Help with headaches from washing machine/clothes?

izbellJanuary 16, 2011

Unfortunately, I think I accidentally created a science experiment in my washer that is causing a lot of problems.

I'm severely chemically sensitive and (long story) had to wash some large sheets that had ammonia on them (supermarket generic ammonia so there might be something else in the ammonia besides straight ammonia). The sheets still reeked afterwards and had to be thrown out.

These sheets were organic sheets, so unsure if the linseed oil in them reacted with the ammonia possibly to leave a residue. Another possible variable is that a few washes later, I washed brand new organic sheets that had the strong linseed smell to them and maybe that started the problem? So it could be ammonia and/or linseed and or stuff on other new clothes (formaldehyde?) I had washed.

Anyway, soon after that, I did a regular wash and used an anti-chlorine tablet in the machine, as is my regular practice since we have strongly chlorinated water in our area. The tablet had ascorbic acid, citric acid, sorbitol, and sodium bicarbonate in it.

Around that time, I also used Heinz vinegar in a few loads of wash (to remove smells).

All this time, I was getting a headache when the washer ran - more than my typical chlorine headache, and a pretty unbearable headache at that. Soon I realized all the clothes I was washing also gave me the exact same headache. Now everything I've washed is making me feel awful and we can't wash anything else without good things getting "contaminated."

It's not the detergent (tested that multiple ways) that is causing the problem. I also use only fragrance/chemical free stuff like ALL free and clear, or Seventh Generation or Ecos. I switched them up a few times but still, same prob.

It's been months of running the wash with just water (hot and cold), with just detergent, with vinegar, with baking soda (not with the vinegar!), etc over and over to remove whatever residue of whatever chemical I created --- all to no avail. I realize that ammonia is supposed to dissipate so I'm thinking I made a whole new chemical (maybe the combo of ammonia and our highly chlorinated water plus the Vitabath chlorine tabs plus vinegar plus baking soda plus linseed oil from organic cotton sheets, plus???) --- I can't seem to neutralize the concoction enough to stop the headaches from the machine and from the residue it's leaving on the clothes. The inside of the washer has coated porcelain and plastic in it (and the drums are always plastic) so it's obviously absorbed something.

I'm now so sensitized to this, I can't wear the clothes or even be near them, so my husband and daughter and I have had to bag up all the clothes we washed and put them far away, and we can't wash anything else. There is no smell - just the headaches (which makes it hard to know what is "bad" without holding it next to me).

It's not just the city water because I tested washing ok clothes at a friend's, and they stayed ok.

Help? This sounds insane, but I'm both very sensitive, and also, whatever I created is very real. My daughter's skin gets irritated from it, too.

So what could it be, and how can I neutralize it? ANY help appreciated!

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I highly doubt anything that you did would have created a "chemical" that is hanging around inside your washing machine, especially after months of washes. I would take a look at something else in your environment that may be causing you problems.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 5:43PM
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I definitely did that as well (being chemically sensitive that's my life) and did a test where we stopped using the machine completely for a long while and I was fine (as long as I didn't wear any clothes I had washed). The moment I ran the machine again, I reacted immediately while standing over the machine - and then in the house until the fumes dissipated. I know it's hard to understand and sounds crazy unless you're personally super sensitive. But even fragrance from detergents sticks inside machines for the life of a machine. If you think about it, plastic absorbs a lot and there is a lot of plastic in a washer unfortunately. For instance, I've never tolerated a machine where someone used scented detergents regularly (e.g. Tide, etc) as those chemicals are quite pervasive. No, as strange as it is, this is real, so I just need to figure out if there is a way to super clean the machine and/or neutralize the chemical. Other sensitive people said it could be linseed oil, actually, from the organic cotton sheets, as linseed oil, etc is a problem for many sensitive people

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 11:00PM
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I am familiar with MCS, as my SIL believes she suffers from it.

I have a question, though: why do you think that there is linseed oil on your organic cotton sheets? Linseed oil is derived from flax plants (linen), not cotton plants. I think it would be very unlikely to have been used either in the manufacture or finishing of the organic cotton. New sheets (perhaps even "organic" ones) usually have sizing (often derived from corn, or other starch) on them, but I can't imagine it would be derived from linseed oil. The sizing is virtually always water-soluble, so would have been removed with a plain wash (no additives) in very hot water (say at least 150F+, sustained for the whole wash period).

I'm asking this not to be confrontive, but to try and help you sort this out. I believe that the sheets had some smell which was offensive to you, but I douobt it was "linseed oil". (I don't like the smell of new fabric, either, but I know it's starch sizing.) What may be problematic is if you inadvertently misassigned the source of the smell to linseed oil, and applied whatever remedy is believed to remove linseed oil, you may have caused a bigger probem than you originally had.

I'm not sure of the source of the sheets, but if they were sold as pure organic cotton, and they smelled bad, why not just return them for credit? (BTW, sometimes you can find NIB, pre-War, all cotton sheets on eBay. These were manufactured before chemicals were added to fabric, so I think they are better. I've bought dozens.)

Why did you wash the sheets with ammonia in the first place; was it spilled on them or used as part of your cleaning regimen? Ammonia smells would have dissipated if the sheets were air-dried in the sun for several days.

I am sorry you are feeling ill, and I don't mean to sound as if I am ignoring that, but you seem to be using a lot of chemical additives in your wash, while at the same time being concerned that you have chemical issues. Just because some of them seem simple and/or natural, doesn't mean they are benign for you either by themselves or in combination.

