Toxic danger: Why you should ditch your fabric softener

Toxic danger: Why you should ditch your fabric softener

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More people are trying to live a more “natural” or “green” life. There is so much information today about the dangers and side affects of the far-too-many chemicals lurching in our piles of products. Nobody wants to put dangerous toxins in their body. And thankfully, as a society we are finally starting to realize that toxic intruders can get into our body in a number of ways–from the air we breathe, to the chemicals sprayed on our food, to the stuff we use to clean our counters.

So you want to live a toxic free life…

Of course, because there is so much information out there it can easily become incredibly overwhelming.

Where do I start?
How do I get rid of the toxic chemicals?
Which ones are the worse?

Whenever someone asks me any of these questions, my answer is always pretty much summed up in the simple phrase: Baby steps.

You don’t have to change everything at once.

That doesn’t mean you can’t, of course. If you have the knowledge, will-power, and resources to make every change you ever wanted to right now… well, I say “go for it.” The rest of us mere-mortals will watch in amazement while we continue our journey. Step by step.

If you really are new to this whole idea of toxic free living, and you don’t know where to start, let me suggest the following as your inroad to a more greener you:

Ditch the toxic fabric softener and dryer sheets

Why is this such a good first step? Well, because it’s pretty easy. I mean, maybe you really really love the way your fabric softener makes your clothes feel. Maybe the thought of getting rid of it makes you sick to your stomach. But chances are, this is a pretty easy starting point. And there’s an extra bonus: It is one less thing to spend money on! Yippee!

If you are one of those people who really love their fabric softeners, or think that there is no other way to get rid of static cling without a little dryer sheet, here are some things to consider about these products:

Back in the “good ol’ days,” fabric softeners were made from a combination of soap and olive oil (or other natural oils). Unfortunately, today’s fabric softeners are made of noxious chemicals combined with a massive amount of fragrance that masks the toxic odors. These chemicals coat the surface of textiles with a thin layer of lubrication. This makes the clothes feel smoother and helps them resist the buildup of static electricity.

Fabric softener actually makes material less absorbent, which is not a good thing for some of your laundry, such as your bath towels. Oh, and that same film that is put on your clothes… it ends up on your lint trap as an invisible film, increasing your chance of catching fire.

What sort of toxic chemicals are we talking about?

I’m glad you asked! Here are just some of the chemicals inside fabric softeners and what they’ve been linked to:

  • 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
  • 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

(for more information on this list, go here.)

Okay, so what should I do about my clothes?

The most “green” thing you can do (and the thing that will make your clothes awesome) is to line dry. But for a lot of us that’s just not feasible. Thankfully, there are plenty of other options, many of which are super easy and super inexpensive:

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 baking soda acts as a water softener and helps makes clothes super soft.

2.  Make your own felt wool dryer balls. Crunchy Betty has a great DIY tutorial on her blog. The balls are simple, frugal, and help dry your clothes faster and get rid of static cling.

3.  Fill a spray bottle with 1 cup distilled white vinegar and 1 1/2 tsp Eucalyptus Essential Oil  (learn how to get my favorite essential oils at wholesale prices here.). Shake well and then spray 10 – 15 times on your wet clothes before starting the dryer. Don’t worry, there will be no vinegar smell left when they are done. Occasionally I will find an item or two that will still have some static cling, but it’s gone if I shake the clothing once or twice.

4.  Try to keep synthetic fabrics out of the dryer since they are the culprits when it comes to static.  Natural fibers are best dried on their own. When possible, avoid synthetic fabrics, period.

5.  And, of course there are natural fabric softeners available in most health food stores.  But do you really need them? I don’t think so (and they are usually pricey).

Update (9/12): 6. So it’s been many moons since I stopped using fabric softener, but over the past seven or so months I’ve found the easiest way to keep your clothes softer: Use the low heat setting!  Seriously, I haven’t had a single “static cling” issue, my clothes are just as soft as when I was using the toxic stuff, and it’s better for the environment. It take a little longer to dry, but no more effort. Win!

So there you have it…

Simple solutions to one big toxic problem. It won’t be long until you wonder why you bought that gross toxic stuff in the first place. (Not to mention, from here on out, whenever you see some sort of “squishy” bear selling fabric softener you’ll probably find it very creepy. Or is that just me?)

Do you have any other great alternative to fabric softener?

Looking for great all natural and toxic free recipes? Check out my book Toxic Free.

(Image source 2)

 

This post is part of Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways and Simply Natural Saturdays.



NOTE: Due to an never-ending cesspool of spam, I have made the tough decision to close comments 14 days after the original posting of all posts. If you have a burning question or are looking for support in your journey to healthy living, please join the Thank Your Body Friends facebook page here.


