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Many of those scented laundry products millions of people use - detergents, softeners, and fabric sheets in dryers - may contain toxic chemicals.

Anne Steinemann, a University of Washington professor of civil and environmental engineering and the lead author of a new study, says her latest research project showed more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including two classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as carcinogens, being emitted by clothes dryers that handled laundry washed with a top-selling scented liquid laundry detergent and dried along with scented dryer sheets.

The testing process involved washing and drying new, pre-rinsed organic cotton towels in the washers and dryers of volunteer homeowners. All the machines were meticulously cleaned before testing began and during the drying process, a canister placed inside the dryer vent opening captured the exhaust, which was then analyzed.

Among the compounds found in the exhaust were seven VOCs classified as hazardous air pollutants by the EPA: acetaldehyde, benzene, ethylbenzene, methanol, m/pxylene, o-xylene, and toluene.

The first two compounds are carcinogenic, and no safe exposure level has been determined by the EPA.

The study found that despite the presence of these compounds, none were listed on the product label, which instead used terms such as “biodegradable surfactants,” “perfume,” and “softeners,” which is what consumers most likely will find on other similar laundry products as well.

Why were those chemicals in the products and why were they not listed for consumers to see?

The ingredients are not listed because manufacturers are not required to list them.


And scented laundry products are in general a big unknown; because the presence of a fragrance alone can mean several hundred chemicals are part of the product.

Some of the more than 2,600 chemicals documented as ingredients in fragrances have been classified as hazardous or toxic under federal laws.

In a news release on the study Steinemann said “This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored…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 study, published this week in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, was based on tests using the regular laundry cycle, conducted at two different homes, and analyzed gases captured 15 minutes into the drying cycle.

Analysis of these gases discovered more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from the vents.

Of this number, seven were hazardous air pollutants, including acetaldehyde and benzene.

“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 added.

Steinemann suggests consumers wanting to avoid these chemicals should instead use basing cleaning ingredients like vinegar and baking soda, using non-scented products, and opening house windows for ventilation.


This study follows on the heels of another study recently released called “Dirty Laundry 2: Hung Out to Dry,” that showed a number of leading clothing items carrying such global brand names as Adidas, H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein, Lacoste and Ralph Lauren, among others, were found with nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), toxic chemicals with “persistent and hormone-disrupting properties,” according to a statement by Greenpeace International, the group commissioning the research.

“Our research shows that global clothing brands are responsible for the discharge of hazardous chemicals into waterways in China and across the world, as part of their manufacturing processes,” said Yifang Li, Greenpeace East Asia’s Toxic Water Campaigner, in a news release.

“People have a right to know about the chemicals that are present in the very fabric of their clothing and the harmful effects these chemicals have when released into the environment.”

For the study, 78 articles of sports and recreational clothing and shoes carrying logos of the top 15 clothing brands were used as analysis by a leading independent laboratory. NPEs are found in detergents used in industries that produce natural and synthetic textiles.