However, I doubt if you have created any long-lasting chemical changes in your washing machine. But I would recommend you stop trying to wash with round after round of new additives.

Let's think about your water first. You say it is highly chlorinated. Is there any way you can run it all through some kind of filter to remove the chlorine? If you are profoundly affected by chlorine, it would seem hard to bathe, do dishes or drink water that was so treated. I agree it's nasty stuff, but it's there because the water source and delivery network cannot be be maintained in a sanitary condition otherwise.

Now moving on to your washer: what kind of machine is it? You state that all machines have plastic tanks, but that's not true. Mine (Mieles and Askos) have metal drums inside metal tanks. Though some components of the water delivery and drain systems are undoubtedly plastic. Another brand which I think may also have metal drums is Bosch. These are all front loading machines which use a very small amount of water, and some, like mine, have the capacity to heat their own water to very high temps.

In laundry, cleaning results from a multi-factor equation in which the essential elements of time, temperature, mechanical energy (clothes sloshing in water, i.e. agitation) and detergent concentration interact with each other. Increasing one allows the decrease of another, but yeilds the same results. That's why very hot water will often reduce the amount of cleaning products needed to shift soils equally well. Since I doubt you are affected by the temperature of your wash water, while you believe you are affected by the chemicals added, you might find that it's useful to consider getting a machine that uses primarily longer time and higher temperature rather than laundry products for cleaning.

I hesitate to add another level of anxiety to the mix, but it is always possible that your symptoms are not from the "chemicals" remaining in the machine, but instead from a bio-film build up in the machine that is now supporting a huge fungus load. Is there someone in your family that could do some rudimentary inspection of the machine's innards to verify that it is not heavily infested? Depending on the model, it is likely that there is someone here on the forum that could explain how to inspect the hidden crevices. The clean-up from this is a bit arduous, but doable. Afterwards, a strict regimen is needed to avoid a reinfestation.

Sometimes, I think it is the people who are trying very hard to use "natural" laundry products that wind up with the biggest biofilm/mold issues because they are inadvertently eliminating chemicals which would inhibit the biofilm. But that is not always the case since some of the most popular liquid big-brand detergents have also been associated with bio-film build-up.

Have you been using liquid or powder detergent? Some of us feel that liquids are more problematic regarding bio-film than powders, but I also think it's the local water chemistry and individual washing practices that are the most critical.

When you run someone else's clothes in the washer do you have symptoms? If that's the case then the room, machine, or bio-film (or the job itself) may be the culprit.

How are you washing your clothes now, without the machine? With what products? You can't be going along without doing any laundry!

To clean the machine: first get someone else to break it down to inspect for bio-film/mold. If you find that, come back here for suggestions on how to clean it up.

If none is found, then do a cycle with only borax in very hot water. (It's ok to pour pots of very hot water in your machine while it's filling. Use a thermometer to see if you can get it up to at least 150F.)

(If you want to do a product-free rinsing cyle after the borax, go ahead, but I doubt it's necessary.)

Then wash someone else's clothes or sheets with a single, high-quality powdered detergent, at half-strength. Don't use all the vinegar, citric acid, baking soda stuff. Just detergent and water. Air dry them with no fabric softener.

Then try getting close to one of these items and see what happens.

I hope this helps you sort things out. I would be quite frantic if I couldn't have clean clothes and sheets. If I can offer more help, please feel free to ask.


    Bookmark   January 17, 2011 at 2:53AM
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I have to agree w/L. I think you need to get your machine torn apart to look for mold/biofilm build up outside the the tub where you put your clothes. It may not be bad enough yet for a normal person to notice the odor, but could be enough to cause a very sensitive person to react to it. Please find someone knowledgeable to do this for you.

You mentioned washing clothing at another's house and that came out fine. Have you tried taking some of the infected clothes and rewashing them at another place? That might fix the issues with those clothes.

Good luck figuring this out. Please don't forget to update us on the problem and solution so others can be helped by this thread.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2011 at 8:27AM
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hmmm - I posted a long reply with a thank you and answers to L's questions and a few more questions but it didn't show up? Testing to see if this one will!

in a nutshell, I do think it's possible it's mold related which could actually be from new organic sheets, too (read online that they harbor mycotoxins sometimes from lack of processing, etc) - either way, trying to figure out whether to use Oxyboost perhaps. Oh I wish my other post didn't disappear. Don't you hate when you spend a lot of time typing and then it's just gone?

    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 1:08PM
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izbell - yes it is annoying when a post goes to cyberspace instead of the thread. This one made it though, so maybe try again?

    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 2:26PM
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Hope you can repost your questions.

I don't know about the issue of mycotoxins on cotton sheets contaminating them.

But I am fairly certain that even if the sheets had mycotoxins, that would be unlikely to result in mold growing in the machine. Mycotoxins are end products of fungal life, not fungal spores which could start, and maintain, new infestations.

Molds grow on machine innards when the machine becomes coated with bio-film. Cold water washes, excess product use, etc. are what leads to biofilm deposition.


    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 5:59PM
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Today I super soaked the machine with Oxyclean and poured in boiling water, too, since my hot cycle doesn't get very hot and the rinse is always cold. Still getting headaches next to machine/in laundry room.

Since the machine is only 6 months old - would it have gotten a biofilm issue behind the drum already? I use ALL Free & Clear, sometimes some baking soda, sometimes some vinegar. The inside is now immaculate but we haven't taken it apart (we've done that with other machines in the past and it's a huge project as we all know!)

How much Oxyclean should I be using? How long soaking?