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About the author

Hi! I'm and I’m passionate about healthy living: feeling nourished, having energy, getting good sleep, and feeling strong. I believe healthy living does not have to be complicated or stressful. I’m a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist (RSMT) and a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst (CLMA). I’m also an avid researcher and love to read about nutrition, the body, and toxic-free living. Learn more.

View all articles by Robin Konie

59 comments

  1. Katie Carling

    My neighbor is starting to make her own laundry soap. She said it has borax and I don’t know what else. What do you think of that? Is laundry soap toxic? I was thinking of trying her soap (you only need about a TBS!)

    Thanks for the info. I had NO idea!

    1. robin

      Hi Katie,

      Thanks for stopping by. The toxicity level of laundry soap depends on the kind you use, but like most things it can usually be simplified and improved. I had to make the switch a long time ago because I have such sensitive skin and the fragrance was harming me. Besides making your own is easy and cheap.

      I use 1 cup borax, 1 cup washing soda, and 2 cups finely grated Zote soap. (You can easily double or triple this recipe). And like your friend, you really only need about a tablespoon. (Which is, of course, awesome.) I love getting these supplies at Amazon. It’s cheaper and easy to find. You can check out my resource page to find all of these ingredients if you aren’t sure what they are. http://thankyourbody.com/resources/ (Under home, kitchen, and personal product)

      Some people are concerned about Borax. This is my “go to” article to clear up any confusion:

      http://www.crunchybetty.com/getting-to-the-bottom-of-borax-is-it-safe-or-not

      Good luck! :)

  2. Amy

    What about things such as downy unstoppables or Purex crystals? I know its strange, but I like the way they leave my clothes scented.


    1. Post author
      robin

      Hi Amy,

      I’m not super familiar with either product, to be honest. A quick google search, however, makes me really hesitant to recommend them. Even though the Purex crystals says it’s 87% natural that still leaves a lot of room for questionable toxins (especially because the word “natural” doesn’t mean a whole lot to begin with in the beauty/foods industry). I’d recommend looking up some other options, maybe adding some essential oils? Here’s something to try: http://www.gorgeouslygreen.com/blog/tag/how-to-scent-laundry-naturally/

      Obviously, I won’t think any less of you if you continue to use these products. :) But I do think it’s smart to learn what these chemicals are doing to our bodies.

      Thanks for stopping by! Good luck with all your laundry needs.


    1. Post author
      robin

      Shoot. I am not “in the know” when it comes to these products. Apparently I need to get out more. :)

      Not sure about the dryer balls, BUT Crunchy Betty has a SUPER EASY and very economical solution: DIY Felted Wool Dryer Balls. They will help dry your clothes faster, keep things nice and soft, and help you avoid any unwanted stuff.

      Wish I was more helpful! Good luck!

  3. Michelle

    Dryer balls are awesome. I paid $20 for a set that lasted 5 years. I did finally wear them out but would not give them up. No smell, which I am ok with, but I am sure a couple drops of essential oil on a piece of cloth tossed in would work.

  4. Molly

    I used just a dab (really!) of mild laundry soap and a little vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser in my front load washer. I find that everything smells fresh and clean, my washer and dryer (don’t have clothes lines..but will one day!) don’t get gunked up and I’ve already saved a ton of money.

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  7. Kate Monson

    Hey My Lovely Robin,

    I was getting ready to do a batch of the borax, soda, soap thing and was looking for a recipe for amounts and stumbled on something called soap nuts. I was very tempted to just go ahead and buy some on amazon, they got a lot of good ratings and such but wondered if any of my awesome friends could tell me more. kate


    1. Post author
      robin

      Hello more lovely Kate!

      I haven’t tried soap nuts yet, but I have heard really great things them. In fact, I plan on trying them myself after my current homemade detergent runs out. Miss your beautiful face.

  8. Katherine @ Green Thickies

    Thank you for this. I’ve not used fabric softener for years but the only thing I miss is the nice smell. Recently I started adding a few drops of essential oil to a cloth and adding this to the tumbler dryer and it makes my clothes smell lovely.

  9. karen

    I’ve heard that if you make a little ball out of aluminum foil and toss it in the dryer with your clothes it will stop the static. I will try this and stop buying dryer sheets!


    1. Post author
      robin

      Interesting tip, Karen! :)

      I’ve found that I have NO static cling since I just started using my dryer on low heat only. So cool.


    1. Post author
      robin

      That’s a great question, Adrienne! I’ve heard conflicting information on this. Some day the high heat is more efficient because it’s less time, others say low heat is more efficient. I haven’t noticed a change in our electric bill since we started using only low heat about seven months ago.

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  11. Jennifer

    I made the switch to Soap Nuts instead of laundry detergent and found two big things: Soap nuts cost less than the cheapest detergent in the supermarket, and they require no fabric softener to keep clothes soft and static-free. Amazing little guys.


    1. Post author
      robin

      When my current homemade detergent runs out I am planning on trying soap nuts because I’ve heard such great things about them. Thanks, Jennifer!

