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Pollution-Free Laundry

Did you know that the artificial VOC's emitted from consumer products like laundry fragrance (VCP's for short) have surpassed tailpipe emissions in polluting cities? Yep, it's true. Studies of the sources of VOC air pollution in cities across the US and Europe have found toxic chemicals from household products in higher concentration than the pollution from cars. (For the original NOAA study in 2018 that launched this area of research, see this press release. Several studies measuring the household product VOC levels in various cities since then have found percentages of VOCs from household products as high as 78% in densely populated areas such as Manhattan, as shown in the map above.)

These products also contribute to poor indoor air quality and environmental illness. A 2016 study revealed that 35% of the US population reports adverse health effects like migraine headaches from exposure to fragranced products.

If the health effects weren't sufficient reason to move to fragrance-free laundry products, the manufacture of petrochemical fragrance chemicals releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

It goes without saying that the first step is to avoid dry cleaning, but even home laundry products tend to be bad for both indoor and outdoor air quality. The trend recently has been to ever more highly fragranced detergents and softeners. Many of the so-called "green" laundry products, like Mrs. Meyer's, actually contain artificial fragrance, so to be sure your laundry detergent is actually safe, look for "fragrance free."

Once you stop wearing and sleeping in and around fabric that has been washed in artificially fragranced laundry products, you may find, as we did, that reactions like headaches go away. We also discovered that the fragrance had been making us "nose-blind," and that when we switched to unscented products, we could smell natural scents like trees and flowers more acutely. Even our food tastes better!

Here is a list of the laundry products we use. We do not receive any kickbacks from the companies that manufacture these.

Laundry detergent: Biokleen free and clear laundry powder (comes in a cardboard box)

Laundry soap for delicates: Dr. Bronner's unscented castille soap

Laundry booster: Borax (comes in a cardboard box)

Fabric softener: wool dryer balls

Ota is particularly sensitive to petrochemical fragrance molecules, since she sustained liver damage in an accidental overexposure to paint solvent over a decade ago. She cannot even be around people who use fragranced laundry products without getting a headache, and when we lived in Los Angeles, she had to stay indoors on Sundays with an air purifier running, because of the plumes of laundry fragrance emitted from her neighbors' dryer vents. When our college-age kid comes home for the holidays, we provide her all new clothing for her visit, because it is too difficult to remove the residue that her clothing has picked up just from being washed in the dorm laundry.

We are grateful when our friends and family make the switch to unscented laundry products. But there is still the problem of how to get the residual out of the clothes and linens that have been washed in artificially fragranced detergent, or, worse yet, dried with artificially scented dryer sheets.

To remove artificial fragrance from fabric, wash in the warmest possible water for the fabric, using Biokleen laundry detergent and a scoop of Biokleen oxygen bleach. Hang to dry in the sun (the UV will help break down the fragrance molecules). Repeat several times if necessary. Note that it is easier to remove fragrance from natural fiber clothing. Nylon and polyester clothing may never release the fragrance, as the fragrance chemicals are designed to be "sticky," and are chemically compatible with man-made fibers.

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