Do you think that everything at home gets dusty no matter how much you clean up? It may actually be due to your detergent!
Zeolites are increasingly used as softeners in detergents and a study by researchers at LHT (Lund Institute of Technology) shows that large amounts of these tiny particles get stuck in textiles.
Today’s washing machines are not yet efficient enough to wash away zeolites. When clothes are dried in the tumble dryer they release a lot of particles, say’s professor Mats Bohgard, Division of Ergonomics and Aerosol Technology.
Researchers at Lund University have done some pilot studies in affected households and have found large differences between homes with and without zeolites in their detergents. Controlled studies in the laboratory confirm that the small particles are released from items washed with modern washing machines and detergents with zeolites.
In September they presented their findings at the aerosol conference in Budapest. The others who worked on this, Anders Gudmundsson and Jacob Löndahl, the latter was employed on project to make measurements and compile the results.
He also reported the findings with Mats Bohgard at the conference. Now, more studies are being conducted to see if the Lund researchers’ results can also be repeated in other countries.
The study was made by following three families for a few days and the result show that detergents with zeolites almost certainly make a major contribution to indoor dust.
Preliminary controlled laboratory measurements at the aerosol laboratory at LTH confirm the results.
Zeolites are particles 1-5 microns in size and such small particles can make their way deep into the lungs of humans. Chemically they consist of sodium, aluminium and silicon as so many minerals present in the dust. The structure is very porous, and they are therefore often used in modern filters to absorb air pollutants.
What are the medical risks posed when inhaled, I dare not speak of, but some of the affected families have felt irritation of the respiratory tract, eyes and allergy problems. Discolorations of clothes have also been reported.
The last 10-15 years, phosphates for environmental reasons, have been replaced by zeolites as ion exchangers /softeners, although the problems with dust have attracted the attention of Consumer Agencies.
Along with the fact Lund team has therefore written an application to get the money for further research on the problem.
Mats Bohgard noticed these problems a long time ago when he got the dusty home.
He knew detergent zeolites were banned in professional laundry as well as in conjunction with cleanroom and was thinking of taking measurements on their spread.
Only now has it become more of an issue, since among other things a construction company requested that scientists examine some new homes where people have complained about the unusual amount of dust in their environment.
– We have long tested the amount of particles remaining after rinsing the laundry. When zeolites came about 15 years ago consumers complained about white powder residue on the clothes. The manufacturers resolved this by making the particles smaller, says Ms Rosen at CU.
Nor can she speak about the health risks but says that in any case they cannot be ruled out.
– The reduction of the particle size has meant that zeolites cannot be seen as good, but they are spread, however efficiently in the home and they can reach large parts of the respiratory tract by inhalation, says Mats Bohgard.
– Perhaps 80 percent of the powder detergents (not liquid detergent) contain zeolites today, of up to 30 percent of the content, as shown on the packets. It softens the water, which makes tensides laundry work easier, says Ms Rosen.
One might wonder how asthmatics react to this, when it is already very difficult to breathe as it is. But as it says in the article, there a no zeolites in liquid detergent so if you want to be on the safe side, you should refrain from using washing powders.