8 Toxins Lurking in Your Fabric Softener & 6 Natural Alternatives

By care2.com

If you enjoy the smell of clean clothes straight out of the dryer you may be shocked to learn that smell comes at a cost. Most commercial fabric softeners–dryer sheets or the liquid variety–contain many toxic chemicals. Here are eight toxins found in most fabric softeners (and eight reasons to switch to natural options.)

1. Alpha-Terpineol–This chemical has been linked to disorders of the brain and nervous system, loss of muscle control, depression, and headaches

2. Benzyl acetate–Benzyl acetate has been linked to cancer of the pancreas

3. Benzyl alcohol–Linked to headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, depression, as well as disorders of the brain and nervous system

4. Chloroform–Chloroform is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Hazardous Waste list because it has been identified as a carcinogen and neurotoxin (toxic to the brain and nervous system)

5. Ethanol–also on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list for its ability to cause brain and nervous system disorder

6. Ethyl Acetate–causes headaches and is on the EPA Hazardous Waste list

7. Linalool–in studies, this chemical caused loss of muscle coordination, nervous system and brain disorders, and depression

8. Pentane–causes headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, and depression

6 Natural Alternatives

The standard argument in favor of using fabric softeners is that the amount of the chemicals to which a person is exposed is insufficient to cause harm. Studies are showing that even small amounts of these toxins can have serious effects. So, think twice before you add that dryer sheet or liquid fabric softener to your laundry, particularly for children whose developing brains are more vulnerable to the effects of toxins.

According to the Allergy and Environmental Health Association, both liquid and dryer sheet fabric softeners are “the most toxic product produced for daily household use.” Most of the popular brands of fabric softeners contain many neurotoxins (substances that are toxic to the brain and nervous system) and other types of toxins.

So, you’re ready to forego commercial fabric softeners but you still want soft clothes. What are your options? Well, here are my 6 suggestions to detox your laundry:

1. Add a 1/2 cup of baking soda to the water in your washing machine and let it dissolve prior to adding your clothes. This is my preferred method since the baking soda acts as a water softener and helps makes clothes super soft.

2. Some people toss tennis balls or other rubber balls into the dryer with clothes. I’m not a huge fan of this method since the heat of the dryer can cause the rubber to off-gas onto your clothing. If you have an allergy to latex, this is definitely not the method for you. Plus, I wouldn’t choose this method if you’re drying delicate clothing items. Alternatively, try making your own felt wool dryer balls

3. Adding a cup of vinegar to the wash water can also soften clothes but I don’t find this method as effective as the baking soda technique.

4. To help with static, there’s the aluminum foil ball technique. Tightly scrunch a piece of foil to form a ball. Throw it in with clothes in the dryer. There is some possible concern with increasing your exposure to aluminum (which has been linked to some brain disorders). It can also snag delicate clothes.

5. Try to keep synthetic fabrics out of the dryer since they are the culprits when it comes to static. Natural fibers like cotton, bamboo, hemp, and linen are best dried on their own.

6. And, of course there are natural fabric softeners available in most health food stores. I must admit, though, that I don’t find them necessary. I try to purchase clothing made of natural fibers as much as possible and find my clothes are soft regardless whether they go through the dryer (free of fabric softeners) or are hung to dry.

As you can see, there are plenty of options when you want soft clothes and to be free of toxins.

About the Author

Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, PhD is an international best-selling and twelve-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine, whose works include: Healing Recipes, The Vitality Diet, Allergy-Proof, Arthritis-Proof, Total Body Detox, The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, and The Phytozyme Cure. Check out her natural health resources and subscribe to her free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News at WorldsHealthiestDiet.com.


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  • K.L.

    Forgot the Soapnuts! Lovely things.

    I can verify the harmful effects of synthetic chemical laundry soaps and softeners personally. I am very sensitive to the chemicals, especially when they float around in the air and when I breathe them in, my hypothalamus and the back of my head ache and I get the worst nauseating headaches.

  • chris

    what would you do to add smell? an essential oil? trying to go all natural and i really like the baking soda idea, i use it for everything else. Just was wondering how i can make the clothes smell yummy? i really like to smell the laundry smell.

    • K.L.

      If you don’t mind using raw matter, placing dried herbs in a washable cotton/hemp bag and throwing it in works well.

  • carley

    I’m really surprise you used tenis balls as an example of a “natural alternative”. I would have suggested Wool Dryer Balls – same purpose, but with lots of extra perks (shorter drying time, reduced static, naturally softens laundry, etc) PLUS – they’re actually natural, A tennis ball isn’t even close to “natural”!
    And you can add scents to them, if you like scents in your laundry.

  • Heather Baker

    I’ve seen people use wool balls in the dryer as softeners. I have considered getting some to use myself or make them!

  • Cheri

    I make my own laundry detergent and add essential oils to it, it makes the clothes smell great. There are also some natural wax sticks (scented with essential oils) that you can buy to add for softening to the dryer.

  • Syndisue

    I don’t know how I would use baking soda, I have a newer washer that fills up depending on the weight of the clothes, so I can’t add it and let it dissolve before adding the clothes, any suggestions?

  • Analil

    One question: I like my clothes smelling nice and clean even after a few days or weeks. I don’t see how baking soda can make that happen. And essential oils, do they last?

  • Thanks for sharing!

  • Christine B

    3 cups of vinegar, 6 cups of water and a bottle of cheapo conditioner like sauve or VO5. Use as you would a store bought softener. Works great, no vinegar smell on dried clothes.