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Is Fabric Softener Toxic? (Hell Yes It Is!)

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Many moons ago, we were all convinced by the consumer gods that in addition to washing and drying our clothes, we needed to “soften” them too with a newfangled product: fabric softener. Not only would they keep our clothes from being hard and crunchy, but they would also save us from the mortifying circumstance of static cling.

Today, almost everyone in America adds a chemical fabric softener to their laundry routine, pouring a capful into the washer or tossing a sheet in the dryer.

Except for me. Several years ago I developed a rash over nearly my entire body and was having such severe breathing trouble that I had to go to the emergency room. After a thousand tests and consultations, the doctor finally got to the bottom of my dilemma: fabric softener.

I switched to a “natural” fabric softener – plastic dryer balls – and my rash and breathing problems went away. They only returned a year later when I moved in with a roommate who did not understand the severity of my condition and thoughtlessly used fabric softener in our shared dryer. After another scary trip to the ER for troubled breathing, she finally understood, as I hope you will, that fabric softener is not only an unnecessary expense in your life, but its chemical content may be hurting your body!

What is fabric softener? It is a combination of chemicals that coat the surface of textiles with a thin layer of lubrication. This makes the clothes feel smoother and helps them to resist the buildup of static electricity. Early fabric softeners were made from a combination of soap and olive oil or other natural oils.

However, today’s fabric softeners are made of noxious chemicals combined with a massive amount of fragrance that masks their nose-curling odors. Fabric softener actually makes material less absorbent, which is not a good thing for your bath towels anyway.

Here is a list of just SOME of the toxic chemicals found in commercial fabric softeners:

  • Alpha Terpineol: can cause central nervous damage and respiratory problems
  • Camphor: causes central nervous disorders, is easily absorbed through skin
  • Chloroform: a carcinogenic neurotoxin preferred by Ted Bundy
  • Benzyl Acetate: linked to pancreatic cancer
  • Benyl Alcohol: respiratory tract irritant
  • Ethanol: on the EPA’s “hazardous waste” list, can cause central nervous system disorders
  • Ethyl Acetate: a narcotic on the EPA’s “hazardous waste” list
  • Limonene: a known carcinogen that irritates eyes and skin
  • Linalool: causes central nervous system disorders and depresses heart activity
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From the Organic Authority Files

Using a liquid fabric softener? You are pouring these toxic chemicals into the ocean every time you use it. Even worse than liquid fabric softeners are dryer sheets, whose chemicals are heated and then shot into the air for you to breathe into your lungs. That “fresh-from-the-dryer” smell that fabric softeners impart to your clean load of laundry? Don’t breathe it in, if you like your lungs to function. That super floral smell is masking a seriously unhealthy chemical stench.

The bottom line? You don’t need fabric softener. Why use a product that has been linked to various forms of cancer, brain damage and respiratory distress?

Buy a $5 set of dryer balls, switch to a soy-based softener, or add a quarter-cup of baking soda or vinegar to your wash cycle and you will never have to use chemical fabric softener again.

Interested in other ways to keep a green laundry room? The Laundry Room's got some tips. 


image: Mikko Luntiala

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