What is Prop 65
Proposition 65 is a warning label for Californians about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. Any product that is sold in California will have this label even at retailers outside of California.
The list contains naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals. It is updated yearly and there are currently 900 chemicals on the list in 2023.
Technically this label is for “significant exposures” and the chemicals need not be listed if “the exposure is low enough to pose no significant risk of cancer or is significantly below levels observed to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.” However, in reality the exposure risk is not usually calculated and you will still see the label if the products contains only trace levels of the Prop 65 chemicals or even when the chemicals are enclosed within the product and there is no reasonable way to gain exposure to them.
Are Companies Adding This to Everything?
It does seem like there are companies that add this to all their products even though they might not contain a chemical on the list, if the exposure is extremely minimal, or exposure is not expected with regular use.
There is no penalty for providing an unnecessary warning, this part is frustrating to me.
You will often see the statement that a company “has elected to provide the Proposition 65 notice out of an abundance of caution in order to avoid the potential for liability.”
However when it comes to washing machines, they do likely contain quite a few Prop 65 chemicals, they are not being overly cautious in declaring that Prop 65 chemicals are present. The real question and uncertainly around washing machines comes down to whether that exposure is really large enough to be of concern, especially since the chemicals are largely enclosed within the appliance.
I’ll go over which Prop 65 chemicals are found in washing machines, which brands have the label and which brands don’t, and how to minimize your exposure.
This post contains affiliate links. Upon purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Which Prop 65 Chemicals Can Be Found in Washing Machines:
1. Phthalates may be present in plastic components of appliances (specifically in flexible vinyl) according to the Prop 65 website. Electrical wiring is often coated in vinyl, and there may be other PVC tubes or hoses.
2. Flame retardants may be present in plastic components of appliances according to the Prop 65 website. Electrical wiring and cords also usually contain flame retardants.
3. Antimony: Tamara Rubin has found that most appliance electrical cords will test positive for Antimony (as a component for added flame retardants). When she tests electrical cords of appliances, she normally finds the level in the range of 5,000 to 15,000 parts per million (ppm).
4. Arsenic: Tamara says she often finds trace Arsenic in black plastic handles of kitchen tools and appliances. She believes it is likely a contaminant of the black pigmentation. In one test she found extremely low levels of Arsenic in the black plastic handle of a kettle (3 +/- 1 ppm). This is safe, by any standard she explains, though it’s still a Prop 65 Chemical.
5. Lead: is almost always a component of brass parts, and it can be found in plastic, solder, electrical cords, nuts, painted parts, and more in appliances.
6. Nickle: is part of stainless steel.
7. Other Proposition 65 chemicals may also be present in enclosed components of the appliance (such as printed circuit boards). During normal use, consumer exposure to these chemicals is expected to be negligible according to the Prop 65 website.
Minimize Exposure to Prop 65 Chemicals From Washing Machines
Since most of these chemicals are found in internal parts, and some are found in extremely low levels, the exposure if going to be minimal.
Flame retardants and phthalates do tend to leach out into household dust and so to minimize exposure to these chemicals, minimize your exposure to dust:
- Clean floors regularly, using a wet mop for hard surfaces and a HEPA vac for soft or hard surfaces. The HEPA component is important as it picks up these tiny contaminants (and is one of the best interventions you can make towards a healthy home).
- Wipe up dust regularly, using a damp cloth free of chemicals.
- Wash your hands after touching the electrical cords of appliances.
- Wash your hands before preparing food and before eating.
Washing Machine Brands With a Prop 65 Warning
Maytag, Samsung, Whirlpool, LG, GE, Bosch, BLACK+DECKER, Magic Chef, Midea, and Amana all have the warning.
Washing Machine Brands Without a Prop 65 Warning
The brands I’ve seen without the warning are Equator, Miele, and Electrolux.
Washing Machine Brands for the Mold and Chemically Sensitive
If you’re looking for washing machines that are lower in initial offgassing and easier to keep mold free, this post on appliances for the chemically sensitive has some ideas. These are all based on the experience of highly sensitive folks, not on empirical testing.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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