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Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products


Common laundry products, used in washing and drying machines, can contribute to outdoor emissions through dryer vents. However, the types and amounts of chemicals emitted are largely unknown. To investigate these emissions, we analyzed the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) both in the headspace of fragranced laundry products and in the air emitted from dryer vents during use of these products. In a controlled study of washing and drying laundry, we sampled emissions from two residential dryer vents during the use of no products, fragranced detergent, and fragranced detergent plus fragranced dryer sheet. Our analyses found more than 25 VOCs emitted from dryer vents, with the highest concentrations of acetaldehyde, acetone, and ethanol. Seven of these VOCs are classified as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and two as carcinogenic HAPs (acetaldehyde and benzene) with no safe exposure level, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. As context for significance, the acetaldehyde emissions during use of one brand of laundry detergent would represent 3% of total acetaldehyde emissions from automobiles in the study area. Our study points to the need for additional research on this source of emissions and the potential impacts on human and environmental health.

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  1. We use the term “during” to refer to the entire wash and dry cycle.

  2. These thresholds were established to better ensure that only those compounds emitted from the products or from the dryer vents were reported.

  3. Ethanol data not available.

  4. Mean ambient concentrations (micrograms per cubic meter), from the study area site (Seattle, Beacon Hill), 2008, are as follows: acetaldehyde, 0.81; benzene, 0.76; ethylbenzene, 0.27; toluene, 1.36; m/p-xylene, 0.78; o-xylene, 0.29; and methanol, not available (US EPA 2008).

  5. Calculations, assumptions, and sources: data based on the year 2005: 746,109 households in King County (US Census Bureau 2005); acetaldehyde emissions from automobiles in King County = 56,000 lb/year (Washington State 2005); 453.59 g = 1 lb; 187.5 cfm dryer vent flow rate = 5.6 m3/min = 336 m3/h (State of Wisconsin Department of Commerce 2001; Hardin County 2008); 268 h drying/year per household (US DOE 2009; Efficiency Vermont 2010); 41.5 μg/m3 emissions of acetaldehyde after using laundry detergent (average of each site, 47 and 36 μg/m3, from this study), assuming negligible contribution from ambient air; 37% of households use the top-selling laundry detergent tested in this study ( 2007, based on data for 2006, assume similar market penetration as 2005); 79% of all households use one or more of the five top-selling laundry detergents ( 2007); 73% of all households have clothes dryers (CPSC 2000), multiplied by 37% and 79%, respectively, for conservative calculations.

  6. Similarly, VOCs in the “no products” samples could be from residual VOCs in machines from prior use of products, offgassing of machine components, entrained indoor air, reactions between residual VOCs and ambient compounds, or other factors.


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We thank the individuals who volunteered the use of their homes and their washing and drying machines for this study. We also thank Jaret Basden for his valuable assistance with this article.

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Correspondence to Anne C. Steinemann.

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Steinemann, A.C., Gallagher, L.G., Davis, A.L. et al. Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products. Air Qual Atmos Health 6, 151–156 (2013).

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  • Emissions
  • Fragrance
  • Dryer vent
  • Laundry products
  • VOC