A Toxic Tumble


I’d always had a gut feeling that those laboratory-cocktail laundry scents were toxic. When I would go for a run and smell dryer sheets or fabric softeners waft by, my cheeks felt as if they were on fire and my nose would run. Now there’s scientific proof that my physical reactions were not in my head. 

The University of Washington in Seattle recently published a study of six top selling laundry products and air fresheners concluding that they emitted dozens of different chemicals.

According to the study, all six products tested gave off at least one chemical regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws, yet none of those chemicals was listed on the product labels (law does not require this).



Anne Steinemann, a University of Washington professor of civil and environmental engineering and public affairs, said she first became interested in the topic after hearing numerous complaints about air fresheners in public restrooms, and that the scent from laundry products, which were vented outdoors, were making people sick.

Steinemann said she was surprised by both the number and potential toxicity of the chemicals that she found, which included acetone, the active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover; limonene, acetaldehyde, a flammable liquid with a fruity smell; chloromethan, which can cause sever damage to the nervous system;  and 1,4-dioxane, a petroleum-derived contaminant considered a probable human carcinogen by the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a clear-cut animal carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program.

In addition, nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from the six products, and five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic air pollutants which are considered by the EPA to have no safe exposure level.

Steinman’s study was published online by the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review. Steinemann chose not to disclose the brand names of the six products she tested. In a larger study of 25 cleaners, personal care products, air fresheners and laundry products, she found that many other brands contained similar chemicals.

If you haven’t gone organic yet, now might be the time. Start by making your own laundry detergent and dryer satchels today and greening up your laundry. Safe air freshener is a good bet, too.

Image: daviddesign