The Toxic Danger of Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

The Toxic Danger of Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

It has been almost a year since I stopped using dryer sheets. I still have soft clothes, but they no longer carry a strong fragrance. What I use instead are ‘dryer balls’. These are rubber balls that bounce around in the dryer along with your clothes. I’m not sure why they work so well, but they do keep the clothes soft, and reduce some of the wrinkling. 


Many people will remember a famous TV ad where a woman races to her washing machine, fabric softener in hand, only to arrive just as the wash ends. This woman who “forgot to ad the fabric softener” was actually doing herself and her family a favor.

Although they may make your clothes feel soft and smell fresh, fabric softener and dryer sheets are some of the most toxic products around. And chances are that the staggering 99.8 percent of Americans who use common commercial detergents, fabric softeners, bleaches, and stain removers would think twice if they knew they contained chemicals that could cause cancer and brain damage.
Here is a list of just some of the chemicals found in fabric softeners and dryer sheets:
*Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer 

* Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant

* Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders

* Limonene: Known carcinogen

* A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage

* Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list

* Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders

* Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic

* Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders

* Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled

So how could products with pretty names like Soft Ocean Mist, Summer Orchard and April Fresh be so dangerous?
The chemicals in fabric softeners are pungent and strong smelling — so strong that they require the use of these heavy fragrances (think 50 times as much fragrance) just to cover up the smells. Furthermore, synthetic fabrics, which are the reason fabric softeners were created in the first place, do not smell good either when heated in a dryer or heated by our bodies … hence the need for even more hefty fragrances.
In other words, remove all the added fragrance that endears people to fabric softeners and — like the cliché wolf in sheep’s clothing — the real smells of the chemical-laced fabric softener and the synthetic fabrics they were designed around may prompt people to shoot their laundry machines and be done with it.
Are “Soft” Clothes Worth It?
Fabric softeners are made to stay in your clothing for long periods of time. As such, chemicals are slowly released either into the air for you to inhale or onto your skin for you to absorb. Dryer sheets are particularly noxious because they are heated in the dryer and the chemicals are released through dryer vents and out into the environment. Health effects from being exposed to the chemicals in fabric softeners include:
* Central nervous system disorders 

* Headaches

* Nausea

* Vomiting

* Dizziness

* Blood pressure reduction

* Irritation to skin, mucus membranes and respiratory tract

* Pancreatic cancer

Soften Your Clothes Safely With These Tips
Even if you don’t feel the effects of these chemicals today, they can affect you gradually over time, and children, whose systems are still developing, are particularly at risk. There’s really no reason to expose yourself to these risky chemicals when natural alternatives exist. Not only are they safer for you, your family and the environment, but they’re much more economical too:
* Add a quarter cup of baking soda to wash cycle to soften fabric 

* Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to rinse to soften fabric and eliminate cling

* Check out your local health food store for a natural fabric softener that uses a natural base like soy instead of chemicals

It’s likely that fabric softeners and dryer sheets aren’t the only toxic products in your home. Many household products that consumers regard as safe are also full of toxic chemicals.

Jan. 21, 2011




7 thoughts on “The Toxic Danger of Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

  1. I have been told that bounce dryer sheets work well to keep mosquitoes away. If they are not put in the dryer are they still dangerous? They do work for that purpose.

  2. I have also given up use of dryer sheets and mainstream detergants. I would use fresh lavendar flowers in a satchel, but recently have really taken a liking to using a cloth with some essential oil blend poured on it and tie up rolled into a ball (keeping wet oil on the inside and letting it dry).. works amazing at softening, de-clinging and naturally scenting my clothes during through the warming of the essential oils.. mmmm.

  3. richard, I’d recommend not using dryer sheets to repell mosquitos, I’ve heard thats a farse.. still very not safe to inhale or have touching your skin. look for eucalyptus oil, lemongrass, clove and/or citronella.. all are natural bug repellants. careful with citronella on skin also, could be used in super diluted amounts, but too much coul potentially irritate sensitive skin.. citronella is best burned off in a candle or tiki torch.

  4. I stopped using dryer sheets about 1 1/2 years ago because my cat would vomit on the newly washed bedspread. It hasn’t happened since I stopped using them.

  5. Throwing out my dryer sheets tonight. Where can I get these rubbers balls or can I just use tennis balls like used for a comforter??? Is Borax safe for washing clothes??? Does anyone know of a homemade recipe for all natural laundry detergent or softener???

  6. I work with an American fiber mill that makes 100% wool felted dryer balls! I sell to Whole Foods grocery stores in NC (we are located in NC) and we sell them on our website. The problem with using rubber balls or tennis balls is that there is still chemicals in those, a lot of petroleum!
    Please purchase your dryer balls from Echoview Fiber Mill or from Whole Foods. If your local WFs does not carry please let them know you would like for them to start carrying. Echoview is an LEED Gold certified Mill and a Living Wage certified Mill. We use only domestic wool and each dryer ball is handmade and lasts a very long time!

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