Help - Neighbor’s laundry is gonna kill me
October 7, 2021 12:05 AM   Subscribe

I need to ask my neighbors for help mitigating their new very bad for me dryer scent. Help! We’re friendly but not friends and I very much believe that approaching this in the right way will resolve it, as we have worked things out in a neighborly fashion for well over a decade now. I just don’t know how to approach something this delicate and thinking about it makes me want to curl up and die from embarrassment.

My neighbor’s dryer vent points pretty much directly into our bedroom window. Earlier this year they started doing laundry twice a day (I believe one of them is taking care of an elderly relative and probably doing their laundry in addition) and they started adding febreeze of some kind to the machine.

I have had to go to the ER twice because I didn’t close the windows on that side of the house in time and it made me unable to breathe. This even with some truly heavy duty good quality air filters.

I would IDEALLY like it if they just stopped using the dryer additive. I also think maybe adding a hepa type filter over the vent or extending the vent so it blow up instead of across world work.

They’re a very nice couple who are always doing work on their house and yard and have helped us remove a tree in the past, and we’ve made some changes to our yard to accommodate some smell preferences of theirs. I am really not at all worried this could get contentious except that discussing laundry seems sooooooooooooo invasive and wrong to me.

When they helped with the tree I had a nice print made and wrote them a very heartfelt thank you note. Should I bake some banana bread and take it by with another note asking for help with this situation? I know they saw the ambulance at least once, and I really don’t want them to feel guilt about it. Should I knock on the door sometime?

What in the world should I say?! This feels very delicate, and I don’t want to approach it in a way that makes them feel put on the spot, which is why I was thinking a note. Perhaps letting them know the situation and suggesting we chat sometime? I certainly don’t want to spring it on them when we say hello in the driveway, as we often do.

They’re both early 60s, semi-retired, and extremely welcoming good people. He was/is an engineer and I think if anyone would have a solution that’s not stopping using the additive, it would be him. (Or maybe it’s not too much to ask for them to stop?) Please tell me what to do!
posted by Bottlecap to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: First, I were your neighbor, I would absolutely want to know about this and would probably be happy to go back to whatever I was doing before I started using the febreeze product. So, yes, tell them and tell them soon.

I think writing a note is good idea mostly because it will help you overcome your own discomfort with the need to have this conversation.

If I were writing it, I might say something like

Dear Neighbor, Can we get together this weekend to talk about a problem that has come up? As you may know, your dryer vent is facing our house. Earlier this year, you started adding something to dryer cycle that triggers an allergic reaction in me. Obviously, you are doing nothing wrong but my allergic reaction is so strong that I need your help in finding a way to change this. You've been a great neighbor. I'm sure we can work something out at minimum inconvenience to you.
Yours, Bottlecap.
posted by metahawk at 12:20 AM on October 7, 2021 [25 favorites]

I have faith in all of you finding a good solution but just want to point out the caveat/make sure your engineer neighbor knows/takes into consideration that dryer vents can generally be a fire hazard (lint accumulation plus heat) which can be exacerbated by longer/windier/obstructed vents. There also may be unscented things they could switch to to remove laundry odors (washing soda, vinegar, enzyme based odor stuff.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:46 AM on October 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am really not at all worried this could get contentious except that discussing laundry seems sooooooooooooo invasive and wrong to me

except you're not discussing laundry, you're discussing an air quality issue that's already put you in hospital twice.

As a man with a perfume allergy, I absolutely feel you on this; it's apparently super difficult for people who don't have one to get their minds around just how disabling it is, and how it's absolutely not a matter of mere "smell preference".

If your neighbours were my neighbours, and your air quality issue were my air quality issue, I'd be round there like yesterday with banana bread in hand. I wouldn't take a note. This is the kind of thing that civilized people, which it sounds like both you and your neighbours absolutely are, resolve just by talking with one another face to face.
posted by flabdablet at 1:57 AM on October 7, 2021 [14 favorites]

Also, ventless heat pump dryers are a thing, they're super elegant from an engineering point of view, and they will easily pay back a substantial multiple of their own purchase and installation cost in reduced energy consumption over their expected service lives.
posted by flabdablet at 2:00 AM on October 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have done this exact thing. I explained the problem and offered to pay for unscented laundry products of their choice for as long as they lived there. That made them see that I was serious and not just being a pain in the ass. They were perfectly cheerful about switching to unscented but wouldn’t let me pay for it.
posted by HotToddy at 2:38 AM on October 7, 2021 [15 favorites]

Might be worth putting a fan on your own window blowing *out.* Makes it a lot harder for outside air to come in.
posted by spitbull at 3:34 AM on October 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I wouldn’t see this conversation as particularly personal or invasive. You’ve got a problem with their detergent or fabric softener, not their style of underwear.

Aim for either a change in their cleaning products or extending the duct. There’s no practical way to filter this stuff out.
posted by jon1270 at 4:11 AM on October 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I agree that this will probably be totally fine, and they'll be happy to help work toward a solution with you once they know it's a problem.

One thing I'd suggest - keep in mind that if one of them is caring for an elderly person now, they may have included the febreeze (or whatever) to help clean or mask the results of incontinence. There could be some sensitivity in this area, so just keep that in mind for when you bring it up. They may need to use *something* to deal with that, so maybe have in mind a list of things that could work for that, that won't cause you physical distress?
posted by invincible summer at 5:42 AM on October 7, 2021 [13 favorites]

Definitely let them know. My own inclination would be to talk directly because unexpected written notes can com across as passive aggressive. Ideally, catch them when you're both outdoors so you can broach the subject casually. Otherwise knock on the door and ask it if's a good time to talk. If the solution is to reposition the vent or to add a filter, offer to pay for that. That's probably the best solution anyway because even without the additive the dryer air is still shooting directly at your window. It shouldn't be too expensive to add some sort of extension or redirecting baffle, and that can be done outdoors. Which means you could even do it (or have it done) yourself, with their agreement. Problem solved, and they didn't have to do anything other than nod their head.
posted by mono blanco at 6:29 AM on October 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

I think you're overthinking this (welcome to Metafilter!). If you say "look, I realize this is a weird request, and I wouldn't ask if it didn't affect my health, but is there a way we can fix this problem?" And if you offer to cover at least part of the cost of fixing it. If you go to them with a menu of options and ask for their input, they'll be receptive.

