Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Toxic Laundry: Skip the Fabric Softener


guest post by Jennifer Robbins

If you're like me, you love fabric softener and dryer sheets. They keep your sheets soft, your shirts smelling lovely, and your skirts static free. Unfortunately they can contain just as many toxic chemicals as conventional laundry detergent, which we now know is a lot!

In fact, fabric softener may quite possibly be the most toxic product in your home. It is essentially a toxic cocktail you pour in your laundry. Worse still, many of these fabric softeners are actually designed to penetrate the fibers of your clothes and slowly release over time. So they are slowly releasing their toxic sludge right on your skin. Here are a few of the chemicals that are found in your pastel-colored fabric softener:

  • Chloroform, a carcinogenic neurotoxin
  • Camphor, causes central nervous disorders and is easily absorbed through skin
  • Alpha Terpineol, can cause central nervous damage as well as respiratory problems
  • Ethanol, considered a hazardous waste by the EPA and can cause central nervous system disorders
Do any of those sound like something you want in constant contact with your skin? I didn't think so.

Now, let's talk about dryer sheets. They are basically thin sheets of polyester coated in toxic chemicals designed to make your clothes smell "fresh and clean". And what happens to those toxic chemicals when they are heated up in the dryer? They are released through the dryer vent, adding awful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) to our already polluted air. Many of the chemicals I just listed in the fabric softener section are also found in your dryer sheets, as well as Pentane (can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, etc) and Ethyl Acetate (a narcotic considered a hazardous waste by the EPA  that may cause headaches and narcosis). None of that sounds like a good idea to me!

Now that you know why you should say farewell to these products, let's talk about your options. The first is simply eliminating them entirely. They aren't essential to doing laundry as laundry detergent is, so you can cut them out. But what if you loves fresh scented soft laundry and don't want to give it up? You have a few options, actually.
For fabric softener:
  1. Vinegar - Really, all you need is a 1/4 cup of vinegar where you usually added fabric softener and you're good to go. Your clothes won't smell like vinegar after the wash, but if you miss the scented aspect of fabric softener just add a dozen drops of essential oil to the vinegar bottle and shake well before each use.
  2. Vinegar/Baking Soda - this recipe is a tad more complicated but will look and work just like conventional fabric softener without all the chemicals. Mix 1 gallon of vinegar, 2 cups of baking soda, and 2-3 cups of hair conditioner. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months and use 1/4 to 1/2 cup per load as needed.
  3. Green Shield Organic Fabric Softener, Lavender Mint - This is the only fabric softener to receive an A rating from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It's made of natural ingredients instead of chemicals and is virtually the only nontoxic store bought option for fabric softener.
For dryer sheets:
  1. Wool Dryer Balls - You can make these (there are lots of tutorials online) or buy them. Wool dryer balls contain zero harmful chemicals and last for thousands of loads, making them green and wallet friendly! They control the static and keep laundry as soft as a dryer sheet. By nature they are scent-free, but just add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil (I use lavender) before you toss them in the dryer and you have a scented environmentally-friendly dryer sheet alternative
  2. Cotton or Wool Dryer Sheet - If you just miss the fragrance of the dryer sheet, cut up an old t-shirt into a square and add 2-4 drops of essential oil to it. Let the oil dry thoroughly, then use just like you would a dryer sheet. Except instead of throwing it away after one use, you can use it over and over again! Simply add more oil when the smell fades away.
  3. Plastic Dryer Balls - You can buy these at most store these days. They function similarly to the wool dryer balls, but are not known to last as long. They are a great alternative for those allergic to wool.
You may have noticed I didn't give a store bought dryer sheet in that list. That's because not a single dryer sheet on the market received any higher than a D rating by the EWG. That means that literally every product on the market (even those "all-natural" ones) could potentially be hazardous. The good news about that is that any of the 3 options we listed above will save you money and help the environment. Because dryer sheets are single-use items, they are incredibly wasteful. All three of those options will last you multiple loads, which means you won't be spending $6 every 130 loads of laundry like you used to!

I know change can be uncomfortable, but you don’t have to jump all in and change everything at once. Start with eliminating fabric softener and see how you feel. Then maybe give wool dryer balls a shot. Make the conversion to safe and green laundry care complete by using toxic-free detergent. You may find that not only do you feel better by helping the environment, your family may actually feel better physically! So give it a shot. You never know how important this small change might be. 

Interested in more green laundry tips?  Check out Jennifer's companion post here on Act Small Think Big, Toxic Laundry: Skip the Fabric Softener.

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Jennifer is a blogger, professional writer, and reluctant accountant. She loves DIY projects, Dr. Pepper, and searching for treasures in thrift stores. She's kinda crunchy but definitely opinionated. Jennifer resides in small town Oklahoma with her new husband, puppy, and kitty.  You can visit her online at Mrs. Robbins Sparkles. 

Photo credit: sinkdd via Creative Commons


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