Anyway, I'm back to the ammonia-like-compound possibility again because I had to go into the garage today and handle some of the original ammonia contaminated clothes (it's a long, complicated story) and got the exact same headache. Being chemically so sensitive, it's possible I super-sensitized to even teeny amounts of ammonia - plus I'm sure it wasn't pure ammonia since I got it at Safeway. Maybe there's "stuff" in it that keeps it from completely dissipating off plastic washer interior?

If that's the case - how neutralize ammonia and whatever residue?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2011 at 9:35PM
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Is it possible to dispose of the contaminated clothing? Chemical sensitivity is real but other than the ammonia (a lot of peeps have had problems with it as a straight cleaning product over the years) the acids you mention are all very common, and in some cases, very weak. Did it spill somewhere or somehow get into the machine? Maybe consider a more in-depth investigation of mold or moisture issues near the laundry area. I don't want to suggest tearing the house apart! It just may not be centralized in the machine.

I must admit that you have a pretty long list of products. Vinegar itself can kill like 80% of molds. Oxiclean is basically hydrogen peroxide, an EPA-approved sanitizer, in the water (plus water softener). The water should be hot and adding a scoop should do it. Obviously I don't know for sure but if it's in the drum and those haven't helped, I'd look more broadly.

Chemical sensitivity can be explained by other things too, but hopefully the explanation is simple!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 10:21AM
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Only thing I can think of is to get some STPP and do a hot water wash in the empty drum with that. See if any suds form. Some residues are just plain stubborn and do not want to come out.

You can try putting the effected clothes in the bath tub with lots and lots of water. You can see the surface of the water then and if there is anything coming out of the clothes as any residue with float to the surface. Just make sure you wear long rubber gloves, a face mask, and crack a window.

You can always try washing everything in the warmest water it can stand with at least a 1/2 cup of borax. Borax is a natural anti redepositing agent and blows baking soda out of the water as far as odor removal goes. This I definitely recommend if you do discover any residue in the machine or the clothes.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 11:04AM
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Thank you for the suggestions! As far as other sources - I'm sure the issue is with the washer OR the water coming into the washer (??), and with the clothes that have been washed.

When the washer isn't running, I'm fine in the laundry room unless I stick my head in the washer (btw there's NO smell in the washer). Living with toxic mold back east is mostly how I got so sensitive in the first place (years ago) so I always know if there's a big mold problem now -- it doesn't just give me a headache but affects my limbic system and makes me feel crazy (side note - I often think that people who seem crazy or do insane things might be living with toxic mold - it has that kind of affect for real, and is a big cause of MCS, too)! It's also possible I started, for some reason, reacting to All Free & Clear and the residue in the machine from it is making me sick? Although I recently hand washed an item with ALL and did fine.

On the ALL detergent note - I've now soaked the machine a bunch with hot water and Oxyclean but there are always suds left over in the machine. Is that from the Oxyclean or could that be residual detergent still? How can I tell the difference?

I'm still getting almost MORE unbearable headaches when around the machine, now, too - so it's not resolving the issue. It's not chlorine as I just washed my sheets (never washed in this machine) at a friends (with another detergent) and did fine.

I'll try the Borax next. And where would I get STPP that's ok for laundry machines?

I like the idea of soaking the clothes in the tub to see what comes out. Since they don't have a scent - it's hard to tell what I'm dealing with. I've been afraid to put them back in my washer as I want to prevent putting more of whatever I'm trying to remove back into the washer.

In terms of throwing everything out - the long story that never got posted goes into how we've literally had to throw out clothes multiple times and also buy new washer/dryers multiple times. It's because of my MCS and mold. With the original mold debacle, it took a long time to realize nothing was salvagable and we ended up moving and purging for years until we were "not contaminated" again - plus lots of detoxing (you sweat the mycotoxin stuff out and then it gets on clothes and sheets all over again) It was hell. When we finally started fresh yet again, new (to us) home, new everything, one of the bad suggestions someone gave to prevent any new mold cross contamination was to use ammonia and they swore it would wash out. So we used it as a precaution - I was so sensitive to it - and it destroyed our lives again for a while. We started yet again with all new clothes and bedding and a new washer and dryer (it was that bad). Needless to say, I've massively sensitized to ammonia, and have been through an endless rollercoaster of clothes/machines.

We kept a bag of the not-mold-but-ammonia covered clothes for when my husband travels so we wouldn't have to throw out good clothes when he returned (we don't even chance putting travel clothes in our wash how). They were meant to be "disposable" and thrown out when he returned. That's why we had them still, and we kept them in the garage.

Anyway - it's possible something slipped through the cracks and an ammonia-residue item somehow got into the new washer. I really don't think I'm dealing with mold in the machine. I don't think I'm dealing with mycotoxins (from mold) on the clothes. It feels like my ammonia reaction. But with MCS, it could be anything of course. All I know for sure is that it's coming from the machine, and it got onto our clothes.

But the idea of throwing everything out again (it's impossible to really tell what was washed and what wasn't without taking each individual item outside and seeing if I react, and waiting a while to clear, then testing another item (and it's so cold out!)

I'd hate to start this all over again) - is financially daunting, as is getting a new washer (which is also really hard for MCS since they offgas new plastic, etc so much). We've lost a ton of money to not only the mold and ammonia debacles, and my MCS, but also to trying to build a "healthy house" for the past few years -- which is on hold because of many reasons (our life has been ridiculous!)

