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Fabric Softeners Chemical Sensitivity and Health Hazard

     Some of you may still remember the good old days when laundry was hung out on the clothesline to dry on sunny days.  Perhaps you or your mother or grandmother dried their clothes that way.  Others may never have known what truly fresh, clean clothes smelled like when gently blown dry by a crisp, billowing breeze.  Or falling asleep on freshly laundered bedding just pulled from the clothesline.  It seems nowadays we're all about clothes dryers and synthetically scented fabric softeners and dryer sheets.

     Fabric softeners were first invented in the early 1900's by the textile industry after the introduction of synthetic detergents.  Clothes came out cleaner than with regular soap, but were left feeling harsh and stiff.  Then in the late 1960's, Conrad J. Gaiser poured liquid fabric softener onto a piece of flannel cloth to save his wife from running up and down stairs to catch the rinse cycle. He then patented the idea of a dryer sheet and sold the rights to Proctor & Gamble.

     Today, millions of dollars a year are spent by large companies trying to appease our sense of smell with the sales ploys of these fabric softeners.  That fresh outdoor smell as yet escapes them. Perhaps one day they will figure out a way to bottle up all that fresh air, but as yet we are duped by chemical imitations.

     It's not only the fresh clean smell of the outdoors we are missing out on.  For those of you afflicted with allergies and asthma, sunshine kills dust mites immediately.  Yet one more explanation for the surge of allergy and asthma related illnesses over the past several years.  Add to that the toxic chemicals in liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets and the association can be multiplied to a much higher level.  Washing your clothes shouldn't create a health hazard.  Let's look at the facts regarding the ingredients used in some of these products.

  • Benzyl Acetate-Possible link to pancreatic cancer. (ScienceDirect, 2013)
  • Benzyl Alcohol- Upper respiratory irritant.  May cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness.
  • Ethanol- On EPA's list of hazardous waste material. Linked to central nervous system disorders.
  • Alpha-terpineol-Irritates mucous membranes.  Linked to central nervous system disorders.
  • Alpha-pinene-Neurological disorders, respiratory irritant,  skin sensitivity.
  • Ethyl Acetate-Narcotic. On EPA's list of hazardous waste material. Neurological disorders and cancer, as well as liver, kidney and brain damage.
  • Camphor- On EPA's list of hazardous waste material. May cause dizziness, confusion, twitching muscles, nausea, convulsions.
  • Chloroform-Neuotoxin and carcinogen.
  • Linalool-Plant derived extract used for scent.  Possible skin sensitivity or allergen when oxidized. Beneficial in its pure form against cancer as well as relieving stress.  Present in many essential oils.
  • Pentane-Endocrine disruptor.  Skin, eye and lung irritant.
  • Phthalates-Linked to breast cancer and reproductive disorders.
     These are just a sampling of the many chemicals found in fabric softeners.  Chemical fragrances are added to the products to disguise the unpleasant odor of the softening and antistatic chemicals.  Dryer sheets are particularly noxious, because heat releases the chemicals into the air posing a respiratory health risk.  The chemicals are impregnated into the fibers of the dryer sheets along with fatty acids to give it a wax like coating.  This coating is designed to slowly relaease into your clothes for extended periods of time and is nearly impossible to remove even after repeated washings.  The chemicals are then inhaled by the wearer as well as absorbed by the skin. Manufacturers are not required to label these chemicals on their product ingredient list.

     Fabric softening products should never be used in towels as they become less absorbent.  The wax like products in dryer sheets will also build up on lint screens.  Eventually, they will become clogged and can cause the dryer to overheat and burn out the heating element.  Dryer lint screens should periodically be washed and scrubbed using a brush with soap and water to remove any buildup.

     For a safe and cost effective solution you can add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash water cycle to soften clothes.  Another effective alternative is 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar added to the rinse cycle for softening and eliminating static cling.  Shake up a few drops of your favorite essential oil with the vinegar for a pleasant scent.

     You can find dryer balls made of wool online.  One brand, called 'Woolziesz' are handmade in New Zealand.  All natural and hypo-allergenic they soften laundry without any chemical additives. Lasting up to 1,000 loads they are economical too.  What I like about them is you can sprinkle a few drops of essential oil on them before tossing them in the dryer.  Below are some other options,all natural dryer sheets or natural liquid fabric softeners:                                        



"Evaluation of promotion of pancreatic carcinogenesis in rats by benzyl acetate". Longnecker DS, Roebuck BD, Curphey TJ, MacMillan DL, Food Chem Toxicol, 1990 Oct; 28(10):665-8. from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0278691590901419

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