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The Toxic Dangers of Dryer Sheets and Fabric Softeners

December 28th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Are Dryer Sheets and Fabric Softeners Toxic?

This topic goes straight to one of the issues that aggravates me most about modern society… it challenges a belief that so many otherwise intelligent, health and environmentally aware people have bought into. Throughout the Western world, people have been duped by extensive advertising campaigns into believing they have to use fragrance-laden dryer sheets and fabric softeners to be clean and acceptable to society.

What they don’t seem to realize is that those dryer sheets and fabric softeners are loaded with TOXIC CHEMICALS that can seriously harm their health and the health of their children.

People today think that hanging clothes out to dry in the sun is old-fashioned and not done anymore. Throwing them in the dryer is so much more convenient and faster.

Using a dryer may be faster and more convenient, but if you’re using toxic dryer sheets, you are going to pay with your health.

Ever wonder why more Americans are getting Alzheimer’s earlier than ever before? I suspect it’s all the toxic chemicals they are breathing in all day on their clothes, and all night from their sheets and blankets. These toxins go straight to their brain’s most sensitive neurological centers and wreck havoc. You simply can’t assault the most delicate and sensitive part of your body – the mastermind of all your body’s other functions -and not affect your health.

The truth is, thinking your clothes are cleaner when using chemically-fragranced dryer sheets is a complete fallacy. The sun’s rays act as disinfectancts – killing germs, bacteria and dust mites that might have survived the wash.

drying laundry in sun
In fact, a few hours in the sun is one of the best, and ONLY ways to get rid of dust mites. Dust mites are very tenacious -they survive both wash and dryer cycles.

I saw a question on “Ask Science Man” recently about which kills more germs – hanging clothes out in the sun, or drying them at high heat. Here’s Science Man’s answer:

“From the standpoint of the clothing, drying in the sun is far superior (less damage to fibers). From the standpoint of the environment, drying in the sunshine is better (less energy and associated greenhouse gases).

To my thinking, there is no reason to use the dryer if drying in the sun is an option.”

But the bigger reason to dry your clothes in the sun instead of the dryer is to avoid toxic dryer sheets.

Go ahead and read the ingredients on your dryer sheets – if you can find them. For some reason, dryer sheets seem to have escaped having to list their ingredients on the package. Could it be the manufacturers are trying to hide something?

…Like the fact that those innocent-looking dryer sheets are saturated with chemical fragrance and synthetic coloring. They wouldn’t want you to know that what is in them is lethal.

Most people are fooled – the fragrances smell fresh and clean to them. Some, (like my neighbors), pollute the entire neighborhood every time they do laundry!

To me, dryer sheets smell like sappy gunk covering up the smell of puke. After the first whiff, the odor gets worse and worse until my skin crawls, my head aches and my stomach churns.

For good reason. The toxins in dryer sheets are intense. Chemically sensitive people need to stay away from them. Using them is a double-whamy because the toxic chemicals enter your body two ways:

  1. Through your skin – when you wear clothes dried with dryer sheets, your body warmth and moisture “dissolves” the
    chemicals. Your skin then “takes them up” – they are absorbed directly into your bloodstream through your skin. It’s one of the fastest and easiest ways people get poisoned with cancer-causing chemicals.
  2. Through your brain – the synthetic fragrances in dryer sheets enter through your olefactory system and plug up
    receptor sites in your brain -Receptor sites that are sitting there waiting for healthy substances to enter get plugged up, so that when the healthy substances do come by, the receptors cannot take them up. There are many other negative health effects as well.

Chemicals Found In Fabric Softeners And Dryer Sheets

Here is a list of just some of the chemicals found in fabric softeners and dryer sheets from this website and their effects:
http://www.ghchealth.com/forum/post-325.html:

- 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

- Limonene: The synthetic version is a known carcinogen

- 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

So how could products with pretty names like ‘Soft Ocean Mist,’
‘Summer Orchard’ and ‘April Fresh’ be so dangerous?

The chemicals in fabric softeners are pungent and strong smelling — so strong that they require the use of these heavy fragrances (think 50 times as much fragrance) just to cover up the smells. Furthermore, synthetic fabrics, which are the reason fabric softeners were created in the first place, do not smell good either when heated in a dryer or heated by our bodies … hence the need for even more hefty fragrances.

In other words, remove all the added fragrance that endears people to fabric softeners and — like the cliché wolf in sheep’s clothing — the real smells of the chemical-laced fabric softener and the synthetic fabrics they were designed around may prompt people to shoot their laundry machines and be done with it.

Are “Soft” Clothes Worth It?

Fabric softeners are made to stay in your clothing for long periods of time. As such, chemicals are slowly released either into the air for you to inhale or onto your skin for you to absorb. Dryer sheets are particularly noxious because they are heated in the dryer and the chemicals are released through dryer vents and out into the environment. Health effects from being exposed to the chemicals in fabric softeners include:

Central nervous system disorders:

    Headaches
    Nausea
    Vomiting
    Dizziness
    Blood pressure reduction
    Irritation to skin, mucus membranes and respiratory tract
    Pancreatic cancer

Don’t wrap your family in chemical-coated fabric-softened towels! Simple baking soda will leave your laundry soft and your health intact.

