Using fabric softeners sounds like a no-brainer. I love the way they make my clothes smell so fresh, and feel so soft against the skin. Especially sheets and pillowcases…I have been using fabric softeners on them for ages. These common laundry products promise soft, fresh-smelling clothes, free of static and wrinkles, along with less stretching, fading and pilling.
But I found out this recently and it made me stop in my tracks —in-wash fabric softeners and heat-activated dryer sheets pack a powerful combination of chemicals that can harm your health, damage the environment and pollute the air, both inside and outside your home.
Skip fabric softeners entirely. They can contain the worst chemicals to watch out for in your laundry basket.
A Quick Look At Some Culprits
Quaternary ammonium compounds make clothes feel soft and wearable right out of the wash, but they’re known to trigger asthma and may be toxic to our reproductive systems.
Your fabric softener may contain phthalates, which disperse the scent; synthetic musks such as galaxolide, which accumulate in the body; and much more. Fragrance mixes can cause allergies, skin irritations such as dermatitis, difficulty breathing and potential reproductive harm.
Like fragrance, the terms “preservatives” and “colors” or “colorants” on an ingredient label may refer to any number of chemicals. The most worrisome preservatives in fabric softeners include methylisothiazolinone, a potent skin allergen and glutaral, known to trigger asthma and skin allergies. Among artificial colors, D&C violet 2 has been linked to cancer. Others may contain impurities that can cause cancer.
So skip fabric softeners and conditioners in any form—pellets, crystals, bars or single-dose packs. You won’t notice the difference.
What To Use Instead?
If you enjoy the smell of clean clothes straight out of the dryer, try these natural alternatives to fabric softeners. Your clothes will still smell great, and your skin will thank you for the switch!
1. Try adding half a cup of distilled white vinegar to your washing machine during the rinse cycle. Don’t worry: the smell doesn’t linger on clothes.
2. Add a 1/2 cup of baking soda to the water in your washing machine and let it dissolve prior to adding your clothes.
3. Throw a ball of aluminum foil into the dryer. This method works great for static cling.
4. Line dry your clothes whenever the weather allows it. Not only do you elongate the life of your clothes by not putting them through a tumultuous dryer cycle, your clothes will smell naturally fresh when they are air-dried outdoors in the bright sun.
5. If you’re not line-drying, run the drying machine with just your clothes inside. To reduce static, do not over-dry.