What is fabric softener made of and is it harmful? I personally don’t use it; I
quite enjoy stiff jeans and crispy towels. But my neighbors do. And it seems
many (most?) people do use it from the way everyone smells.
they may make your clothes feel soft, be static-free and smell “fresh,” fabric
softeners and dryer sheets will also make them toxic. Health problems can range
from headache, lightheadedness and fatigue to serious organ and central nervous
system damage, and even cancer.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) and industry-generated Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), there is
a mind-boggling list of dangerous petrochemicals in these products, many of them
used in untested combinations. They include:
Benzyl Acetate: Is linked to pancreatic
cancer and its vapors can be irritating to eyes and respiratory passages,
creating coughing. Can be absorbed through the skin.
Benzyl Alcohol: This upper respiratory tract
irritant can cause central nervous system (CNS) disorders, headache, nausea,
vomiting, dizziness and dramatic drops in blood pressure.
Ethyl Acetate: This narcotic is on the EPA’s
Hazardous Waste list. Irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract, it may
cause headache and narcosis, anemia with leukocytosis and damage to the
liver and kidneys.
Limonene: A known carcinogen, as well as an
eye and skin irritant and sensitizer.
A-Terpineol: Causes CNS disorders and is
highly irritating to mucous membranes. Aspiration into the lungs can produce
respiratory depression, pneumonia or even fatal edema.
Camphor: Causes CNS disorders and is on the
EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. Is easily absorbed through body tissues, causing
irritation of eyes, nose and throat. Also dizziness, confusion, nausea,
twitching muscles and convulsions.
Linalool: A narcotic that causes CNS
disorders and respiratory disturbances, which, in animal testing, have led
Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and
carcinogenic and on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. Inhalation of vapors may
cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of
respiratory tract and loss of consciousness. Aggravates disorders of the
kidney, liver, heart and skin disorders. Especially a problem when subjected
Phthalates: Notorious for being used in
children's plastic toys and other baby products, phthalates are also used in
scented products to help the scent last longer. They have been implicated in
breast cancer, allergies, reproductive system problems.
The effects of most of these chemicals are more
acute when heated in clothes dryers, making dryer sheets worse than liquid
softeners. And, of course, dryers exhaust the toxic fumes into neighborhood air.
Because fabric softeners are made to stay in
your clothing, the chemicals are slowly released, either into the air for you to
inhale or onto your skin for you to absorb. You may have noticed that using
fabric softener sheets results in less-absorbent towels; that’s because of the
residue that is left in the towels.
That residue can clog up the dryer’s vents,
causing some dryer manufacturers to include a warning in their user manuals not
to use fabric softener sheets, or a clause stating that use of chemical-based
dryer sheets will void the dryer’s warranty.
Babies, children, older people and those who are
already sick are especially at risk from these chemicals. Damage can be
permanent, causing lifelong illness.
Babies often react with rashes, frequent crying
and/or diarrhea. Some researchers have even suggested the need for research into
a possible connection between Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and the use of
these products for washing baby clothes and bedding. They say that in at least
some cases of SIDS, an anaphylactic reaction is responsible, so fabric softener,
with its many chemical components, shouldn’t be ruled out as a possible cause.
To make problem worse, most fabric softeners
have fragrance added to them in order to cover up the chemical smells. For many
reasons, this is one type of product to avoid.
Keep Your Clothes Soft and Cling-Free,
There’s 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 often much more economical
Add a quarter cup of baking soda to wash
cycle to soften clothes
Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to wash
or rinse cycle to soften clothes (don’t use bleach at the same time)
Dry your clothes outside on a clothesline to
eliminate static cling
A piece of wadded up aluminum foil placed in
the dryer with clothes will cut down on static cling
Use less laundry detergent for softer
Install a water softener
If you really feel that you need to use a
commercial product, check out your local health food store for a natural
fabric softener or reusable cloth dryer sheets that use a natural base like
soy instead of chemicals.
Wendy Priesnitz is the
Editor of Natural Life Magazine and a journalist with over 35 years of
experience. She has also authored twelve books.