Soften Your Clothes Safely With These Tips

Even if you don’t feel the effects of these chemicals today, they can affect you gradually over time, and children, whose systems are still developing, are particularly at risk. There’s really 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 much more economical too:

- Add a quarter cup of baking soda to wash cycle to soften fabric

- Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to wash soften fabric and eliminate cling

- Check out your local health food store for a natural fabric
softener that uses a natural base like soy instead of chemicals

___________________________________________________________

Using dryer sheets destroys your natural sense of smell over time. I have noticed that my relatives (who use two dryer sheets per load) can’t smell anything. They can’t smell good food cooking or flowers blooming. Nor can they smell rancid towels that go sour from being too damp too long. It’s as if they have no sense of smell left.

I have also noticed that this affects people’s intelligence and ability to make good decisions. Anything that affects the brain so directly, affects reasoning ability and many other abilities.

My advice is, don’t ever use conventional dryer sheets. I’ve been air drying my clothes for years and love it. I love the truly fresh, clean scent of sun-and-breeze-dried laundry. In the winter, I dry clothes on dryer racks in the house. It works great, you just have to plan ahead. 

If you must dry in a dryer, get fragrance- and chemical-free dryer sheets at your local health food store.

And another thing – did you realize the the odor from the chemicals in the sheets does not not fade for years? If any of my clothing gets “contaminated” with synthetic fragrance, I have to boil it, air it out, then bag it up for 3-4 years before the article can be wearable. Sometimes the odor never comes out and I have to discard or give the item away.

I used to have a big problem when I stayed at relatives whose bedding and towels reeked with toxic dryer sheet fragrance. Normally, I bring my own towels and sheets, but once in a while, I got stuck with theirs.

How To Remove Chemical Fragrances From Clothes

In the past, I would have to boil all the laundry and clothes that could be boiled (this destroyed only some of the odor), then put the clothes away for years. But I’ve recently discovered a fantastic de-odorizer that works better than anything. It’s Thieves Household Cleaner – it’s a blend of odor destroying essential oils in a non-toxic cleaning base.

All I do now is mix a little bit of Thieves Household Cleaner into a bucket of warm water and soak the items overnight. In the morning, I wash them as usual and dry. Usually all the smell is gone. If I encounter an especially stubborn odor, I repeat the soaking.

It has made a huge difference in my life to be able to safely and effectively remove toxic odors.

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  1. January 1st, 2009 at 21:41 | #1

    I have been telling my patients for years at our Center for Personal and Environmental Health, not to use scented candles or fabric softener, so here are some excellent articles explaining the problems and extolling the benefits of sunshine. Bravo Rufina! We need a blog like this. Thank you!

  2. January 1st, 2009 at 22:05 | #2

    Fabric softener and dryer sheets are a perfect example of two things: the power of marketing to convince people to spend their money on something they absolutely don’t need and of the insidious process of “normalization” whereby something embeds itself so thoroughly into popular culture that suggestions to the contrary are shocking. Life without these products is so inconceivable that now we can even enjoy their purported convenience in a health store version. Bah!
    I have also come to suspect that there is a plot afoot to homogenize the human scent. Our individual and individuating odors are being usurped so that we can more closely emulate Madison Avenue’s ideal “Wage Slave”, cubicle clone consumer debt bearer. Heaven help us!
    http://www.MeridianHolistic.com/healthyliving

  3. Bottled Water
    December 1st, 2010 at 11:39 | #3

    online health stores always give some promo and discounts that is why i always order from them ,:”

  4. Julie
    March 29th, 2011 at 19:13 | #4

    I live in a condo with a neighbor across the hall who launders daily with some really potent chemicals. Does anyone know of a filter that I could have installed on their vent – I can’t open my window and it permeates through the front door.

  5. admin
    May 29th, 2011 at 12:53 | #5

    Julie,

    The best thing to do would be to discuss it in a calm, reasonable manner with your neighbor. I know that’s a difficult thing to ask, but I don’t know how you could possibly get a filter installer on her vent without her consent anyway. That could possibly cause a lot of hard feelings and repercussions you may want to avoid.

    Just explain to her that you are sensitive to the scents, that they make you ill, and are forcing you to breathe toxic air. Explain that chemical fragrances are really very harmful, and give her some research or articles on it.

    Many people don’t realize this is the case and have never read anything on it. They are products of the marketing industry that has successfully promoted these products and convinced people they need them. She may find the information interesting.

    If not, is there an association you can appeal to? Condos often have associations. If they were made aware of your problem, they could speak to her, or issue a guideline for everyone living in the condos to avoid scented dryer sheets. I know that in workplaces, if someone is allergic, other workers must be careful not to trigger that allergy. I’m not sure what the law is with condos, but it’s worth a shot.