We're so beat up financially so I'm trying last ditch efforts to salvage this again. When the laundry is not an issue - I can finally have a semblance of a normal life and so this is just awful having to hand wash everything, use friend's washers, not wear our normal clothes, have to think about everything we wash and wear, and on top of that - have a two year old who needs our lives to be normal! I just want to be a mom - none of this sensitive to laundry machine garbage! And yet with the machine running now, my head is in so much pain, it's unbearable. If only we didn't live in Colorado where we need so many layers of clothes in the winter! (although this has the least mold of any state I could find...)

On one more note - we were researching all stainless steel machines and saw how expensive they are. Does anyone know of affordable machines (as you can see, they are disposable in our little world) that are all steel, no plastic? I think it's the plastic that both off-gasses and holds onto any residue of "stuff" and makes these problems so protracted/not fixable! Trying to find a used one is tough since I don't tolerate residual detergent fragrances/Bounce residue, etc.

Thanks for letting me vent and any help appreciated. This is a frustrating condition to have - and since I got it at 30, I keep believing I can live a normal life again as I miss it so!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 12:17PM
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izbell - I'm so sorry for all of your troubles. I know this cannot be easy. You said that you researched the all stainless machines, but the cost is high. Stainless would not absorb or retain any smells so it would be long lasting. If the plastics are absorbing what you put in, that is what makes them disposable.

Why not try stuffing your washer with newspaper. Close it up tight and let it set for as long as possible but at least 24 hours. The carbon in the ink should absorb any smells from the machine. Or get some charcoal and use that. I know that you can fix Tupperware that way.

At this point it can't hurt and it's inexpensive to boot. Plus it won't add any additional chemicals to the machine.

Best of luck and keep us updated.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 12:44PM
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Interesting idea with the newspapers! [ BTW - When you say it works with Tupperware - does it also take out the new plastic smell? I'm off-gassing plastic bins in the basement and it is taking forever]

Any recommendations for an all stainless machine in case none of this works?

Following up - I soaked a previously washed "bad" item in the sink and as soon as it got wet, the headache pain was unbearable again. I put some Oxyclean on it and then I thought I was going to pass out - my head felt crushed. I wonder if that is somehow showing that it's ammonia residue since bleach and ammonia make some noxious resulting chemical?

One more question - has anyone heard of people reacting to the hot water from a water heater? This is a rental and the water heater is from 2004, and has never been drained or serviced.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 5:44PM
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izbell - oxyclean and chlorine bleach are too different things. I know you are not supposed to mix chlorine bleach and ammonia, but haven't heard a warning about it with oxyclean.

Not sure if the newspaper will work with original plastic off gassing or not, give it a try.

As to stainless washers, I would look them up on-line. I believe the Bosch i am expecting soon is stainless both inside and out, same with Miele. Both are a bit pricier. You'd have to read each manual to know for sure which is which. Oh and I'm talking about the inner and outer basket when I refer to all stainless.

I can't remember and don't have a lot of time to go back and reach each post, but what brand of machine do you currently own?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 8:39AM
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I have the Admiral (from Home Depot) which is made by Whirlpool

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 12:19AM
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STPP is Sodium Tripolyphosphate. I know it is a phosphate, but in an emergency situation as yours it wouldn't hurt to use it every now and again.

All you need to do is use 1 to 2 tbsp in the longest hot water wash you can. It will soften the water and break up any redisue in the drum. Then you can use a disenfectant in the machine like oxi clean on hot water to kill any mold.

Make sure the machine is empty for both procedures. If you are still seeing suds in the final rinse after this (with an empty drum) you still have detergent residues in the machine and will have to keep rinsing until it is gone.

I hope this helps. I am so sorry you are getting sick. No one should have to go through that just to wash their clothes.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 11:40AM
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Please STOP fiddling around with all these chemicals until you have inspected the machine and determined whether you have a build-up of bio-film that is supporting a layer of fungal growth.

If you have it, then the simplest way to get rid of it is physically cleaning of the scummy parts (and every thing else you can figure out how to reach, including the drain path), using a stiff-ish dose of a household cleaner with very hot water, brushing, etc. Followed by one or more rounds of a product like AFFRESH which is sold specifically to clean up front loaders. (BTW, if you get to the stage of using Affresh, check the labeling, you may need more than one package in a TL, because TLs use so much more water in a fill. I'm sure that the concentration of Affresh is a critical thing.)

This should not be done by someone, like you, with chemical senstivities, but at the same time, it won't damage or interact with the materials in your machine. Once it's cleaned from bio-film and the consequent overgrowth of mold, then you can consider the machine "neutral" again as far sensitivities.

After that, routinely do your wash in very-warm to hot water to avoid building up more bio-film (for some fabrics, of course, cooler water is neccessary, but let those be the atypical wash temps not the usual ones). Choose your detergents carefully. You may have make some hard choices here between less "chemical" - in a sense they are all "chemical", but it's a question of which "chemicals" - and potentially more "triggering" products. And then use a minimum (preferably none, if you want to keep things simple) of other products in your wash.

I am very skeptical about the notion that you have somehow imbued your washer with a novel chemical that is making you sick.

I accept that you could be sensitive to the materials in it, but that would have been apparent from day-one with it.

I accept that you may be sensitive to some kinds of laundry products (and/or combinations thereof)- and that will be a challenge to work through. But I don't think that you have permanently ruined the items.

The most likely cause of your reaction is from molds (and mycotoxins from those fungi) that are growing in your washing machine. These can be removed from your clothes, but only after you have a CLEAN WASHING MACHINE.

