. sade d

    vents contain chemicals and can pollute the air and our health.fabric sheet are a scented.dryer vent from the air vent from the machines are the top-selling liquid landry detegant. it contains a hazard.to clean the air switch to unscented landry detegant. a source of pollute can be reduce. the chemical can be in the air or drain in the water bodies. repeated the procudes with different washer and dryer in a second home.

  2. Lyssa

    Dr Anne Steinemann has put the researched info out there about the unsafe chemicals in our every day laundry and personal care products. These chems are loaded in the “fragrances or perfumes” and they are not required to be tested for toxicity. Most are indeed, toxic and many of us (including our doctors), do not realize that our illnesses (dizziness, asthma, nausea, confusion, hormonal disruption, Cancer…), are actually being caused by exposures to poisons in our everyday products!

  3. Darren Carbone

    The laundry detergent and dryer sheets that many people use pollute the air. Many people don’t realize it but every time they wash a load of clothes and dry them they pollute the air around them. One way they can stop this is instead of drying their clothes in a dryer, they can hang them on a clothes line as long as the weather permits it. Doing that will help cut down on the amount of pollution they produce. They can also use unscented laundry detergent and that will help. Also, people can stop using fabric softener. Taking all these steps will help cut down on the amount of pollutions they produce.

  4. aj horvath

    Activities that seem harmless can be hazerdus to the environment. We don’t think about something as little as the detergents we use to was cloths. The problem is the by products of of those top selling detergents. The products are a health problem and an air pollution hazard. The more it continuse the worse the problem there is going to be. This problem is not just confined to air but also to water and land.

  5. Chelsie Pinckney

    I really like the smell of laundry detergent and fabric softener. I didn’t know that the chemicals in both products were harmful. Now that I know this it makes me think twice about smelling them. If more people purchase unscented laundry detergent it will help the environment. More people buy the scented detergent because it’s cheaper. If the price was to go up I’m pretty sure people would start buying unscented detergent. I know I would buy it. It’s also harmful to our environment. We don’t notice that it is hurting the environment. We should definitely start doing something before it gets bad.

  6. Talisha M.

    Almost all the time we as consumers feel obligated to look at the labels of most products we buy. But half of the chemicals, ingredients, and etc. are hard to figure out if it is good or bad. It feels like I am playing a game called, “Guess What This is?”. after reading this article, I feel like the government should put the ingredient list for what it is. Who would have ever thought that the stuff we use to clean our clothes with is dangerous. The comercialized products seem better to use, but now I know. We need to make another change around here and make the enviroment better.

  7. Brandy Bing

    Everyone likes their clothes to smell good, but did you ever realize that the dryer sheets and fabric softener are harming the environment? They are putting harmful chemicals in the air and its very bad for our health. The government isnt doing anything to solve the problem. Companies are still selling their products and the air is being polluted more and more. If the government did decide to take the products off of the market, there would be a lot of people out of jobs. The chemicals can give people breathing problems and make people really sick. I feel that something should be done about this problem because over time it will only get worse. The more we use these products the more danger the earth will be in. So next time you use a dryer sheet or fabric softener stop and think about how it can harm you and the earth.

  8. Colton A

    Of course everyone wants their clothes to smell good but most don’t realize it hurts the environment. We should simply reduce the amount of laundry detergent we use OR switch to unscented brand. Also, instead of using dryer, just hang clothes out on the line, there is nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t use electricity and it doesn’t hurt the enviroment with the use of dryer sheets. I honestly did not know that the chemicals in these items were hazardous, but now I do and we should ALL take a stand and support the NON use of hazardous chemicals.

  9. Jasmine Brooks

    I agree that dryer sheets or laundry products should be done away with since they are endangering people’s health and affecting our environment. Even though dryer sheets make your clothes smell good, they contain a lot of harmful chemicals. The chemicals go into the air, down the drain, and into water bodies. The only way these chemicals get wiped off of our clothes is through our skin. The chemicals can cause burning skin, respiratory irritation, and irritability. Dryer sheets or fabric softeners are made to stay in your clothing for a long time. Studies have shown that the more expensive or popular brands of dryer sheets and laundry products release the most dangerous fumes. These fumes that are released through vents are not even regulated. Maybe a solution could be cutting down the size of the dryer sheet that way less fumes will be released since people will not completely stop using dryer sheets.

  10. Cody Newcomb

    Many people, including me, did not realize that drier sheets and scented detergent releases harmful chemicals into the air. We can start by switching out your detergent with something less harmful. Then we can cut out the drier situation by hanging your clothes outside to dry, you cant do that in the winter but you still don’t need the drier during the winter. All you need to do is get a clothes rack and hang it next to your fire or heater. But not to close to where it will catch on fire. If people understood what really was happening when they used a drier sheet or detergent, then many may not use it. Also many do not realize that the pollution from this is equivalent to 3% of car pollutants. In which, could lead to faster ozone breakdown instead of repairing itself. Researcher’s found more than 25 volatile compounds that came from drier sheets. 7 of those are air pollutants and 2 of those are considered a no safe exposure level. So if people realized what they were releasing, then we would have less air pollutants emitted into the air.

  11. D'Andre Parker

    I do not use dryer sheets when i dry my clothes at home. If you already used fabric softner to make your clothes smell good and soft then there is no reason to use a dryer sheet. Chemicals released into the air from dryer exhaust can go into water also. Brands such as Tide and Bounce have chemicals in them cause damage to the environment.Since you are wearing clothes that have been washed and dried with these products you are most likely being affected by the chemicals too. Dryer sheets may not look like they have any sort of chemical in them, but using them causes as much damage to the environment as aerosol sprays. I hope that everyone that reads this article will realize that the littlest things can harm the environment.

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