Fabric softeners may make your clothes soft and towels fluffy but they are actually bad for fabrics and contain toxins. Fabric softeners work by leaving a thin, lubricating film on the clothes. (This is enough to make me go eek! No!) This is not good for athletic fabrics designed to wick moisture away, and they actually typically have instructions on the tag to not use fabric softeners. (That’s what one of those symbols mean.) Over time, the waxy coating from the fabric softener builds up preventing moisture from being wicked away. The coating can also build up on towels making them less absorbent.
In the same vein, the coating can trap in stains and discolorations. This coating can also make it difficult for water to permeate the fabric to properly clean the clothes and remove stains and odors. Have you ever had a greasy/bluish looking stain on your clothing after the wash that wasn’t there before? That’s because the fabric softener itself can sometimes leave behind discolorations and stains.
Because the fabric softener builds up on the clothes, that means it’s in contact with your skin, probably 24/7 if you use it on all your clothes.
What’s it made of?
Many ingredients, especially ingredients in the fragrance used, are not disclosed, especially fragrance ingredients. Looking on EWG.com, there are many common ingredients that are endocrine disruptors, cause organ toxicity, are skin and respiratory irritants.
“Usually, fabric softeners and dryer sheets contain cationic surfactants of the quaternary ammonium type (also called QACs), which is known to exacerbate asthma symptoms and irritate skin, and has been linked to cancer and reproductive issues. This is what makes clothes feel smoother. But the chemical can build up on fabrics over time, potentially limiting a material’s breathability. It can also inhibit flame-retardancy in kids’ clothes.
QACs biodegrade easily in the air, they don’t biodegrade very well in water. They are actually not completely removed during wastewater treatment. And of course, that’s a problem, because our washing machine water goes straight into the oceans.
Check labels and product websites for these ingredients and avoid them all: distearyldimonium chloride, diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride, variants of hydroxyethyl methyl ammonium methyl sulfate or the vague terms “biodegradable fabric softening agents” and “cationic surfactant.” Also avoid fragrance which can be a skin irritant and contain phthalates.”
One researcher conducted an experiment using new organic cotton towels, and clean washers and dryers, to sample laundry emissions after using scented fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
What was coming out of those vents? (And into people’s lungs?) Seven hazardous air pollutants and 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of these, including acetaldehyde and benzene, are not safe at any level. (These are also pollutants that commonly spew out of vehicle tailpipes.)
Many dryer sheets contain chemicals that react with the air to create formaldehyde, a probable human carcinogen.
What are alternatives?
I use vinegar in place of fabric softener when needed. For stinky towels or clothes, I also add some baking soda.
For the dryer, I use wool dryer balls. They help separate clothing in the dryer preventing static and helps reduce drying time. I only dry towels, bedding and basic cottons (socks, underwear and t shirts). If you struggle with static, make sure you are not over drying or using too high of heat. If it’s still an issue, attach a safety pin to a dryer ball. The safety pin will transfer the static to the dryer drum and away from clothes.
I hang dry athletic clothes, jeans, nicer clothes and T-shirts with a heat press I want to keep looking nice. This keeps clothes looking newer longer, reduces fade from the heat, and pilling from tumble drying. It also prevents missed stains from being set in, and saves on energy costs. I have this clothes drying rack with this wall fan to help dry them quicker.