If you don’t want to smell like a dirty hippie, and you also want to avoid toxic chemicals, powerful perfumes and other irritants, you’ll be left with few choices when shopping for laundry softening products at the store. It doesn’t matter if you opt for fragrant liquids that pour into your washing machine, or disposable sheets that you place into your dryer because both may be loaded with ingredients that are dangerous. You may not have skin that’s sensitive enough to feel the effects right away, but the long term consequences should be considered by anyone that regularly exposes body parts to the questionable chemicals and other ingredients used to make these products. Over time, they will damage fabrics for sure, and there are many studies to suggest that they will also affect your health.
Few of us have time to hang clothes outside, and the hot air from traditional dryers makes clothing stiff, and causes it to smell cooked due to the high heat involved. For this reason, most of us use fabric softeners to make clothing feel nice and smell fresh when it’s done drying. Mainstream products found at the grocery store are easy to use, but they are pretty expensive, and they come with possible side effects and draw backs. They will reduce static, soften material and add a powerful scent, but at what cost?
Most fabric softening products are designed to remain on the material for a long period, to slowly release over time. This is what gives that all day fresh smell that many people love, but it also means that you will absorb it into your skin, and breathe it into your lungs for the same length of time. If the ingredients are toxic or carcinogenic, then exposure at this level is guaranteed to cause problems, and if the ingredients make your sensitive skin itch or break out in a rash, the effects will be immediate.
When you choose a more natural solution, you can end up with results that are the same or better, and you won’t have to worry about any short term irritation, or long term danger. You can have fresh smelling laundry that also smells like your favorite fragrance, and you can actually spend less money, and use less effort to get results that are arguably better.
Traditional Fabric Softener Ingredients
Originally invented to improve the feel of clothing, make it less static-y, and to combat the stink of heated synthetic fabrics, liquid softeners and dryer sheets contain powerful fragrances in order to cover up the awful smell of the stuff used to make them work. In most cases you’ll find some sort of warning on the package, but what you won’t find, is a full list of the ingredients used to make the product. Although not every option will contain the entire list below, some or all of the dangerous substances listed, may be included in your off-the-shelf laundry product.
- A-Terpineol – Linked to respiratory and central nervous system problems. It irritates the mucus membranes when you breathe it in, and in extreme cases, prolonged inhalation can lead to pneumonia or fatal edema. Over time, and with long term exposure, damaging effects to the brain may cause dizziness, headaches or memory loss, and down the road, it can lead to multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, seizure or stroke.
- Benzyl Acetate – A possible irritant when in vapor form, this stuff can sting eyes, or inflame lungs, and it’s also linked to cases of pancreatic cancer.
- Benzyl Alcohol – Not as fun as regular alcohol, this possible ingredient can make you feel sick or dizzy, and breathing it in will often lead to upper respiratory irritation.
- Camphor – Considered hazardous waste by the EPA, this stuff is pretty dangerous, and also easily absorbed by your skin. If you’re into muscle twitches and convulsions, you’ll enjoy the effects of this ingredient, but otherwise it should be avoided. It may also cause irritation to your ears, nose and throat, or dizziness and confusion.
- Chloroform –: Widely used as anesthesia back in the day, it is a known carcinogenic neurotoxin, and it’s also a hazardous waste according to the EPA. When heated, it’s effects can be amplified, and it’s known to cause loss of consciousness, headache or vomiting, and it can even aggravate heart disorders.
- Ethanol – Also on the hazardous waste list, this one can also cause a wide range of central nervous system disorders.
- Ethyl Acetate – This narcotic is also considered waste, and it’s often irritating to the eyes, throat and lungs. It may also cause liver damage, headaches or loss of consciousness.
- Limonene – This is a known carcinogen, so exposure may lead to cancer, but it can also cause irritation when you let it touch your eyes or skin.
- Linalool – This dangerous substance has been shown to cause death when tested on animals, and it often causes Central Nervous System disorders, and respiratory problems in humans.
- Pentane – Proven to be harmful if inhaled, this chemical should be avoided, but it may be included.
- Phthalates – Included in order to make that artificially fresh scent last longer, this dangerous ingredient has been widely tested and has proven links to breast cancer and reproductive disorders.
- Tallow – It’s not really as dangerous as the rest of the list above, but for vegans, it’s also an ingredient that should be avoided because it’s made from animal fat. It’s often used to make the coating for dryer sheets.
The Chemical-Free, Natural Alternative
It’s actually quite easy to avoid the possible dangers of using regular fabric softeners, and you don’t even need to make any compromises. You can have soft, wrinkle-free clothing that smells great without covering it in toxic substances, or drowning it in irritating perfumes. Wool dryer balls offer a simple and effective way to naturally scent and soften fabrics without any increase in effort or cost. When you switch, you may even reduce the time it takes to dry a load, lower your energy consumption, and cut your long-term cost, while avoiding last minute stops at the store because you ran out. The balls work great alone by just tossing them in your dryer, but when combined with an essential oil or two, the pair can make the perfect all natural laundry softening solution, and because they provide at least 1000 uses, it will be a long time before replacement is necessary.
