For as long as I can remember, one of the luxury items in my family home has been fabric softener. Different bottles of fragranced goodness designed to make my clothes feel nice and soft while also making them smell beautiful. To me, back in the day, the smell of fabric softener on my clothes meant that they had been cleaned properly. My cousins actually use excessive amounts of the stuff because they loved it so much and are obsessed with (we’ll be having a chat about this, don’t worry). Essentially though, we grew up using fabric softener. Our mother’s used it, so of course we would too.
Fast-forward a few years on and you’ve got me reviewing every aspect of my life to see how and what I can do to improve my overall lifestyle and general environmental footprint in the world. It’s obvious that at some point I was going to review my clothes washing habits.
Fabric softeners became popular in the mid-1900’s because the dyes, detergents and dryers of the time were harsh on clothes making them rough and scratchy. However with better technology, higher quality fabrics, and improved formula detergents, fabric softeners are no longer necessary. Yet still very commonly used and most people don’t think twice about it.
What is Fabric Softener?
You can buy fabric softeners in two different forms. Either as a liquid that you use in your washing machine alongside your detergent or as a sheet that you put in your dryer. The sheets are coated with the softener...
The whole purpose of the softener is to reduce the static in your clothes and make them feel softer and less creased. This is achieved by covering the fabric with a thin, lubricating film. “This coating prevents static by making the garments slippery to reduce friction and the softener adds a positive charge to neutralise the negative static charge”. A by-product of this is that it helps to separate the fibres making things like towels fluffier. Additionally they are typically scented and designed so the scent will remain in the fabric. (1)
Why is Fabric Softener bad for your clothes?
So what’s the problem with them then? If there’s no static, my towels are fluffier and my clothes smell great; why should I stop using it? You have to dig a bit deeper to find out more.
There’s a couple of important things to note here:
“There’s evidence that softeners make clothing more flammable“. A study by W.S. Ruzen et al (2012) indicated that fabrics become more flammable after being treated with fabric softener. Click on the link to find out more about the study. That’s scary within itself; wearing something that is more likely to burn.
Alongside this, we know that fabric softeners contain Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, QACs or ‘quats’. These are linked to respiratory and skin irritations. (2) How many times have you heard someone say they are allergic to their washing powder? Are you sure it’s the powder and not the detergent?
In this article by Organic Authority: Is Fabric Softener Toxic? (Hell Yes It Is!) they produced a list of the toxic products that are included in fabric softeners – some of these are carcinogenic.
I was astounded when I read some of the component ingredients in fabric softener, these are just a few:
- 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 (wow, a murderer used this and it’s in my fabric softener).
What really made me think though is this – firstly I am putting this on my skin and there’s nothing out counteracting the fact that I shouldn’t be using them, Secondly, these toxic substances are going into the ocean and impacting marine life, harming them. It feels now like an unnecessary and pointless indulgent especially when there are natural alternatives that offer the same performance as fabric softener without the environmental impact of them.
This includes dryer balls! They are a more cost effective option as well! They are specially designed to allow air to circulate more freely while softening fabrics and serve as an all natural fabric softener and drying accelerator.