Safe Solution for Fabric Softeners

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February 01, 2017 | 64,366 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Commercial fabric softeners contain numerous toxic chemicals “readily absorbed” into your skin and lungs, causing numerous reproductive and developmental problem
  • Most of our exposure to hazardous pollutants occurs indoors. Fabric softeners are one source of pollutants that can cause skin and respiratory problems
  • You can make your own far healthier liquid fabric softener using such ingredients as Epsom salts, vinegar and baking soda, or create dryer balls from 100 percent wool fabric scraps, yarn and essential oils

By Dr. Mercola

Most people do their cleaning with as little muss and fuss as possible, but in recent years it's begun to enter the mainstream consciousness that the "easy" way may also be the toxic way.

Incredibly damaging chemical mixtures make up the active ingredients in a staggering number of products many people use on a daily basis. Fabric softener can be included in this category.

Body creams, scented candles, air fresheners and bathroom cleaners are just a few additional items most Americans throw into their shopping carts as a matter of course, rarely thinking for a moment that it might as well be rat poison they're sprinkling onto their carpets, spraying onto their upholstery and massaging into their skin.

Fabric softeners may top the list as one of the worst offenders, and may be one of the products environmentalists had in mind when the term "indoor pollutants" was coined. Alarmingly, many of these toxins are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).1

Fabric softeners were designed to free your clothes of both wrinkles and static cling, and give them a fresh fragrance. But what amalgamation of ingredients have the teams of scientists concocted in laboratories to bring you these indulgences? And how toxic are they?

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), fabric softeners contain chemicals and fragrances that can cause skin and respiratory irritations.2 The fragrances alone can come from hundreds of different compounds,3 many of them potentially toxic.

Fabric Softeners Contain Toxicities Such as Phthalates

Anne Steinemann, Ph.D., professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia and a world expert on environmental pollutants and their health effects,4 told New Scientist, "Most of our exposure to hazardous pollutants occurs indoors, and a primary source of these pollutants is our everyday consumer products."5

According to New Scientist,6 there are no legal requirements that all the ingredients, including potential toxins, be listed for most of the products we use every day. While the compounds they contain may have been tested individually for toxicity, scientists admit it's hard to say how dangerous they might become when some are mixed.

Conventional fabric softeners work two ways: One is a liquid you pour into the rinse cycle. The other is a sheet you throw in the dryer with your clothes to get the job done.

Both contain compounds that are especially harmful for children. Toxic ingredients can enter your body (and theirs) through the skin and cause serious damage. One of the worst is phthalates, added to emit a fresh (fake) fragrance, about which a University of Illinois Cancer Center article contained the following quote:

"Phthalates … [are a] synthetic preservative that's carcinogenic and linked to adverse reproductive effects (decreased sperm counts, early breast development, and birth defects) and liver and kidney damage."7

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)8 notes that very few studies have examined the health effects of phthalates on humans, but in lab animals they're linked to numerous reproductive health and developmental problems, including:

Early onset of puberty

Altered male reproductive tract development

Lower testosterone levels in young males

Altered hormone system function

Reproductive and genital defects

Lower sperm count in young males

Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that most Americans' blood contains phthalates, especially women, who are most apt to handle cleaning and laundry duties. Further, the "breadth of the danger is not yet understood."9

Conventional Fabric Softeners and Other Hazardous Pollutants

According to Steinemann, when limonene and other terpenes become airborne, they can react with ozone to generate elements such as formaldehyde, a carcinogenic substance. Many of these substances can actually alter the hormone balance in animals.10 According to Organic Authority:

"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."11

The Worst, Most Toxic Chemical Offenders

Chemicals used in fabric softener-manufacturing operations cover your clothes with a fine layer of (toxic) lubrication, which can indeed soften fabrics and render them free of static cling. Then, to mask the smell of the chemicals, they add fragrances.

Between the chemicals and the perfumes if only one toxic ingredient were used, it would be reason enough to opt for natural ingredients, especially for something used as often as fabric softener.

Something else to think of, though, is that these chemical substances are not only on your (and your kids') clothes, but on your sheets and pillowcases, towels and washcloths and cloth napkins.

The problem here is that, while a product's ingredient label may list only a handful of ingredients, there may be many others in the product that you don't know about because manufacturers don't have to list them — with perfume components at the top of the no-list offenders.

To help narrow down commercial fabric softener choices, the EWG lists some "greener" products on its website. The safer softeners come in both sheets and liquids.12

Fresh and Healthy Alternatives to Toxic Fabric Softeners

If you're in the market for a super cheap fabric softener you can make yourself without all the noxious ingredients, very easy alternatives can be made at home using ingredients found in nearly any supermarket.

Here's a liquid fabric softener recipe from Everyday Roots13 using items you may already have in your cupboard. Before washing (there's no need to wait for the rinse cycle), toss one-half cup of this solution into the water for a much healthier alternative to chemical-laced commercial varieties.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Using a large bowl or pan, mix the essential oils with the Epsom salts first, then stir in the baking soda.
  2. Pour the mixture into a container with a tight-fitting lid.

One perk to this easy recipe is that you can always switch out the essential oils. It's also easy to double, and you can use more or less essential oil for a stronger or weaker scent. A few more quick-and-easy fabric-softening ideas include:

Dryer Balls: Easy to Make and All-Natural

Dryer balls are another easy, inexpensive and 100 percent-natural dryer sheet replacement, and they're great for eliminating static cling, usually caused by synthetic fabrics. Best of all, homemade dryer balls can last for years. Using a few drops of essential oils such as wild orange, peppermint, lavender or a combination in each ball adds an all-natural fragrance. Besides being free of harmful chemicals, Paleo Mama15 says they can:

Cut your drying time in half

Be used safely on cloth diapers

Save money on your energy bill

Make you clothes fluffy

Reduce static cling

Be used over and over again

Instructions for making dryer balls are easy. Make several while you're at it, following these simple steps. Remember to add the essential oils at the end. You need:

Before using them with clothes in your dryer, add a few drops of essential oil to each ball, toss it in with the wet clothes and use it multiple times. If you'd rather purchase dryer balls, look for options made from organic wool. Note: You can get a large ball of wool yarn at your local craft store and save money by getting your sweaters at your local thrift store.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 EPA February 2015
  • 2 EWG 2017
  • 3 Proctor & Gamble Perfume and Scents List 2017
  • 4 The Melbourne Newsroom March 4, 2015
  • 5, 6 New Scientist January 11, 2017
  • 7 University of Illinois Cancer Center
  • 8 NIEHS Phylates the everywhere chemical
  • 9 CDC December 23, 2016
  • 10 Healthy Holistic Living 2016
  • 11 Organic Authority February 13, 2011
  • 12 EWG 2017
  • 13 Everyday Roots 2014
  • 14 doTERRA 2017
  • 15 Paleo Mama January 8, 2015