You're not going to be able to clean the machine with a few tablespoons of STTP, or Oxy-clean, which is only a very mild anti-fungal, or even a few rounds of hot water and AFFRESH , or ammonia any thing else. For someone especially senitive to mold triggers, you've got to physically get the innards of the machine cleaned, first.

Breaking down a machine is a total PITA, but please get someone to do for you, or get your machine out of the house and bring in a new one. (If you go the new machine route, please come back here so we can make some suggestions about the best, meaning least, troubling "sensitive" detergent products. Just because it says free or gentle, etc. it may not be the best one for you. And stop adding any anti-chlor product because that minimal amount of chlorine may have been able to prevent where you are today.)

I am truly sorry if I sound gruff or cranky, and I hope you won't be too put off by my tone. I really am trying to help you. And I have been through rounds of this exact issue with my SIL. Believing that your health is damaged by sensitivities - and not knowing which -is a terrible place to be. All I can do is try to put myself in your (and her) place and realize that I would also be frantic for a solution because this would be so stressful. Sometimes when you're under stress it's easy to miss the importance of simple first-things-first logic.

And the first thing - the very nexus of your problem, in fact - is the machine itself. Not that it has somehow become "poisoned" (very, very, unlikely no matter what it's made of), but much more likely that the commonest thing has happened, which is that it has become infested with bio-film and mold. And even if you are not senistive to this bio-film/mold (now), wouldn't you want to get rid of it anyway?

And then after it's gone take simple steps to avoid the problem in the future?



    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 10:33AM
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Ok - so here is the status:

- I repeatedly ran super hot (boiling) water in the machine. Still got headaches. No smell, machine is super clean, but the headache is still there. I tested washing a NEW shirt and it's not as bad as the "bad" clothes, but it still causes the same headache, just less intense.

- I ended up trying the oxyclean and an eco version of oxy clean - no results.

- I have not taken the machine apart. We did that with a machine in the past and my husband swore he would never do it again. But maybe I can convince him? Do we need a special tool again? It's an Admiral, by Whirlpool, top loader. Advice for taking apart?

- Do you REALLY think it's possible that it's biofilm if the machine is just 6 months old? I definitely was still reacting to the "new-ness" of the machine even recently, but that reaction was burning, swollen fingers when wearing the clothes and not headaches.

- I keep going back to the fact that I washed brand new organic sheets that reeked of whatever, and recently found out that there are mycotoxins often found in new organic sheets that mold-sensitive people can be super sensitive to. If that's the case, it could have cross-contaminated the machine and the next batches of clothes (this has happened to me) and there can be no smell whatsoever. It's insane, but I've actually (in the past) had tests run for mycotoxins on things and in me and it does show up in the lab....even if you can't see or smell anything.

- I hand washed some of the "bad" items. One with just boiling hot water. Soaked it for a while. Stayed bad. Tried Borax. Stayed bad. Again, no smells, just the headache.

- The headache is not from the laundry room. Just the machine when I stick my head in it or it's running, and the clothes.

- the strange thing is that with mold/mycotoxins, there has always been more of a "I'm feeling crazy"/limbic system reaction. I don't have that with this - just the physical headache. So...that keeps telling me it is NOT mold. But then I have a certain sinus headache I get from mold, and I just started to get that recently after trying to wash some of the clothes (mycotoxin clothes do seem to get "pissed off" with more washings and release more mycotoxins.

OMG this all sounds insane unless you're sensitive to all this stuff and have been through it! But it's definitely a pain in the ars and I need to figure this out.

If we take apart the machine, which we've done with others in the past, it probably won't help. But I'll try if it's not too hard with this machine, if anyone knows.

But I'm also looking at buying a USED washer because a new one took way too long to offgas. The only ones available that haven't had fragrances used in them are a Kenmore that has the worst reviews ever model WHRE5550KWW (e.g. takes forever to wash the clothes and doesn't clean them) and another Kenmore frontloader that is 5 years old and thus might have the mold/front loader issues. Model 417.43042200. Anyone know if that would be a mistake to get this last one?

I got rid of the "bad" clothes however it's impossible to know when this started and so every day we discover (not until we're out of the house and I'm clear enough to "test" what we're wearing) that there is a lot more "bad" stuff than we realized. I think I literally need to start taking pictures of what I wash as this has happened way too many times.

Unless you have MCS, it's easy to assume this stuff would wash out. But it doesn't always. It really depends on what you're dealing with which is why I really wish I knew. I almost want to pay a lab to figure this out.

I feel for your SIL, too. Everyone with MCS deals with unbelievable trauma trying to wash and wear clothes! I guess I started to get comfy with almost a year passing without incident so I stopped thinking about what I was washing. I definitely thought about NOT washing those new organic sheets when they smelled so strong. Next time I listen to my gut.

Anyway - advice on a new/used machine (any of the above) OR a new machine that for some reason wouldn't offgas (I've never found one but maybe they are out there) is more than welcome. As is a way to take the Admiral apart.

Oh - and is it possible the Admiral was treated with some kind of antibacterial coating or something? I heard they might be doing that with machines now and wondered if it was part of the problem?

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 10:41PM
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I think in your situation contemplating buying a used machine (with an unknown history, no matter what someone tells you) is, in a word, nuts.

Take your current machine apart (all that costs is time, skinned knuckles and PITA) and clean it up. Because it's already partly off-gassed, and you know exactly what you've put in it.

