Fresh smelling clothes may be the hallmark of cleanliness, but did you know that fresh scent is also classified as air pollution?
University of Washington professor Anne Steinemann’s research shows air vented from machines using the top selling scented liquid laundry detergent and scented dryer sheet contains hazardous chemicals, including two — acetaldehyde and benzene — classified as cancer-causing substances by the Environmental Protection Agency as having no safe exposure level.
“As context for significance, the acetaldehyde emissions during use of one brand of laundry detergent would represent 3 percent of total acetaldehyde emissions from automobiles in the [Seattle] study area,” according to the study published in Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health.
“This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored,” she said in a written statement. “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 research builds on Steinemann’s earlier work looking at chemicals released by 25 popular 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, but her research revealed the products contained on average 17 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of which, one-fourth were classified as toxic or hazardous under federal law.
Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and public affairs, became interested in studying laundry detergent and dryer sheets after receiving letters from the public reporting adverse health reactions from the scented laundry products.
"These products can affect not only personal health, but also public and environmental health. The chemicals go into the air, down the drain and into water bodies," she said.
For the research, new organic cotton towels were pre-rinsed, then laundered in two standard residential washers and dryers.