What Can You Do? Hidden Health Risks of Fabric Softeners & Dryer Sheets

Posted by Ella Radik on

Are you currently using fabric softeners or dryer sheets, or even scented laundry detergent?

Based on recent studies - you may want to reconsider - at least with your baby’s laundry. 

Studies have shown there are health risks associated with both softeners and dryer sheets, as they coat your laundry in a layer of oily chemicals. This coating of chemicals will actually cause towels to repel water instead of absorb, and is detrimental to a variety of other fabrics, and your family's health.

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The most prevalent of these oily chemicals are "QUATS" - short for Quaternary Ammonium Compounds.  According to the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, an international authority on asthma, these chemicals have been classified as “asthmagens” – substances that have shown to cause asthma in otherwise healthy individuals. This is especially concerning when you consider that nearly 10% of children struggle with asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, this trend that has been increasing since the early 1980’s.

An additional health concern with fabric softeners and dryer sheets is related to the unknown and toxic chemicals used to create the variety of scents available today. This includes toxic ingredients such as phthalates. In addition to toxicity, fragrances in general are a top five allergen!  A 2008 study from the University of Washington by Professor Anne Steinemann, examined six top selling scented laundry products – when tested – they “…gave off at least one chemical regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws, but none of those chemicals was listed on the product labels.” The chemicals identified included acetone, which is an active ingredient in paint thinner as well as nail-polish remover. Limonene, a citrus scented molecule, as well as acetaldehyde, chloromethane and 1,4-dioxane.

According to Steinemann, “Nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from these six products, and none were listed on any product label. Plus, five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic ‘hazardous air pollutants,’ which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level.”

If the exposure of laundry related chemicals within our home wasn’t alarming enough, there’s growing concern that these same chemicals are escaping out of our homes through dryer vents, and impacting the quality of the air we breathe. There will no doubt be more focus and discussion on this topic in the coming years to ensure the health of our families, as well as the planet.  If you’re interested in learning more, here’s another insightful article from Anne Steinemann of the University of Washington that digs into the impact of scented laundry products on our air quality.

There’s a simple way to eliminate the health risks from your home and your family – simply don’t use fabric softeners, scented laundry detergent, or dryer sheets. It will also save your family money! At the very least, consider eliminating for your baby’s laundry. If you feel it’s something your family can’t live without, then consider “scent free” or “unscented” versions that will remove the scent/fragrance health risk. However, unscented versions of dryer sheets still can contain the chemicals described earlier known as “QUATS”.

If you feel fabric softeners and dryer sheets are a must for your laundry and family, then consider more natural options such as these dryer sheets that contain at least 97% natural derived ingredients (plant-based).  These fabric softeners are also at least 97% natural and a great alternative to help reduce exposure of harmful chemicals to your family, as well as the environment.

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Natural alternatives to fabric softeners and dryer sheets is another option. These techniques will improve the softness of your laundry without having to purchase fabric softener or dryer sheets, and chances are, you already have at your home.

If you would like to consider “unscented” options for all your family cleaning needs - from laundry to hand soap – check out our full selection of unscented products.

If you have any questions or would like further information, please post your comments, questions, or concerns below.