If it's too much trouble for your DH to try again, then find a competent repair man to come and take it apart in your house and then after it's been cleaned by someone in your household (so you can control how that is done, with which chemicals and how thoroughly), pay the repair person to come back and put it back together. If you like, while it's apart and after cleaning and airing you can bag up some of the key parts and then selectively expose yourslf to them to see if you can localize any adverse reaction. Your choices in that event would be additional cleaning or replacing affected parts.

You started with the assumption that something harmful had happened to the machine, unless you test that assumption, thoroughly, you won't know how to avoid it happening again.

Keep the focus simple right now: what is the state of your machine?

Otherwise I think your only choice is to purchase a new, front loading machine with double stainless tubs, and preferably, because laundry products are also a problem one with a robust internal heater that can provide very, very hot water washes starting from cold water only fills.

This will have two very salutary effects on your washing practice: 1) It will help avoid any future bio-film build-up -providing you commit to doing hot washes, routinely; and 2) require a minimum of laundry chemicals to reduce your exposure to those triggers.

Some machines (Asko, I believe, possibly also Bosch, and of course, older Mieles) can be fed only cold water, while boosting it to nearly boiling, if needed. This would have one other possible advantage to you. It would then be possible to set up a separate water supply, perhaps even using rain water collected in a tank, that would allow you to not to have to wash your clothes in chlorinated water. This would be a complicated bit of infratructure, but if it solved the problem, perhaps worth it in your circumstances.

Now, none of the three brands I've mentioned: Asko, Bosch and Miele are inexpensive, unfortunately. (And newer Mieles probably wouldn't serve here for other reaons.) So you should expect to spend between $1,000-2500 just for the washer. I haven't kept up with the latest models and features, so I am just speaking in generalities. (If you want specifics about particular machines, then start a new thread to ask, or start by looking on line.)

The high cost of these machines may be acceptable as an alternative to having to repeatedly throw out all your clothing and linens.

As fas as the mycotoxin thing: I doubt that "mycotoxins" could become embedded in non-organic materials, nor could it affect them. Thorough cleaning would remove them. Mycotoxins, are not the same as spores (which could be toxic in their own right). The word refers, I believe, more to a group of substances (derived from fungi, or their metabolic processes) that have the attribute of being toxic to certain classes of living things. In other words it's more an adjective describing how some substances, or classes of substances, affect living things, than a noun describing any specific, individual substance.

There's some useful information on the internet about chemical sensitivities , but after having studied this at considerable length while trying to help my SIL, I have observed that the vast majority of it is utter bunk. Sadly, often the main proponents, are simply trying to make a buck off the misery of manifestly distressed and affected individuals.

Right now, my advice is keep it simple: you thouught your machine was the problem. It probably is, but not for the reason that you may think, i.e. that you have created some bizarre, novel chemical interaction. The most likely thing is you have acquired bio-film which is supporting a fungal layer, which in turn is triggering your responses.

Yes, you could get bio-film in 6 months, particularly if you haven't been routinely washing in very hot water, and if you have been using a slew of alternative laundry products, especially All liquid free and clear.

The only other thing to investigate (and I suggest you do) is to examine your drain stand pipe connection. It wouldn't hurt to make an effort to sanitize it thoroughlly while you're at the cleaning stage.

Don't make yourself crazy over any possible anti-bacterial coating. Unlikely and in any case, it would have been stronger at first, rather than building up over time.

Break apart and clean your machine, or get a new one. End of story.


    Bookmark   January 28, 2011 at 11:43AM
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My first piece of advice would be to stop using all these chemicals and additives. Do you know how funny this thread reads to someone on the outside? Although I'm sure the OP sees this as a serious issue, I find it amusing that someone with chemical sensitivities uses products such as: All, Borax, STPP, Ammonia, Sodium Percarbonate, Baking Soda, Oxyclean, etc. I would be shocked if anyone who throws these items at their laundry in various combinations wasn't chemically sensitive!

And how can you get a headache just by standing next to an operating washing machine? That one has me baffled. I guess I just don't understand. But clearly you need to simplify your laundering practices. Why would anyone who is so chemically sensitive throw so many strong chemicals at their clothes? Did you know that All Free & Clear contains optical brighteners which are toxic and stick to your skin? Do you understand the products you are using and what is contained within them?

    Bookmark   January 28, 2011 at 12:10PM
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Probably just me but I don't think this is actually about ammonia or Borax.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2011 at 12:38PM
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I knew that sooner or later someone was going to try to cast doubt on the OP's experience. I don't doubt her, based on my own, much less severe experience. I'm not chemically sensitive, but I do have a strong, somewhat weird sense of smell.

My wife bought some bed linens from a prominent mail order retailer, can't remember exactly which one now. They had an unusually strong odor, which wasn't a concern initially, since we always wash new linens before using them. Well, after washing them on warm they still smelled. Tried extra warm, same thing. Tried hot, no difference. This was around the time that some tainted product from China was in the news, so I was thinking, even though these sheets are from (European country, can't remember which one), maybe they bought sizing from China, and it contains who-knows-what. So I gave up on the linens, and my wife returned them.

However, for weeks afterward, I smelled a very unpleasant odor whenever I passed the washing machine. Funny thing was that it didn't seem stronger when sticking my face in the drum, so I didn't connect it to the machine at first, thought there might be a leak in the walls or ceiling or who knows. Even funnier was that no one but me smelled it. Eventually the odor did go away. I can't prove what it was, but I'm quite convinced that those smelly linens left something in the machine, which faded after weeks of doing laundry.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2011 at 1:09PM
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In terms of using different chemical products in the laundry machine - yes, I agree, as I've said, this all sounds insane not just to the outsider but to me, the poster. It didn't start out this way though.

