The Health Hazards Hiding in Your Laundry: When Clean Clothes Aren’t Always Safe

dirty laundry

Doing the laundry is a standard operating procedure in every home, especially after an illness within the family. However, if not done right, laundry can actually cause all kinds of unexpected illnesses and conditions that can affect an entire household.

Your dirty clothes are contaminated with all kinds of germs from bodily fluids, food debris, dirt and dust, and spending time outdoors. All of these can become a source of viruses and bacteria as well as fungi.

Laundry is a common chore, but what if it is also a health risk? Will sending your dirty clothes to a laundry company be safer for your family? Find out below.

Contact Dermatitis: When Your Detergent is Causing You Harm

Detergents are often loaded with dozens of chemicals, both organic and man-made, which make it more challenging to read the list of ingredients and figure out whether it will cause a reaction.

It is not rare for people to get a rash because of the detergent they use. Certain ingredients like fragrances, colors and dyes, and preservatives which are commonly found in detergents are also well-known irritants.

A rash that appears because of laundry detergent is called contact dermatitis. It usually appears in areas that are often in contact with fabric, including the armpits and groins. The rash can be red and itchy. It may also appear as dry or scaly.

The skin condition is not life-threatening, but it can be a nuisance. It is also very easy to treat: all you need to do is switch to an alternative that does not have irritants. Otherwise, any treatment will only provide temporary relief.

Cross-Contamination in the Washing Machine: When Bodily Fluids Mix

When there are multiple members within one household, dirty clothes are not separated. They are washed together.

This may not seem a problem, but look at it under a microscope and it will probably make your stomach churn. Scientists have revealed that a tenth of a gram of fecal matter remains in an average person’s underwear, no matter how thoroughly they wipe after using the bathroom.

A single gram of fecal matter contains millions of germs and the swishing that happens in a washing machine cycle will only spread the pathogens to other items of clothing. Even if you increase the amount of detergent you use or set the water temperature to hot, it may not kill organisms that cling to laundry.

All kinds of illness-causing viruses, including colds and stomach flu, can survive the regular wash cycle.

This is why it is important to disinfect the washing machine regularly. Simply run a wash cycle (without any item of clothing) with bleach or another disinfectant to kill all the pathogens that have been hiding and multiplying in it.

That Fresh and Clean Scent May Not Be Safe

Perfume is a common irritant that can lead to contact dermatitis, but it may not be the only one that threatens to cause harm to your family. The fresh and clean scent that everyone enjoys from a batch of recently-washed clothing may actually be toxic fumes that pose danger to one’s health.

One study captured the smells that come out from dryer vents and discovered more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOC), including seven that are considered to be hazardous air pollutants.

Two of the chemicals — acetaldehyde and benzene — are considered carcinogens by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA). Moreover, these VOCs are bad for the environment. When released into the air, they contribute to and exacerbate pollution.

To prevent exposure, and to help the environment, experts recommend households to only laundry products from trusted companies that fully disclose their ingredients. If possible, steer clear of laundry products that pack artificial fragrances.

Is It Better to Use Professional Laundry Services?

Ironing board with washing machines in Laundromat

It is clear that, regardless of how common doing the laundry, not everyone actually knows how to do it correctly to prevent illnesses and medical conditions from spreading around the house. However, will paying a professional laundry service to handle dirty clothes be a better option?

Your dry cleaners use products that are so much more potent than the detergents you use at home which means that, if there are any pathogens in a piece of clothing, they will immediately be bombarded and likely killed by the cleaning agent. Those that managed to survive will likely be eliminated once the clothing goes through the drying process. Your dry cleaners apply heat reaching over 200 degrees Celsius — enough to kill stubborn viruses and bacteria.

In addition, most dry cleaners use disinfectants to ensure that your clothes will be free from any disease-causing germs.

Paying the professionals to take care of your laundry is good, but washing clothes at home is also safe as long as you clean your washing machine regularly, use laundry products that do not have ingredients that irritate the skin, and separate clothing items depending on the type and who is wearing it.

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