I was interested in a University of Washington study of top-selling laundry products which found they emitted dozens of different chemicals. All six products tested, including dryer sheets, fabric softeners and detergents, gave off at least one chemical regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws, but none of those chemicals was listed on the product labels.
“I first got interested in this topic because people were telling me that the scent from laundry products vented outdoors were making them sick,” said Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs. “In a national survey in 2005 about 10% of the population complained of adverse effects from laundry products vented to the outdoors. Among asthmatics such complaints were roughly twice as common. And I wanted to know, ‘What’s in these products that is causing these effects?’”
She analysed the products to discover the chemicals’ identity.
“I was surprised by both the number and the potential toxicity of the chemicals that were found,” Steinemann said. Chemicals included acetone, the active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover; limonene, a molecule with a citrus scent; and acetaldehyde, chloromethane and 1,4-dioxane.
“Nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from these six products, and none were listed on any product label. Plus, five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic ‘hazardous air pollutants,’ which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level,” Steinemann said.
“Fragrance chemicals are of particular interest because of the potential for involuntary exposure, or second-hand scents,” Steinemann said.
“Be careful if you buy products with fragrance, because you really don’t know what’s in them,” she added. “I’d like to see better labelling. In the meantime, I’d recommend that, with laundry products, choose fragrance-free versions.”
We’ve recently introduced Violet’s Magic Unscented Laundry Powder to our range at AllergyBestBuys.com and already it’s proving to be very popular, particularly with our customers with chemical sensitivity and eczema.
The European Union has enacted legislation requiring products to list 26 fragrance chemicals when they are present above a certain concentration in cosmetic products and detergents, but similar laws do not exist in the United States.