Dangerous Dryer Sheets

Filed under: General Health

While my main area of focus is nutrition, and to a slightly lesser extent training, I do like to think of myself as having a broad scope of knowledge in many areas that affect our health, and certainly a passionate interest.  I wrote a piece a while back called The Dangers & Solutions of Indoor Air Pollution, which is one of my favorites as I feel it highlights some relatively unknown areas of our lives that could be significantly impacting our health, as well as what to do about it.

Well in that same vein some recent research caught my attention. Dr. Anne Steinemann and colleagues at the University of Washington ran tests of scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets and then measured the gases being emitted from the dryer vent for possible carcinogens and health hazards.  What they found may surprise you.

The first set of laundry that they ran used no products at all.  The next used a leading brand of scented laundry detergent, but no dyer sheets in the dryer.  The final test got both the detergent and the dryer sheets.

What the researchers found was 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemicals that can cause long-term health effects.  In addition the EPA classifies seven of these particular VOCs as hazardous air pollutants, and two of them as carcinogens with no safe level of exposure (acetaldehyde and benzene).  Even when there weren’t any products in use the vents gave off some VOCs, probably due to the fact that theses were machines in people’s houses and there was some residual matter from previous laundry cycles.   When the laundry detergent was added it was much worse, adding 10 new VOCs.  When both the scented laundry detergent and the scented dryer sheets were used created by far the worst situation, emitting acetaldehyde, acetone, benzaldehyde, hexanol and many many more hazardous chemicals.  Even worse the carcinogenic acetaldehyde was among those with the highest concentrations.

The researchers estimate that emissions from dryer vents to equal about 6 percent of the emissions of carcinogenic acetaldehyde from automobiles.  While seemingly small, it is also a much more direct exposure, especially if you are venting into your basement or garage.  Unfortunately you won’t find these compounds on the ingredients list.  The word “fragrance” as a single ingredient can actually contain up to 200 chemicals! It is also proprietary information, does not need to be listed and is not regulated.

While getting into a discussion on the fact that the emissions from our dryers is a totally unregulated problem is beyond the scope of this blog, the bottom line is your best bet would be to use an unscented, hypoallergenic “natural” laundry detergent, I like Seventh Generation Free & Clear personally, along with an unscented and fragrance free dryer sheet.  No your clothes may not have that April fresh scent, but at least they will be far less likely to pose any health risk.  Certainly seems like a worthy trade-off to me.

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Posted on February 15th, 2012 by Brian St. Pierre


  1. Jeff Says:

    Dryer Balls work great as well and last a long time, which will save you some money.


  2. The Home of BSP Training & Nutrition » Blog Archive » One More Reason to Go Green, and Do Your Research Says:

    [...] Dangerous Dryer Sheets [...]

  3. The Home of BSP Training & Nutrition » Blog Archive » Assess Your Air Quality Says:

    [...] before about the importance of air quality to your health (Breathing Green, Indoor Air Pollution, Dangerous Dryer Sheets).  I recently came across a really cool tool to learn about the air quality for where you [...]

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