Ohhhh, that smell. I used to love that smell. I associated that smell with fresh, warm, clean clothes. But after learning some scary facts about dryer sheets, I’ve had to condition myself to not like that smell. Now, I’m so good at not liking it that it almost makes me sick to my stomach. Goodbye, smell—hello, health!
Fabric softeners were originally created to make clean clothes feel better after washing them. An innocent idea at first quickly became a toxic nightmare when dangerous chemicals were added to get the job done. Then, even more chemicals were added as manufacturers wanted fabric softeners and dryer sheets to also help prevent static and add fragrance.
So how do they actually work?
Dryer sheets were designed to warm up in the dryer and distribute fabric softener among clothing. But instead of these chemicals being rinsed away, they are specifically designed to impart the chemicals into clothing to act as a lubricant, making clothes feel softer. Gross, huh? This makes dryer sheets a double health whammy. Not only do they leave chemicals in our clothing that leach into our bodies when we wear clothes, they also release those toxic fragrances into the air we breathe! Yikes!
How bad are these chemicals we’re talking about?
If you look at the ingredient list on your dryer sheets, don’t be convinced that your dryer sheets aren’t toxic because the list looks super simple. The truth is, the manufacturers of cleaning products have no regulations that require them to list the chemicals they use. In fact, they don’t have to list a single ingredient they use—even if those chemicals are known to trigger asthma attacks or are linked to cancer! Here’s an example you can find on the back of Bounce Dryer Sheets, the ingredients state: biodegradable cationic softeners and perfume. Well, isn’t that super specific and informative!! NOT!
A study published in Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health aimed to find out just how dangerous the ingredients in dryer sheets and laundry detergent are. After running three cycles of laundry, researchers were able to ‘capture’ 25 volatile compounds produced, including two known carcinogens and seven hazardous air pollutants. This was just found in one sample! Here’s a list of a few of the chemicals found in fabric softeners:
- 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
- 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
- Limonene: a known carcinogen that irritates eyes and skin
- Phthalates: have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive system problems.
Some laundry products have also been found to contain formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acetone. Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde are carcinogenic, skin irritants, and respiratory poisons. Acetone is known to cause respiratory issues, CNS depression, and can cause organ toxicity.
The biggest issue most people have when transitioning to a natural alternative is static cling. Without the chemicals there to create a film on the outside of our clothes to reduce cling, we must get smart and understand the source of static cling! Static cling occurs under 3 conditions:
- When there is friction between two materials
- Dry conditions exist with humidity at very low levels (this is conducive to the transferring of electrons)
- The two materials are not the same but are electrically insulating
Okay, so lets break these points down. Point one seems a bit obvious, given that we throw a 20 some pieces of clothes in the dryer at a time. Clothes rub on each other and build friction. To avoid this, see some of the alternative solutions below!
Point two refers to when we over dry our clothes. Try drying your clothes on a lower heat setting, or drying your clothes for less time. Even pulling out your clothes when they are the slightest bit damp can eliminate static cling altogether. When we suck out all the moisture from our clothes and then even from the dryer’s air, we create perfect conditions for static electricity!
Point three refers to the mixing of synthetic and natural fibers. Clothes made with natural fibers (cotton, wool, linen, and silk) tend to be static free for the most part. Synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon, rayon, and acetate) are prone to developing high levels of static cling. When you dry these materials together, static cling develops on all your clothes. Separating these loads will reduce static cling for the natural fibers. Consider air-drying your synthetic fibers to eliminate static cling!
So what can we do? This is where you have to decide how much action you want to take! Do you want to put in some extra work and save a lot of money over time? Or are you looking for a healthy alternative for a convenient lifestyle? Here are some options, in order from easiest switch to most difficult.
83.5% of fabric softeners, according to EWG, are ranked as a ‘D’ or an ‘F’. Only 1 product has scored an ‘A’—and unfortunately that product is no longer available.
So if you are looking to buy dryer sheets still, the most valuable thing I can tell you is: ALWAYS buy unscented. Scented dryer sheets are an easy way for companies to throw in cheap and dangerous fragrances. Seventh Generation makes a ‘B’ rated dryer sheet, however, it still contains a chemical known as di-(palm carboxyethyl) hydroxyethyl methyl ammonium methyl sulfate. This chemical is referred to as a ‘quat’ (short for quaternary ammonium compounds), and according to the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, quats cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy people. Regardless, however, these seem to be one of the ‘safest’ on the market. Buy here.
Wool dryer balls are an easy way to ditch chemicals altogether. This is what we use in our house. If you’re dying for a scent, you can easily drop some essential oils onto the balls before throwing them into the dryer to help freshen up your clothes. Dryer balls help dry clothes faster by separating fabrics that stick together when wet. Creating little pockets of space allows the hot air to circulate better and dry clothes more efficiently. These will also help you reduce the heat needed to dry clothes, reducing the static cling! Win! Depending on the size of your load, most people use between 3 and 6 balls but some people use up to 12! Just remember that the balls need space to work, so don’t overfill the dryer! Buy here.
White vinegar. Yes, you read that right! Add a ½ cup of white vinegar into your washing machine’s fabric softener dispenser or during the rinse cycle, and it will act as a natural fabric softener! But, wait… won’t my clothes smell like vinegar? Nope! Have no fear! That smell comes out as the clothes dry. Buy here.
Make your own dryer sheets! It’s not incredibly hard, but it does require some additional work out of you! Find some old scraps of a natural fiber cloth or buy some cloth baby wipes. Mix a cup of white vinegar with some good smelling essential oils in a jar. Find a glass storage container for the cloths and simply moisten the cloths with the vinegar mixture (do not over saturate the cloths!). Then throw one cloth into the dryer with each load! The vinegar mixture can be stored and used to moisten the used cloths! Easy!
Depending on the season, this isn’t always an option for people. But, hello! Air-dry your clothes when you can! Save on your energy bill and nix the chemicals altogether! Buy an outdoor clothesline and let nature take care of the rest!
The idea behind fabric softeners and dryer sheets is great, but it was just another way we tried to use toxic chemicals to make a quick fix. These chemicals contaminate the air we breathe and leach into our bodies from the invisible slime they leave on our clothes. But there are so many alternate and natural solutions! Just be brave, experiment, and find out what works best for you! Join me in becoming #chemicalfree.
Need some essential oils to freshen up your laundry? Click here for more information!