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Is your laundry harming your health?

Draping wet clothes on radiators contributes to poor air quality, research finds
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
woman using astma inhaler

5th November 2012 - Hanging wet washing around the house to dry increases the health risks to people with asthma, hayfever and other allergies, says new research.

The Mackintosh Environmental Architecture Research Unit (MEARU) found that three quarters of households had too much moisture indoors, creating the perfect conditions for dust mites and mould spores.

The research project examined the laundry habits of a wide cross-section of households in the west of Scotland and undertook detailed analysis of air quality and energy consumption.

Two litres of moisture

It found that draping damp laundry on driers and radiators is common practice, either because the weather is unreliable or because of the high cost of running a tumble drier. Up to 96% of households dried clothes this way at some point in the year.

The researchers say it is a little known fact that the average load of washing will release around two litres of moisture into the air during the drying process. When this laundry is dried in ill ventilated rooms this can account for up to a third of the moisture in the air creating the conditions in which mould spores grow and dust mites thrive. Both of these are known causes of asthma.

A particular spore, aspergillus fumigatus, which is known to cause lung infections in people with weakened immune systems, was found in 25% of the dwellings sampled.

Fabric softeners

The research also explored the potential health risks associated with the use of fabric softeners. It says these softeners can produce a hazardous carcinogenic chemical - acetaldehyde - with the gases released increasing in concentration when more moisture is present.

Previous studies have linked damp household conditions to ill health, but this is the first study to track the implications of drying laundry in rooms.

The research team recommends that building regulations should be changed so that new houses have dedicated drying areas separate from living spaces.

Energy use

It says while using tumble driers prevents moisture getting into the air, these appliances consume around three times that of washing machines, prohibiting their use among those experiencing fuel poverty.

"Because of increased awareness of the energy consumption of tumble dryers many people are choosing to dry clothes passively within their home," says Professor Colin Porteous of MEARU in a statement. "This results not only in a severe energy penalty, because of increased heating demand, but also a potential health risk due to higher moisture levels."

Lindsey McManus, Deputy CEO of Allergy UK, says today's homes are very different to those of past decades. "You had open fires, old fashioned windows that were a bit draughty, so they naturally got a lot more ventilation," she tells BootsWebMD. "With the more modern buildings you've got double glazing that keeps every bit of draught and cold out; you've got central heating, lots of carpets - our homes have really evolved to become a hotbed for lots of different allergens."

She recommends ensuring that there is plenty of ventilation in rooms where laundry is drying, or using a utility room if your house has one. Also, "if you get a nice sunny day, get your washing out," she adds.

Reviewed on November 05, 2012

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