I've used Seventh Generation for years and then they started adding some enzyme that I was sensitive to b/c of my mold sensitivities (this unfortunately is common with the "natural" products).

All Free & Clear sadly was the only detergent I was able to tolerate, probably b/c it didn't have the natural enzymes. The term "chemical sensitivity" is not a good description of the condition. The condition is basically one in which you can't process/detoxify/metabolize many things. For example, my body doesn't have a thing called "glutathione" which you all have, and it helps process lots of different things, even hormones. So in a nutshell, it's not just chemicals, but some "natural" things that my body doesn't like (e.g. essential oils, terpines from pine, etc).

I didn't even think of adding any of the other stuff - Borax, Oxyclean, etc until the washer and our clothes from this latest incident were already "shot" - so I figured I had nothing to lose.

If I were the only person who went through this - yeah, I'd think it's nuts. But there are thousands like me and thank god we've found each other b/c of course the first thing one does when they "trip" into extreme sensitivity is question his/her sanity. But since it almost always follows a toxic exposure, or multiple toxic exposures, and there is a proven genetic predisposition (hence why not all of us get this - others get cancer instead or something else down the road) anyway, because of all that, the science is now able to explain WHY some people get to this point.

However, there is still no answer as to how we are supposed to live in a world where there is "stuff" that bothers our little bodies everywhere - natural, chemical, whatever - when we're just trying to live a normal life like everyone else. That said, I used to use Bounce before I got disabled with this, and now that I know what is in it - I would NEVER use it even if I wasn't sensitive anymore. But something like Oxyclean, I did figure, heck, if nothing else is working, and I'm about to throw this machine out the window, why not. However, you are correct - it was a dumb idea.

So - all that said, I'm going to take this machine apart (um - how do we do that again? Is there a link online?) and if that doesn't work, I guess we'll go for a double stainless machine. BTW - on that note - why did you suggest a front loader for that and not a top loader? I guess they probably don't make all stainless top loaders...

If anyone has specific suggestions on the frontloader/stainless steel thing, I'd love to hear.

And no, we don't have the money for a new machine, but who has the ability to hand wash everything? Not I (I who am literally about to pass out from tending to my daughter and the wash and everything else that life entails).

On a final note - I know most of you have seen Food Inc and were probably shocked about how little we all know about what's in our food. I eagerly await the documentary about what's in our everyday products/homes/etc and how so many people are falling ill with conditions that make sense once you understand that our bodies aren't meant to handle all this - and some bodies even less so than others. Then I can post stuff like this without feeling like a complete loon!

I'm SO grateful for those of you who are not judging and/or understand from experience. It is exactly what people like me need - guidance without having to defend the fact that this is ridiculously real.

Re the last post -- that makes me wonder again about the possibility of the sheet thing. I'm going to take the sheets and send them to the lab and for $75 find out what the heck is in them. I'll let you know. For $75, it's worth an answer! Even my hubby said they reeked so there's something going on there...

    Bookmark   January 28, 2011 at 4:17PM
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You're not a loon! It's just a complicated issue. There was a super movie called Safe a few years back that dealt with this topic. Julianne Moore is the lead; was just great.

She totally doesn't need a defense, but I'm a fan of Sshrivastana's posts b/c they're reasoned not emotional. Like her, I'm curious but not conspiratorial. It's difficult to find points of view that aren't belief-based and her questions/statements get to the heart of it. Even if they appear dismissive the content is rather thoughtful. Realistic in this case.

That said, I'm not sure the typical reaction is to take an appliance apart b/c of possible ammonia contamination or Borax. I'm not minimizing it. I actually think there's more to it.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2011 at 7:51PM
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FWIW, I had to take apart my old top load Whirlpool last year. It was amazingly easy. A couple of screws on the panel and then the rest just came apart after taking off two clips. The plastic tub that holds the water had about 1/8" to 3/16" of mold and glop built up on it. I used a wall paper scraper (looks like a long thin spatula) to scrape the sides. I removed as much as possible and then used one of those long thin brushes that are used to clean the fins under a refrigerator with a bleach solution to scrub the sides. It solved the problem.

I found detailed instructions on how to take the machine apart on the web.

Of course, about 6 months later the tranny blew and I bought my Fisher/Paykel.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2011 at 1:49AM
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@izbell... just to clarify my earlier post, I was not trying to be dismissive or to doubt your experience. There's absolutely no doubt that you are experiencing an issue that is very real for you. Just as I recently discovered after using Tide Totalcare, which left a white powdery residue in my machine, not everyone has the same experience with the same product due to many variables.

I tend to be blunt and not very tactful in my everyday life - it's something I've been working on, but it's difficult to change one's nature. It suits my radio show persona, but my comments can also be interpreted as abrasive. If I left you with that impression, I'm sorry, as that was not my intent.

izbell, do you know if you have hard or soft water? If you have soft water, you may be able to use products with far fewer additives. For instance, products such as Country Save, Rockin' Green, and perhaps even Charlie's Soap may all be good options for you. I believe these products disclose their ingredients, and the folks at Charlie's will surely let you know what's in their product if you send them an email.

It's hard to imagine something would be sticking to the inside of your machine after so many washes, especially after the very caustic environment in the machine that was created by the chemicals that are being added. And even if there was something left behind, the chances of that same chemical exiting the machine while running seem extremely small. Sometimes circuit boards give off a high frequency "buzz" that is at the fringe of our hearing capability. If this is happening, it may at least be a contributing factor to your headaches.

