Well Being

Is Scented Laundry Polluting Your Air?

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Could your desire for lavender-scented undergarments be killing you? One University of Washington researcher says yes. Anne Steinemann, a professor of environmental engineering and public affairs, tested some of the top-selling scented liquid laundry detergents and dryer sheets, and found air vented from machines using these products contained seven potentially hazardous chemicals, including two classified as carcinogens.

Some are skeptical about Steinemann's findings. “Exposure, let alone mere detection, is not toxicity,” the folks at Junk Science write. “Steinemann offers no evidence that these emissions actually affect anyone’s health or the environment in any meaningful way.”

Fair enough—but that kinda seems how research works: First you test to see if fragrance in laundry products is even detectable in air filtered through your washer and dryer, then you figure out if it's harmful. Maybe this is the kinda thing where you keep a couple of plants around, the pollutants are completely neutralized. The two carcinogens, acetaldehyde and benzene, though, are classified by the EPA as unsafe at any exposure level.

Steinemann does seem a little kooky talking about “emissions from dryer vents,” being woefully “unregulated and unmonitored.”

“If they're coming out of a smokestack or tail pipe, they're regulated,” Steinemann says, “but if they're coming out of a dryer vent, they're not.”

I'd venture to say that's because air from a smokestack is a public health concern, whereas the air inside your home laundry room is not. But who wants a laundry room full of even potentially hazardous pollutants if you can avoid it?

Steinemann recommends using only laundry products without any fragrance or scent. Instead of ditching scent, though, why not just ditch chemical laundry products? Air pollutants are probably the least of your worries when it comes to some of the stuff found in many conventional laundry products. There are a bunch of great, chemical-free liquid detergents out there, however, like Planet Ultra, Seventh Generation, Biokleen and Ecover. Instead of scented dryer sheets, try sprinkling in a few drops of essential oil.