    Rufina James

  6. Jim Pratt
    April 16th, 2012 at 12:13 | #6

    It’s about time, but finally the CDC has actually published guidance on this insideous stuff.. so please get these toxic chemicals out of our schools and workplaces NOW!..

    “”In addition, CDC encourages employees to be as fragrance-free as possible when they arrive in the workplace. Fragrance is not appropriate for a professional work environment, and the use of some products with fragrance
    may be detrimental to the health of workers with chemical sensitivities,allergies, asthma and chronic heaadaches/migraines. Employees should avoid using scented detergents and fabric softeners on clothes worn to the office. Many fragrance-free personal care and laundry products are easily available and provide safer alternatives.”

    U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) – February 2012

  7. Patrick
    May 23rd, 2012 at 16:36 | #7

    I’d love to see the article’s references cited. There would be something to work with.

  8. Jill
    July 6th, 2012 at 16:31 | #8

    :-( I love dryer sheets!!!

  9. Diane
    October 11th, 2012 at 07:18 | #9

    Hello Jill,

    I used to love dryer sheets as well but I now have a debilitating condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivities caused from a myriad of chemicals placed in cleaning, health and beauty products, including dryer sheets. My neighbor’s house is only 12 ft. away from mine and her dryer vent was being directed into my bedroom and the smell remained there for hours after. Whenever she dried her clothes I had severe breathing problems. I thought I was going crazy when I made the connection and wondered how that coud be. This was three years ago. Since then not only do dryer sheets make me sick but all scented products, petroleum products, rubber, newspring, etc. this list is endless. My illness has escalated to the point where I cannot live a normal life. I can’t enjoy shopping, going to the theater or public places because of people smelling of Bounce or of perfumes, deodorant, soaps, lotions creams, etc. I know it is hard for anyone to believe this could happen but believe me, millions and millions are affected by it. Please have an open mind and at least, try to google chemical sensitivities to see what affects chemicals have on the human body. Scents and the body absorbing the chemicals are only a start to the sensitivities, this conditions builds gradually.

  10. Diane
    October 11th, 2012 at 07:20 | #10

    I used to love dryer sheets as well but I now have a debilitating condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivities caused from a myriad of chemicals placed in cleaning, health and beauty products, including dryer sheets. My neighbor’s house is only 12 ft. away from mine and her dryer vent was being directed into my bedroom and the smell remained there for hours after. Whenever she dried her clothes I had severe breathing problems. I thought I was going crazy when I made the connection and wondered how that coud be. This was three years ago. Since then not only do dryer sheets make me sick but all scented products, petroleum products, rubber, newsprint, etc. this list is endless. My illness has escalated to the point where I cannot live a normal life. I can’t enjoy shopping, going to the theater or public places because of people smelling of Bounce or of perfumes, deodorant, soaps, lotions creams, etc. I know it is hard for anyone to believe this could happen but believe me, millions and millions are affected by it. Please have an open mind and at least, try to google chemical sensitivities to see what affects chemicals have on the human body. Scents and the body absorbing the chemicals are only a start to the sensitivities, this conditions builds gradually.

  11. Anna
    January 11th, 2013 at 17:59 | #11

    I love my clothes line and have not ever owned a dryer! However, if a dryer need to be used, I really don’t see a need for any kind of dryer sheet even chem-free ones. This site promotes line drying. http://www.laundrylist.org/line-drying

  12. Vicky Viens
    February 3rd, 2013 at 09:41 | #12

    Most people don’t realize that the first sign of Alzheimer’s brain damage is loss of smell. not memory loss. It is true that some odor removers block the sense of smell. If a friens or loved one loses their sense of smell, I would get rid of all fragrences, air and frabric “purifiers”. If after a cu\ouple of weks the sense of smell doesn’t return, a visit to a doctor and a specialist is in order. If no cause is found, Memory Testing by an Alzheimer specialisy should be the next step.

    Thanks for the information. Another product I never considered dangerous, I now need to seriously reconsider. I had been told that mice don’t like Bounce and had tried distributing a cheaper brand around my house. My doubts were increased when I saw a sheet with mouse droppings on it. It’s one of these things that is hard to prove, since one cannot say if the mice not returning to a previous spot is due to another factor. Now I wonder about what chemicals might be going into the air from the exposed dryer sheet.

  13. Nancy Larson
    March 19th, 2013 at 04:43 | #13

    Norwex has dryer balls that replace dryer sheets and decrease your drying time, and save you money. They last 1-3 years.

  14. vi
    April 3rd, 2013 at 08:44 | #14

    has anyone heard that fabric softeners cause acne because it gets in your pores? it is true, I’ve experienced it. well, is it possible that my co-workers chronic underarm and groin area boils could be caused by fabric softener?

  1. November 21st, 2010 at 16:57 | #1
  2. February 3rd, 2013 at 23:36 | #2
  3. May 11th, 2013 at 15:43 | #3