Little thought is given about exhausts coming out of our homes, but these vents are releasing a lot more chemicals than we're told.
Proper ventilation from the dryer to outside is important to prevent causing excess moisture from collecting in the house from the steam and water vapor that is pulled from the clothes. However, much more than just clean water vapor is in the exhaust of a dryer.
Carbon monoxide is a gas that is present in dryer exhaust and one that most people are aware of the potential danger. There is no odor to carbon monoxide and the level required to be harmful depends on the size of the person breathing the fumes. A child would succumb to the effects of carbon monoxide much more quickly than an adult. If a child's bedroom is close to the laundry room, it is vital to ensure the dryer vent is functioning properly.
Dryer sheets and fabric softener balls are commonplace. They are supposed to reduce static and keep our clothes feeling soft and smelling good. However, these pleasures don't come without a price. Dryer exhaust from dryers that have been running with a dryer sheet or other type of fabric softener has shown to contain several toxic fumes such as benzyl acetate, which is a carcinogenic that is linked to pancreatic cancer. Bensyl alcohol has been found in dryer exhaust and exposure to it will cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and a drop in blood pressure which could lead to fainting. Several chemicals that have been classified on the EPA's hazardous waste list have also been found in dryer exhaust.
Of course the giant corporations behind these products, and those associated with them, will oppose this to the very end and claim their products are perfectly safe - using the same arguments, devices and mega-money that fast food giants and cigarette manufacturers used before them. But, using your own common sense and intuition, take a look at the list of ingredients found in popular dryer sheets and fabric softeners below and YOU be the judge.
Here is a list of just some of the chemicals found in popular fabric softeners and dryer sheets:
Benzyl Acetate:Linked to pancreatic cancer
Benzyl Alcohol:Upper respiratory tract irritant
Ethanol:On the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders
A-Terpineol:Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage
Ethyl Acetate:A narcotic on the EPA's Hazardous Waste list
Camphor:Causes central nervous system disorders
Chloroform:Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic
Linalool:A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders
- Pentane:A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled
Unlike food and drugs, cosmetic and home cleaning products like fabric softener are largely unregulated due in part to an incorrect assumption that their chemicals are not really absorbed into the body. The basic argument - which the giant corporations are more than happy to repeat - is that such chemicals could not be absorbed through the skin because the skin is a strong barrier against external agents.
Findings, published online in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, show 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."
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.
For the new 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.
Analysis of the captured gases found more than 25 volatile organic compounds, 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.
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."
The project's website also includes letters from the public reporting health effects from scented consumer products. Steinemann says that people's reports of adverse reactions to fragranced air coming from laundry vents motivated her to conduct this study.
Here are a few more interesting insights regarding thetypical chemical dryer sheetsthat you won't find their manufacturers boldly advertising on the pretty boxes:
- Common dryer sheets greatly reduce the flame retardency of children's clothing
- They create toxic fumes when released with heat
- Warranties on some new dryer models can be negated because of their use
- Their inert ingredients can cause cancer, liver disease, Alzheimer's, and many other chronic disorders
- Common dryer sheets can cause allergic reactions on your skin
- They create a clogging residue on your lint screen that can cause the heating element to burn out.