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Why Drying Clothes Indoors Could Harm Your Health

The UK is famous for its obsession with the weather and with good reason; on average it rains on 133 days every year. This makes it impossible to complete everyday tasks, such as hanging laundry outside to dry.

Instead, many people, especially in winter, choose to dry clothes indoors using radiators, banisters, and the backs of chairs.

What most people don't realise is that the moisture released your wet clothes can have serious health consequences.  

These include triggering allergies, worsening asthma, and leading to the development of mould spores. These conditions usually affect children and the elderly the most.

In this article, we'll discuss how you can avoid these serious health problems and enjoy fresh, dry clothes.

The Health Risks Of Drying Clothes Inside

Rosalie Menon and Colin Porteous, from Glasgow's Mackintosh Environmental Architecture Research Unit, recently conducted a study that investigated the impacts of drying wet clothes inside.

Through their investigation, they found three significant health risks; dust mites, fabric softener and high mould spore count.

All of these problems were worsened by the high moisture content present in homes when drying laundry inside. 

The study found over 30% of moisture in our home is attributable to drying clothes. 

Dust Mites

dust mites

Due to the climate in the UK, we tend to build homes that are as sealed as possible - after all, who would want a cold draft coming through in winter?

This lack of ventilation combined with the amount of moisture released when you dry your clothes indoors can lead to an increase in dust mites. These little critters love the damp and humid environment that's created. 

Dust mites are tiny creatures, measuring less than one-third of a millimetre in length, which feed mainly on the flakes of human skin. They may be too small to see with just the naked eye, but they can cause big problems for those with allergies and asthma.

According to the NHS, dust mite allergies are not uncommon and can cause symptoms such as sneezing, wheezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and hives.

For those with asthma, the symptoms can be more severe including difficulty breathing, and chest tightness or pain. 

Fabric Softeners

More than half of households use fabric softener when washing clothes. Laundry companies aren't required to disclose their ingredients - some of which are pretty hazardous!

Although fabric softeners come in sensitive and fragrance-free options for those with allergies and sensitivities, many people are unaware that fabric softeners can create acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde is a carcinogenic substance meaning it can cause cancer in humans and animals. You can find acetaldehyde in some foods such as coffee, dairy, fruit, and vegetables.

Many activities such as drinking alcohol, smoking, consuming refined sugars, and spending time in cities with air pollution can lead to acetaldehyde in the body. The body can often convert the substance into a harmless acid, but when allowed to circulate it can form free radicals which can cause damage to DNA and proteins.

Like dust mites, the moisture caused by drying laundry inside makes the problem worse. As acetaldehyde is a water-soluble substance, its concentration increases with the amount of moisture in the air.

Mould Spores

mould in home

Researchers took air samples in 22 homes in Glasgow to identify the number of Colony Forming Units (CFUs) present in the homes. 1,000 CFUs per meter cubed is considered a high risk to health.

In Finland, a more conservative 500 CFUs per meter cubed is deemed to be hazardous to health.

The researchers found that in the homes that dry clothes inside, an average of 1,398 CFUs per meter cubed was observed; far beyond the 1,000 CFU limit.

The air sampling also revealed that out of all homes sampled:

  • 100% Contained Aspergillus

  • 95% Contained Penicillium

  • 25% Contained Aspergillus fumigatus 

Inhalation of the Aspergillus mould can lead to Aspergillosis. Aspergillosis has symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent cough, a temperature, fatigue, weight loss, and even coughing up blood. 

How To Dry Clothes Safely At Home

We can not change the designs of our home, but there are a few things we can do to limit health risks when drying our wet clothes.

Dry Clothing Outside

There are many benefits to drying your clothes outside on the line.

Not only does this stop the release of moisture in the home, but the sun also acts as a natural disinfectant to hygienically dry your clothes.

It also saves the energy and money that a tumble dryer needs.

Dry Clothing In A Dedicated Space

When clothing has to be dried inside, it should be in a separate and enclosed part of the house (such as a utility room).

This space should be heated and well ventilated. Using an extractor fan is the ideal solution, but opening a window can also allow moisture to escape and air to circulate. 

Use A Fast Spin Cycle

An average washing machine will leave 60% of the water behind. A good one will leave only 40%.

So if you have a machine with variable spin you can turn it up to the highest setting. If not, put your clothes in for another cycle. Less water means less moisture in the air which can help prevent dust mites and mould formation

Another option for pre-drying clothes is using a spin dryer. Quite a few of the latest models only spin for 2 - 3 minutes and can considerably reduce the drying time needed.

Tumble Drying

Recently, there has been pressure put upon people to stop tumble drying due to the environmental impact of the high power usage.

However, 23% of people admitted to turning up the heating indoors to help dry clothing, off-setting the potential benefits of not using a tumble dryer.

Gas-vented dryers and heat pump dryers are the most energy-efficient kind of tumble dryers.

(We also discuss checking your tumble dryer is safe on this website)

Choosing an efficient tumble dryer that is rated A+++ can cost as little as £30 a year to run which is a small price to pay for vastly improved air quality.

In addition to the health consequences of drying your clothes on wooden clothes horses and radiators,  it can also be unsightly, take up space and lead to an unpleasant damp smell. 

Use A Dehumidifier

If you don't use a tumble dryer, a dehumidifier is a really efficient way of removing the excess moisture that drying clothes inside brings.

If you are comparing energy usage, the latest tumble dryers can work out more efficient.

However, a dehumidifier for laundry is great if you haven't got the space for a tumble dryer.  They cost a lot less and they'll remove damp and condensation from the rest of your home.

Use A Heated Airer

If you leave in a flat, or are just plain tired of running outside when it rains to get the washing, a heated clothes airer can be an efficient alternative. 

If you shop around, you can find airers that are less than 8p to a run an hour. You also have the option of turning off the heat and using it as a standard airer.

Another advantage with a heated airer is they can often dry a full load of washing, where it will take several standard airers and a lot more space.

1 thought on “Why Drying Clothes Indoors Could Harm Your Health”

  1. Drying clothes outdoors might save the household doing the washing from exposure to pollutants mentioned, but it also spreads them in the outdoor air and into neighbouring houses – it is not necessarily dissipated by the outside air, probably just adds to already existing levels of pollution. As I type this, I am sitting downstairs waiting for it to be safe to use my bedroom for a rest (I am chronically ill and need to rest often during the day) but it is filled with chemical fumes and artificial fragrance from my neighbour’s washing drying on the line. It causes allergice reactions and neurological symptoms for hours following exposure. Rather than move your pollution problem outside and into other people’s housing, it would be safer for you and more considerate to others to use a safer, less chemically laden alternative laundry product. They are growing in number and even available from many supermarkets now. Then everybody wins.


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