Also interesting to note, as an aside, that there is a perfume-free Febreze product (the original point of Febreze was to break down odors, not mask them), but it's not a laundry additive.
posted by adamrice at 8:10 AM on October 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go a different direction and state that I'm pretty sure it's illegal to offgas a laundry machine directly into someone else's window, ie: there are clearances they have to meet away from operable windows. This could be giving you low-level carbon monoxide poisoning if they have a natural gas powered dryer.

So maybe they will agree to using a different detergent (you never can tell) but I'd probably turn them in to code inspection or nicely ask them to move their vent..
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:16 AM on October 7, 2021

Response by poster: As is probably evident from the length of this question, I am prone to saying way too much when stressed about a thing. Any suggestions on what to say - specifically - so I’m not over the top rambly?
posted by Bottlecap at 8:19 AM on October 7, 2021

A note won’t be passsive aggressive if you write it in a straightforward and not-angry way. How can it be passive aggressive if there’s nothing aggressive about it? I’d start with a note and follow up in person because I am an introvert and express myself best in writing. A note also gives them time to problem-solve before responding. metahawk’s script is great.
posted by Comet Bug at 9:05 AM on October 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I *definitely* don't think talking about laundry is likely to make your neighbors uncomfortable- I think most people wouldn't be bothered by that. I might say something like, "I have a huge favor to ask! I actually have an allergy to X [do you know it's Febreeze, or could it be something else?] and I've actually had to go to the ER a couple of times because I think your dryer is venting that scent into our bedroom. Would it be possible to use [unscented detergent or whatever you're asking for] instead?" They might be embarrassed that they've unintentionally made you sick, but I doubt they will be bothered about talking about detergent.
posted by pinochiette at 9:27 AM on October 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

You might be able to attach o long vent hose and move the worst of the scent further away. You've been to the ER; this is really severe, I think they'll want to help, and want to know. Go visit, with banana bread or cider and explain that whatever scented products they're using are causing you severe distress and affecting your health. Mention, probably more than once, that they're such good neighbors and you value their friendship, and ask them to help troubleshoot a resolution with you.

fyi, There's a mountain of research to support your request. It's harmful pollution.
Scents and health
Why smelling good could come with a cost to health | Fragrance
Your Scented Products May Be Hiding a Dangerous Secret
posted by theora55 at 11:52 AM on October 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Bottlecap, I'm so sorry this is happening! Two hospital trips, and the idea of approaching your (reasonable, long-term) neighbors is causing you more grief. Can your partner can take point on resolving this important medical issue with your neighbors?

You wrote, "I just don’t know how to approach something this delicate and thinking about it makes me want to curl up and die from embarrassment." It's not delicate. If I, an ordinary person, learned I was inadvertently sickening my neighbor, I would fall over myself trying to right the situation and bring them banana bread. Give these (nice, remember -- you've worked things out before, and you've been living cheek-by-jowl for "well over a decade now") neighbors the opportunity to be neighborly.

I agree with invincible summer above; the change in laundry regimen may be related to caring for their elderly relative, and your partner would meet them equipped with info on safe-for-you, effective, disinfecting & deodorizing laundry supplies just in case. Would (a widely-available, chlorine-free, color-safe product like) OxiClean be an option? What do you use for everyday laundry, and what do you use to deep-clean clothes?

Re-routing that duct will benefit you, too; nothing should exhaust directly into your window. The laundry product and the vent position both need to change, and you are not asking too much of your neighbors. Best wishes.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:01 PM on October 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Definitely talk to them, and really, a switch in their products is probably the simplest answer. It's not always as easy as "just re-route the duct", as blowers and fans are only able to move so much air, and every foot of duct at X diameter, every bend, factors into what the maximum overall length of that vent duct can be, for that particular dryer. They may be able to extend it a little, but depending on the existing construction, completely re-routing it simply may not be a realistic option.
posted by xedrik at 7:36 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Any suggestions on what to say - specifically - so I’m not over the top rambly?

It sounds like you're looking for a script; here's what I'd say.

"Hey there! I hate to bug you about this - and I'm actually a little scared you'll think I'm this huge diva or something - but something's happening that I was hoping we could both figure out how to fix. It looks like our houses are set up so your dryer vent blows into my place - which usually is fine, but there's a dryer sheet or fabric softener that you've been using lately that it turns out I'm super allergic to; like, the 'I've been to the ER twice' kind of allergic. Could we maybe brainstorm a different brand for you to use, or I could ask my doctor what brand s/he'd recommend instead and I can get you some? Or maybe you have a better idea?"

You know? Short, sweet, and to the point, and something that DOES NOT suggest that you blame them - it's more of a "hey, looks like you didn't know this would happen so I'm just keeping you in the loop". Assume that they will want to cooperate with you - because they have in the past. And your offering to buy the new dryer sheets or whatever is a sign that you're not expecting them to just drop everything to cater to you, but you see this as a SHARED problem that you want to work WITH them to solve. (They will likely insist on paying for the dryer sheets themselves, I have a feeling; you can either let them, or for even more brownie points say that the first box is on you or something.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 AM on October 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

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