where green living, parenthood, and interiors intersect

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dangerous Venting

There are a few distinct smells that waft through the neighborhood indicating exactly what the people inside a nearby home are up to: enjoying a winter fire, grilling up some burgers, doing the laundry. The latter is usually the aroma of scented fabric softening sheets churning about in a warm dryer load. It's an undeniably steamy, comforting smell but when you read about what's really being emitted out that vent, that "fresh" scent really starts to stink.

Today, I stumbled upon a post on re-nest that reveals the unfortunate findings of a new University of Washington study on fragranced laundry products. "The results found more than 25 VOCs emitted from dryer vents, with highest concentrations of acetaldehyde, acetone, and ethanol (two of which are considered carcinogenic). To put it in context, one of the carcinogenic VOC's, acetaldehyde, had emissions that would represent 3% of total acetaldehyde emissions from automobiles in the study area. That might not seem like a lot, but given how commonplace they are in homes, the findings are significant." The carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) found were acetaldehyde and benzene, to which there is no safe exposure level, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Professor Dr. Anne Steinemann who conducted the study pointed out that this is particularly alarming because dryer vents are completely unregulated, unlike smoke stacks or car exhaust pipes. And it goes without saying that not only are the VOC's being emitted into the air, but that chemical residues are being left on clothing and leaching into groundwaters which have their own ramifications. But that's a whole other post.

Personally, I'm grossed out by conventional scented laundry products with their overly perfumed "clean" scents. Every time clothes come back from my son's father's home that have been laundered with scented products, I have to immediately re-launder them because the stench is too strong to me. "Clean" really doesn't have a scent, and it certainly doesn't smell like soap or wildflowers. But this doesn't mean I don't love soft, clean clothes and linens!! So I pop a Get Clean Soft Fabric Fragrance Free Dryer Sheet (shown below) into every dryer load.....a completely nontoxic, biodegradable dryer sheet formulated from vegetable-based softeners. The re-nest post underscores this sentiment: dryer sheets aren't inherently bad, just chose unscented versions that are not made of synthetic or polyurethane foam materials to cut the harmful emissions.

Click here to read the complete Chemical Emissions from Residential Dryer Vents During Use of Fragranced Laundry Products Study.