I certainly hope you are able to find a solution to this mystery. I know how aggravating it can be to see a symptom but not be able to properly identify a cause. Have you considered the dryer as a possible cause or contributor to the problem? Is it possible the dryer drum has some residue on it that is depositing onto your clothing? Also, have you tried contacting your water company to see if anything has changed with the water quality in your area? The water is a common factor here, I would take a look at it.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2011 at 10:40AM
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I'm surprised by your skepticism about something sticking to the inside of a machine after many washes, when you've never questioned the buildup (from cold washes, liquid detergent, fabric softener, take your pick) that's often discussed here. As for something exiting the machine, well, no one doubts that gunked-up machines can smell. The smell is molecules exiting the machine and affecting the body. So what's different here, except the report of an uncommonly severe bodily reaction to the situation?

    Bookmark   January 29, 2011 at 12:29PM
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@suburbanmd... Without re-reading the entire thread, I was under the impression that the OP had the machine for only 6 months and has done a ton of hot water washes to try to get rid of whatever may be causing the irritation and headaches. I was also under the impression that all of this began AFTER the OP washed some sheets that had ammonia on them.

While I believe you can have build-up and gunk in your machine after many, many cold water washes with excessive fabric softener use, the OP just doesn't seem to fit into this category given what I've read here. The machine is only 6 months old, and according to the OP:
It's been months of running the wash with just water (hot and cold), with just detergent, with vinegar, with baking soda (not with the vinegar!), etc over and over to remove whatever residue of whatever chemical I created...This doesn't sound like cold wash/liquid detergent/fabric softener build-up to me. I just don't see how washing a set of sheets that had some ammonia on them would cause any kind of a build-up in the machine that would be affecting a multitude of washes afterwards. Even if it was ammonia, ammonia is water soluble and should rinse out cleanly and quickly.

This is only my opinion, and I'm trying to help. I don't claim to be able to solve the problem, I'm just speculating on what it may or may not be. I think presuming it's simply an issue of build-up resulting from a single load of sheets containing ammonia is ignoring a whole slew of other factors that would render this conclusion problematic.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2011 at 1:50PM
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@izbell... Have you considered the possibility that the items you are washing may have dust mites? I was surfing around the net today and came across a web site stating that people with dust mite allergy can suffer from headaches. Dust mites are a common laundry problem for a lot of people and require high temps and/or bleach to destroy. This could explain why your laundry has been causing you headaches. At least it's another possibility to consider.

Here is a link that might be useful: Dust Mites

    Bookmark   January 30, 2011 at 1:57PM
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No worries - i don't take anything personally, just clarifying things :)

So the facts I do know are:
- it's definitely something that is both in the machine and on clothes that I wash in that machine
- if I hand wash clothes, no prob (so can't be the water? but could it be the pipe leading into the washer has stuff on it?)
- I could potentially be a candidate for the biofilm build up actually because BEFORE the problem, I was doing mostly cold washes and used probably too much detergent (ALL Free and Clear, which is really goopy/sticky actually - I might go back to Charlies, thanks for the reminder about them, it was just hard to get/cost a lot)....anyway, so it's possible I got the goop. And that the goop is holding onto whatever else I put in there
- in terms of whatever else it could be, I'm leaning towards the fact that I might have a mycotoxin (mold) issue literally from washing something that had a mold issue as that is my UBER-sensitivity and on other lists, apparently this is not an uncommon problem and apparently it has actually happened to people who have washed new organic sheets. I've had people respond also about how certain treated fabrics (I also washed new clothes during this time) treated with chemicals from certain countries can linger and cause sensitive people problems. But still, why is it lingering for so long?
- I found out the city added a bunch more chlorine to the city water recently for some reason - but then why doesn't hand washed clothes bother me?
- I tried to wash the "bad" clothes at a friend's and the "badness" did not come out. I still had the exact same headache. I did a test though of "good" clothes first in her machine and those I did fine with! (Yeah, I'm hoping I didn't just give the mystery thing to her machine...oops)
- my husband was ready to take the machine apart today and then life happened (sick 2 year old) so I'm still wearing the same shirt a friend washed for me like 4 weeks ago, my fingers are raw from washing my husband and daughter's clothes, and don't even ask about how dank the sheets are that I'm sleeping on.
- I need to live where the naked people live. Seriously.
- On a more serious note - we do have the opportunity to be given a machine that seemed ok, but ironically, right before I went to check it out, they had their well water "shocked" with chlorine and then ran water through the machine and - OOH BOY - it was intense when I stuck my head in the machine. Even my husband's eyes burned for an hour. Would MASSIVE chlorine like that wash out of a frontloader that has a rubber boot (e.g. does rubber seem to soak up chlorine fumes and hold onto them?)

- finally - I tend to agree with the poster about how surprising it is that things can be "stuck" onto surfaces permanently. I only notice it because I'm a canary in the coalmine, but it's terribly real. And I assume since I have a cheapo machine, and the plastic is probably not the hardest or best out there, it seems to hold onto more because it STILL smells like new plastic (if you know what I mean -- some plastics don't smell after a while but others seem to always smell like plastic) -- anyway, I wonder if it's holding onto the VOCs in a way stainless steel would not.
- oh and I don't use the dryer - still too new that I never got over that off-gassing either enough to dry anything. So yeah, no washer, no dryer. It's a grand life.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2011 at 10:12PM
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izbell, whatever has happened in the past 4 years with your laundry problem? Did you find resolution? Are you well? What did you learn? Please update us.


    Bookmark   March 7, 2015 at 1:28PM
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