The lint that accumulates after drying clothing in the dryer can be quite toxic and dangerous. The most well-known danger of this substance is its flammability, creating the potential for fires if it is not properly cleaned out often. It also can contain quite a few chemicals that can be toxic in several different ways if inhaled. These chemicals come from fabric softeners, the clothing themselves, and other environmental factors that get into the clothes and dryer.
A common concern is respiratory effects brought on by dryer lint inhalation. The physical lint, even without the potential of chemicals, is a foreign substance that should not get into your lungs. If it does, it could cause coughing and difficulty breathing. Some of the chemicals that specifically target the respiratory system come from fabric softeners. Alpha-terpineol has been found to cause irritation to mucous membranes and pneumonia-type diseases that can result in severe inflammation of the lungs if inhaled. Bensyl alcohol causes upper-respiratory disturbances that can cause respiratory failure.
Several of the same substances, as well as a handful of others, have been studied and shown to create carcinogenic effects. Some chemicals are even located on the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Hazardous Waste List.” An example of one of these chemicals is chloroform, which should not be heated up, and can cause tumors in the liver and kidneys. Another carcinogenic chemical found in dryer lint is benzyl acetate, which may be the cause of pancreatic cancers.
Disorders of the central nervous system (CNS) can be extremely problematic. These disorders can be anything from a headache to severe convulsions. Several of the chemicals found in dryer lint that can cause CNS disorders come from flame retardants used in fabric. Some examples are polybrominated diphenyl ethers, camphor, and ethanol. These can also be very dangerous in young children or pregnant women, as they can lead to birth defects involving motor skills and behavior according to studies done on mice and rats.