What Are They?
Made from 100% felted wool, they’re large dense balls that are intended to tumble in the dryer with your clothing. They’re hypoallergenic, and constructed from an organic, renewable material that’s incredibly durable. When you use them, the natural action provides a safe and effective fabric softening system that’s long lasting and low maintenance. Because they also have the ability to carry fragrance, you can add a few drops of oil to the surface, and the scent will infuse into your laundry as it dries.
How Do They Work
For small loads, you only need three, but for larger loads, you’ll want to use six for the best results. When you toss them into your dryer, they’ll mix with the jeans, shirts and socks to lift and separate each piece, while gently massaging out the wrinkles and softening the material. The gentle action will improve airflow so everything dries faster, and the wool material will reduce static. When you pair with a scented oil, the fragrance of your choice will transfer to your clothing as it’s heated. Over time, pilling will occur on the surface of each ball, and this will improve performance as the massaging action increases.
How to Use Them
The process is easy, and once you switch, expensive refills and running out will be a thing of the past.
- To add fragrance oil, use 3-5 drops on one or more balls. Effects should last for several loads.
- To use the balls, simply place into your dryer, then fill with wet laundry like normal.
- 3 balls is sufficient for smaller loads, but for larger amounts, as many as six may balls will improve results.
- When clothing and wool balls are in place, turn your dryer on, and set for slightly less time than you usually do. Average drying times have been shown to decrease by as much as 40%.
- Adjust time as needed, and according to the performance of your appliance, and the type of laundry you are drying.
- When finished, remove clothing, but leave the balls in place.
- Each set will last for at least one thousands loads.
If you don’t really need to clean your clothes, but you do want to refresh the look and make it smell yummy, you can use steam fresh dryer towel to be ready to go in about ten minutes. This towel goes into your dryer also, but you don’t use it with wet clothing, or a full load. It’s designed to quickly improve the look and smell of a small amount of laundry that isn’t all the way dirty. You can use it alone to neutralize funky odors, eliminate wrinkles, and reduce lint while also removing light dirt and debris, but you can also combine with essential oils to infuse fragrance at the same time. It won’t take the place of traditional fabric softeners like the wool balls do, but it will give you a way to make your clothes smell naturally fresh in a very short amount of time.
How To Do It
When you get the large towel damp, and place it over some clothes in your dryer, the specialized material will steam out wrinkles as it massages the fabric to remove grime, and refresh the look. In just a few minutes, you can make worn clothes look freshly washed, or stinky clothes smell clean. Easily wear your favorite outfit at the last minute, or fix an accident without taking half the day.
- To use, get the towel wet with water, then wring out until only damp.
- If adding fragrance oil, place 3-5 drops on the surface of the towel.
- Put a few articles of clothing into your dryer, then spread the towel over the top.
- Set your dryer for ten minutes at a high heat setting.
- Remove laundry and wear right away.
Why not? When you can save money, reduce cost, and spend less time doing laundry while also improving your health, it’s difficult to understand why anyone would avoid switching. Your laundry will feel just as soft, and you won’t have to worry about wrinkles or static, and on top of all that, you can make it smell like any fragrance you prefer by using a safe and natural oil. Is it really worth risking cancer or permanent brain damage to stick with the mountain fresh scent you’re used to? Of course not. Making the natural switch is easy, and you don’t have to make a large investment, or do anything special, really. Many people affected by the toxic ingredients in dryer sheets and liquid softeners don’t even know where the harm is coming from, but if you have skin problems, memory issues, dizziness or a whole list of other problems, eliminating these products is one of the easiest ways to improve your condition, and live a more natural life.
Natural Alternatives You Already Have
If you don’t want to purchase something new, but you’re sick of the exposure, you may have stuff already that you can use to whip up a home remedy. The list below provides other ways to eliminate dangerous fabric softeners by using stuff you have at home right now.
- Baking Soda – When your washing machine fills with water, and before you add your laundry, pour in 1/2 cup of baking soda and let it dissolve. It will act as a softener for the water, and will improve the feel of the fabric after it’s washed.
- Homemade Dryer Balls – If you have some balls of pure wool yarn lying around, you could make your own dryer balls by following easily found instructions online. They won’t work as well as ours, or last as long, but it can be a fun project that actually works, and it’s a good way to use up resources on hand.
- Vinegar – Adding some vinegar to the water as your machine fills can soften water similar to what baking soda does, but you can also make a spray that you can apply to clothing after it’s washed, but before you start the dryer. To mix the spray, add 1 1/2 tsp of eucalyptus oil to 1 cup of vinegar and add to a spray bottle.
- Eliminate Synthetics – When heated, synthetic fabrics are notorious static generators, so if you avoid them, or dry them separately, you’ll find that you don’t have a static problem at all.
- Reduce Temperature – Over drying is a main reason for static cling in clothing, and it can make clothes wear out quicker, and feel crisp when dried. If you reduce temps the load will take longer to finish, but your clothing will feel softer without the need for any chemical coated sheets.