Can Clothes Really Be Static & Toxin Free?

What About Fresh?

After some reading, I’ve decided to give up my dryer sheets, not because I was swayed by activists or significantly by recent research touting dryer sheet emissions.  However, after researching I do believe in the potential for cumulative harm from all the additives, including dryer sheets, that we spew into our environment.

There is indeed much being said about dryer sheets on-line and in the press.  However, because of my training background, first at Harvard Medical School and then at the University of California, San Francisco for residency, I can’t help but ask, “What’s the research show?”

The answer is that there is very little.  Initial studies on the topic analyzed volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in dryer sheets and found them to be present.1-3  The next question is: Does this translate into absorption into our clothing, our skin, or even environmental emissions?  Even further: Does this lead to increased risk of poor outcomes, like respiratory problems or cancer?

It appears that no one is denying that the VOCs are present, but there is opposition as to if there is harm.  No studies seem to demonstrate absorption from dryer sheets in our clothing or skin.  However, a recent study suggests that there may be increased emissions of VOCs from the vent when dryer sheets are used.

The study from the University of Washington, published in 2011, attempted to quantify emissions that come out of a dryer vent. This study took place in two different homes and they tested three scenarios.  The homes varied in that the first home used dryer sheets rarely and the second home frequently.  The first group consisted of wet towels run through the laundry, the second detergent but no dryer sheets, and the last group was washed with detergent and a scented dryer sheet.  In the home that used dryer sheets on a regular basis, 24 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were emitted in the combined detergent and dryer sheet group, 19 in the detergent group, and 16 in the wet towel alone group.4  This means that at baseline, there are VOCs emitted just by using your dryer.

They identified seven VOCs in the dryer vent emissions classified as hazardous air pollutants by the Environmental Protection Agency.  The study concluded, “two of these identified compounds (acetaldehyde and benzene) are classified as carcinogenic with no safe exposure level”. The authors concluded that acetaldehyde might be due to a reaction between product ingredients. It also could be a residual from prior use of products, from heating and reactions of fragranced products in machines, or other factors.  Additionally, benzene was not found in the home that rarely used dryer sheets, even when the dryer sheet was used during this study.  In the home with normal use of dryer sheets, it was noted in greater quantity in the wet towel group alone.  Potentially, this is due to error in measurement, within the range of error, due to environmental effect of the home, or a cumulative effect of the dryer sheets.

Ultimately, does this mean anything for our health?  Not surprisingly, the cleaning industry claims its products are safe.  The cigarette industry used to claim the same thing.  I’m not convinced these emissions lead directly to a bad health outcome.  However, it is not disputed that they are present in the products.  In my mind, it seems a detriment to our environment and our health that these chemicals are used in the production of the dryer sheets and are present in them.  For these reasons and the fact that manufacturers are not required to list all ingredients, in my home I’ve decided to seek out alternatives to the dryer sheet.

I wondered if there were ways to reduce static cling and to have fresh smelling clothes?  Here’s a list of ideas I found:

  • Natural fibers.  Purchase clothing made of natural fibers as they have less static cling.
  • Line Dry. Often I hang dry my clothing to keep them lasting longer and this is an alternative mentioned while searching.  At least your synthetic fibers should be hung because they dry fast and will reduce your static cling when natural fibers are placed in the dryer.  Even hanging for the last 10% of drying and not over drying should reduce the static cling.
  • Less detergent.  Use ½ of the amount the company suggests.
  • Vinegar.  Add a 1/4 cup of vinegar to the wash is a natural fabric softener, just be sure not to add it with bleach or you can end up with a toxic mix.
  • Aluminum foil.  A ball of aluminum foil in the dryer is thought to dissipate static.
  • Safety Pin.  Similar to the aluminum foil.
  • Dryer Balls.  There is talk that the rubber balls may work but given what they may be made of, that the spikey one’s may ruin your clothes and I am trying to minimize my environmental impact, I don’t think I’ll try these. However, there were comments that Nellie’s Dryer Balls work and reduce drying time. Just be sure to purchase PVC-free ones. Seems a number of people recommend using wool dryer balls to cut down on static cling.   http://howtomakedo.net/154/make-your-own-wool-dryer-balls/
  • Shake out clothes.  When you remove your clothes from the dryer, shaking them will shake out the static cling.

I just came across another recommendation for when your clothes are already dry, which is to put the item on and use a metal hanger along the fabric to collect the static.

I love when someone actually does a research project on these types of questions.  I came across another Andrea (at ‘Simple Organized Living’) who did her own experiment of 347 loads of laundry and concluded that using vinegar and attaching a couple safety pins to garments in the dryer had the biggest impact.  She did the experiment so you don’t have to (see http://www.simpleorganizedliving.com/2011/02/14/a-laundry-experiment-10-ways-to-reduce-static-cling/ for her experiment).

For a fresh scent place a rag with a small amount of essential oils in the dryer with your clothes while they dry.  Experiment with anywhere from 10-20 drops of essential oil (depending on strength of the oil) on a t-shirt rag and throw in the dryer.

Good-bye dryer sheets!  I’m converting to vinegar, safety pins, and when deemed a nice addition, essential oil.

So, what to do with the rest of that box of unused dryer sheets?  Kansas State University found that Bounce dryer sheets repel fungus gnats! 5

 

References:

1.     Wallace L, Nelson W, Pellizzari E, Raymer J, Thomas K (1991) Identification of polar volatile organic compounds in consumer products and common microenvironments. Paper #91-62.4 presented at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Air and Waste Management Association, Vancouver, BC, June

2.     Cooper S, Raymer J, Pellizzari E, Thomas K, Castillo N, Maewall S (1992) Polar organic compounds in fragrances of consumer products. Final Report, Contract # 68-02-4544, Research Triangle Park, NC, US EPA

3.     Rastogi SC, Heydorn S, Johansen JD, Basketter DA (2001) Fragrance chemicals in domestic and occupational products. Contact Dermat 45(4):221-225

4.     Steinemann, Anne et al. “Chemical Emissions from Residential Dryer Vents During Use of Fragranced Laundry Products.” Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health. 25 August 2011. < http://depts.washington.edu/exposure/Steinemann%20et%20al.%202011.pdf>

5.     Raymond A. Cloyd. Bounce Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets Repel Fungus Gnat, Bradysia sp. Nr. Coprophila (Dipter: Sciaridae), Adults. HortScience, 2010; 45: 1830-1833

 

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