Study Finds Fabric Softener Ingredients Linked To Cancer And CNS Disorders

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Study Finds Fabric Softener Ingredients Linked To Cancer And CNS Disorders
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Do you enjoy the fresh, intoxicating scent of clean clothes? Of course, you do! Unfortunately, it turns out this ‘intoxicating’ smell of fabric softener is actually toxic – talk about poetic justice.

According to a study [1] published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, commercial fabric softeners gradually emit a cocktail of toxic chemicals that can cause airflow limitation, pulmonary irritation, and sensory irritation. Some of the ingredients increase the risk of cancer, central nervous system (CNS) disorders, and even liver damage.

Rather than expose your family and infants to toxic chemicals, you can make safer alternatives using natural ingredients in the comfort of your home. Read on for more information on why and how you can enjoy the scent of fresh clothes without polluting the air.

Sneaking Toxins Right Under Our Noses

Did you know that scented consumer goods such as fabric softeners can emit over 100 volatile compounds [2], with some of them being classified as hazardous or toxic? To make matters worse, these chemicals can form secondary pollutants when they react with ambient air. Below is a list of some of the toxic chemical ingredients in dryer sheets and fabric softeners:

1. Pentane: Inhalation of pentane can lead to loss of consciousness, respiratory tract irritation, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, and headaches.

2. Linalool: This is a narcotic that is associated with respiratory disturbances and CNS disorders.

3. Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list associated with kidney damage, liver damage, and anemia with leukocytosis.

4. Camphor: This compound is listed by the EPA as a hazardous waste that can be fatal when inhaled. It has carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and anesthetic properties.

5. Alpha Terpineol: Irritates mucous membranes and can cause pneumonitis, CNS disorders, and ataxia.

6. Benzyl Alcohol: A respiratory irritant that can cause respiratory failure in extreme cases. It also causes dizziness, depression, and low blood pressure.

7. Benzyl Acetate: A carcinogenic compound that can cause systemic effects when inhaled.

A common argument by proponents of fabric softeners is that the exposure to harmful chemical ingredients is negligible with minimal health repercussions. On the contrary, fabric softener is a prime example of a dangerous product that hides in plain sight, masked as safe and convenient.

Safer Natural Alternatives – DIY Fabric Softeners?

The image of sweetness, freshness, and comfort portrayed by commercial fabric softeners could not be further from the truth – the scent comes at a cost. If you’re not prepared to risk your health, there are natural DIY options that can serve the purpose. Making fabric softener at home is actually cost effective and easier than most people think. Here are a few suggestions if you decide to forego commercial fabric softeners:

• Adding baking soda to the washing water.

• Adding white vinegar and a few drops of a favorite essential oil into the wash.

• Tossing aluminum balls (crumpled aluminum foil) into the dryer to help with static.


[1] Anderson, R. C., & Anderson, J. H. (2000). Respiratory toxicity of fabric softener emissions. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part A, 60(2), 121-136.

[2] Potera, C. (2011). Indoor air quality: scented products emit a bouquet of VOCs.

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