    2. Melissa N

      Jennifer,

      Where do you get the soap nuts?

      Robin,
      Thank you for sharing this. I line dry 9 months out of the year, but in the winter I use my dryer. Great to see some alternatives.

      Melissa

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  14. Theresa Lim

    I love soap nuts, they really leave the laundry fresh smelling. I have been using fabric softner but when the bottle is finished I will be trying it without. I line dry all my clothes so the dryer hints won’t work for me.

  15. Karen

    Hi! I have also been using soap nuts for about a month and love them! I mostly use vinegar with essential oil as a fabric softener! Love your blog and all the ideas!!!

  16. Vanessa Pronge

    I use Norwex Dryer Balls, they save you between 40 to 50% in drying time. They soften and dry with out static cling and they last for years! These are a safe none toxic chemical free alternative. Please find your self a consultant near you at Norwex.com

  17. Trista

    I hang dry most of my clothes on a fold-up rack, then toss them in the dryer on low when dry or almost dry to fluff and soften them up. It works great.

  18. Jerica

    Hi!

    In doing my recent post on no longer having a dryer I stumbled upon your lovely sight! I’m so grateful for the many folks out there who are dedicating time and energy to educate those who want to know on what is dangerous, why it’s dangerous and what better choices and options they do have!

    I’m glad I found ya! Keep up the good work :)

  19. Anna K

    Do you find that your clothes shrink at all when using your homemade laundry soap (or soap nuts for anyone who’s tried those)? I’ve recently made a switch to a more natural laundry detergent (one step at a time over here:)) and found that although I wash only with cold water and drying-rack dry most of my clothes, they’ve been shrinking significantly more than with Tide which I was previously using. Do you think adding some form of a DIY fabric softener would help? I don’t use any currently and never have. Thanks!!


    1. Post author
      robin

      I’ve never heard of that. I haven’t had that problem with soap nuts or my homemade laundry detergent recipe. Not sure what would be causing them to shrink.

  20. Kathryn

    I recently read this hint for static cling. I have not had the opportunity to try it yet. I’m afraid if I wait until I do to tell you about it that I’ll forget (so much going on in my life right now). So for what it is worth, here it is:

    Pin two safety pins on two different items in the dryer and everything will come out static free! Below is a link to the source:

    http://www.simpleorganizedliving.com/2011/02/14/a-laundry-experiment-10-ways-to-reduce-static-cling/

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  22. cindy

    I basically only use a half capful of fabric softner in a spray bottle of water as a wrinkle reducer. What could you use naturally that will do the same. And yes i know taking the t-shirts out of the dryer on time would help but if we could do that (and not be lazy) we wouldn’t need the wrinkle spray. I don’t have an outdoor line at the moment so that’s out too. Still working on getting a new line. What would help reduce wrinkles when spritzed on clothes and pulled out??? Anything that saves me more money since we started making our own, not buying it with regular fabric softner is always a plus. I really don’t care if i have fabric softner anyway but we do use the spray.


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      I have found that drying on low heat helps with both static and wrinkles. And if you forget to take your clothes out in time, throw in a wet sock and run the dryer for another 10 minutes.

  23. Sherri

    I make a homemade version of Purex crystals using Epsom salts and essential oils. So far, I really like it, and it smells so good.
    4 c Epsom salt
    20 – 25 drops essential oil
    (I used lavender, rosemary and peppermint)
    Simply add the oils to the salt and mix it up.
    Store it in a container that seals.
    I use approximately 1 TBSP per load

  24. Megan

    I already line dry (except for towels, they’re SO scratchy if you’re not babysitting them on the line, shaking them out- I just use the dryer w/ dryer balls for the towels), but I have been trying to figure out what to put in my washer that would made the clothes a little softer. Maybe vinegar? I just don’t want to sacrifice the clean smell.

    1. Megan

      And I have a front loader- so putting baking soda into the tub and letting it dissolve won’t happen- I wonder if I mixed it in with my detergent, possibly?

  25. Theresa

    I put 1/2 c vinegar in the rinse as a softener and to deal with static cling. I also started making my own laundry soap… Mix 1 c borax, 1 c washing soda, 1 c oxiclean, 1 bar Fels-Naptha grated (use 1 T per load)… Cloth diaper safe version, just leave out the Fels-Naptha. We no longer have eczema issues!

  26. Amy McCormick

    A great alternative to fabric softener that works amazing:

    -1 bottle of distilled white vinegar
    -30 drops of lavender EO oil
    - 1/2 tsp of Rubbing alcohol for emulsion

    You can either put it in your fabric softener department or use a downy ball and add it in there.
    The great part about it is use 1 TBSP for small loads and 2 TBSP for larger loads.

    I have been using this for years!!! And I have never had issues with static, and I get the wonderful smell of lavender that lasts for a long time!
    Hope it helps with some ppl asking for an alternative for a fabric softener

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