Is Laundry Killing Your Immune System?

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Immune System | Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 11:35 AM

It is a common practice; drying laundry inside. Millions of North Americans hang their clothing indoors, especially in the winter months, but it turns out it can be bad for our health.

There is nothing like the clean, fresh smell of fabric that has dried in the open breeze in the back yard. Hanging the clothes outside to dry isn’t always possible though. Some people don’t have the yard space, others don’t have a yard at all, and then there is winter to contend with. Drying laundry inside has become routine for a lot of people.

In an effort to save energy we are encouraged to hang clothing as opposed to using a dryer. What may come as a surprise is that these efforts can be hard on our immune system.

Damage Done By Laundry

Our immune system is supposed to protect us from disease; however it isn’t always as strong as it should be and that’s when drying laundry can become a problem. It may sound odd, yet Sinusitis, bronchitis, and other common respiratory ailments could be the result of hanging clothing up inside the house to dry. The laundry can also lead to allergies and asthma.

A study conducted in Glasgow concluded that homes had too much moisture and 30 per cent of it was due to hanging laundry. The researchers determined that at least three quarters of the homes had moisture high enough to lead to mould spores. Several studies in the U.S and Europe have shown that exposure to mold spores can lead to allergies. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati conducted a study back in 2006 and discovered that infants exposed to mold spores were more likely to develop multiple allergies; including food allergies, later in life.

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According to the Glasgow study, laundry can leave a half a gallon of water lingering in the air. Dust mites love the moisture. In fact, damp or wet laundry is the perfect breeding ground for dust mites. News reports about the damage dust mites can cause have sent homeowners scrambling to replace pillow cases and bed sheets in the past. People have been led to believe that dust mites can create severe allergic reactions and lead to asthma. Disease Centre physicians at the University of Virginia say the reality is that dust mites are only a problem if you are allergic to them. People who are not allergic to them in the first place shouldn’t worry. However, herein lies the issue…about one in four Americans suffers from allergies; within that group, two-thirds are allergic to dust mites.

So your immune system is already dealing with mold and mites, but there is another invader when it comes to that laundry hanging inside; acetaldehydes.  If you use a fabric softener and you hang the laundry to dry, you likely have a chemical called acetaldehyde in the indoor air. The Environmental Protection Agency confirms that long term exposure to acetaldehyde has been linked to cancer.

Some Health Tips

If you are an apartment dweller or don’t have access to a yard here are some health tips to avoid the hazards associated with hanging laundry inside. There are outdoor cloth lines or stands that you can purchase for your apartment balcony. You can also upgrade your washer and dryer to more energy efficient machines. There are energy efficient machines with faster spin cycles that wring out more of the water. This means the clothes will require less time in the dryer. As for the dryer; look for one with a moisture sensor. It will shut the machine off automatically when the clothes are dry. One final tip…different fabrics have different drying times so plan accordingly. You can dry towels in one load and lighter items in another to save energy and money.


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