Fabric softener ads often portray an image of comfort, freshness and sweetness. Yet most fabric softeners contain a grim list of known toxins which can enter your body through the skin and by inhalation, causing a wide range of health problems, particularly for young children.
Some of the harmful ingredients commonly found in liquid or sheet fabric softeners include:
• Chloroform: This substance was used as an anesthesia in the 1800s up through the early 1900s when its potential for causing fatal cardiac arrhythmia was discovered. A carcinogenic neurotoxin, it is on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. Inhaling its vapors may cause loss of consciousness, nausea, headache, vomiting, and/or dizziness, drowsiness. It may aggravate disorders of the heart, kidneys or liver. Its effects worsen when subjected to heat.
• A-Terpineol: Causes Central Nervous System (CNS) disorders, meaning problems relating to the brain and spine such as Alzheimer’s disease, ADD, dementia, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, seizures, strokes, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Early symptoms of CNS problems include aphasia, blurred vision, disorientation, dizziness, headaches, hunger, memory loss, numbness in face, pain in neck and spine. A-Terpineol also irritates the mucous membranes and, if aspirated into the lungs, can cause respiratory depression, pneumonia or fatal edema.
• Benzyl Alcohol: This upper respiratory tract irritant can cause central nervous system (CNS) disorders, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and dramatic drops in blood pressure.
• Benzyl Acetate: This substances has been linked to pancreatic cancer. Its vapors can be irritating to eyes and respiratory passages and it can also be absorbed through the skin.
• Ethanol: Another fabric softener ingredient which is on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list and linked to CNS disorders.
• Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled.
• Ethyl Acetate: This substance, which is on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list, can be irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract. It may also cause severe headaches and loss of consciousness, as well as damage to the liver and kidneys.
• Camphor: Another substance on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. It is easily absorbed through body tissue, causing irritation of eyes, nose and throat. Camphor can also cause dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles and convulsions.
• Linalool: A narcotic known to cause respiratory problems and CNS disorders. In animal testing, exposure to linalool has resulted in death.
• Phthalates: Used in scented products to help the scent last longer, phthlates have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive system problems.
• Limonene: This known carcinogen can cause irritation to eyes and skin.
• Also, if you follow a vegan lifestyle, you should be aware that many fabric softener sheets are made using tallow, a form of animal fat.
Manufacturers are aware that the products contain toxic chemicals. The packaging on many brands include a warning that the product should not be used on children’s sleepwear. Since some of the same brands also have large images of children and toys, however, consumers may miss the small print message.
Breathing and wearing poison
If you use fabric softener, these toxic chemicals coat your towels, sheets and clothing so that you absorb toxins through your skin, the largest organ of the body. When you wear chemically “softened” clothes, you inhale these chemicals with every breath. Even if you do not use fabric softener, you can ingest these chemicals through dryer exhaust sending them into the air or simply by working with someone whose clothes have been chemically treated in this way. Fabric softeners are designed to remain in fabric for a long period of time, slowly releasing into the air.
Fabric softeners were invented to hide the unpleasant smells of synthetic fabrics, whose odors tend to become stronger when heated, whether on a sweating, active body or in the dryer. The chemicals in fabric softeners include those meant to eliminate static cling, as well as perfumes to disguise both the other chemicals and the odor of synthetic fabrics.
Fabrics air dried outside on a line do not develop static cling and are more likely to have a natural pleasant smell. If weather or other factors make natural line drying of your clothes an impractical choice, try using more other natural means to eliminate static cling and impart a fresh smell to your laundry.
If possible, install a water softener. You can also eliminate many clothing odors by thoroughly dissolving a cup of baking soda in the water before putting your clothes in the washing machine.
There are several types of dryer ball products on the market. The ones made of rubber may not be the most eco-conscious means of reducing static as these may off-gas. Instead, try the variety made of felted wool. Some natural retailers offer dryer bags, like large tea bags, containing dried lavender. You can also make your own version of these bags by sewing laundry sachets using cotton muslin and filling them with your favorite dried herbs.
In part two of this series, we will look at the listed ingredients and warnings for mainstream fabric softeners, as well as some product lines which are both vegan and environmentally friendly.