This 2011 scientific study done by the University of Washington sheds some light on the subject. Researchers used the top-selling scented fabric softener and dryer sheets and then analyzed the air from the dryer vents and found 7 hazardous air pollutants. "Of those, two chemicals -- acetaldehyde and benzene -- are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogens." Those chemicals coat the clothing to make them feel softer. Then they rub against your skin every day, all day, unless you walk around au naturel. And you have to assume the chemicals are absorbed by your skin. Isn't that how nicotine and birth control patches work?
Here are some alternatives to fabric softener and dryer sheets, from my least favorite to my favorite:
- Air dry. Kind of a pain, especially when you don't have a yard.
- Avoid synthetic fabrics. These are the ones that cause static. I'm sorry, but if I see a cute shirt I can't not buy it just because it's made of polyester.
- Dryer Balls. Dryer balls are supposed to make clothing softer but I read user reviews of people complaining about the ball putting holes in clothing, being too loud, and not helping with static cling.
- Make homemade fabric softener. I tried this recipe. It was annoying trying to pour this into a Downy ball because it was so goopy. And then you have to worry about what chemicals are in the conditioner. I ended up throwing it out and switching to plain white vinegar which I think works better.
- Throw a cloth soaked in vinegar into the dryer. This works well for static cling but my husband and his super nose could still smell vinegar even after the clothes were dry. (Don't use this on a load washed with bleach. Vinegar and bleach can form a toxic gas when combined.)
- Throw a ball of aluminum foil into the dryer. This method works great for static cling.
- Spray some vinegar onto the wet clothes before you start the dryer. I just used my homemade floor cleaner since it's already in a spray bottle. This helps with static cling. My husband can't smell a trace of vinegar after they are dry.
- Use vinegar in the rinse cycle. This is the best way I've found to soften clothes and reduce static. I put about 1/2 cup of white vinegar in a Downy ball. A Downy ball is a cool invention that releases the fabric softener during the rinse cycle to save people like me from hovering over the washer waiting for the rinse cycle to begin. The vinegar helps cut the soap residue. Without it, my clothes come out quite crunchy because we have very hard water. My husband has never complained about smelling vinegar after the clothes are dry. They just smell clean.
**Update 5/17/13** I stopped using vinegar after a few of my shirts seemed to be getting holes in them prematurely. Now I use nothing. No vinegar, no homemade fabric softener, no nothing. My clothes are soft enough, especially when I wash with soap nuts, and I don't have much trouble with static cling.
Vinegar is cheaper than the so-called "natural" fabric softener/dryer sheets. I say "so-called" because they are still full of chemicals I don't want on my clothing.
$0.15/load - Ecover Fabric Softener ($4.69/32 oz. at Sprouts)
$0.11/load - Method Dryer Cloths ($4.39/40 cloths on Amazon)
$0.08/load - 1/2 cup Vinegar ($3.66/1.32 gallons at Costco)
If you just aren't ready to part ways with fabric softener or dryer sheets yet, at least get the kind that is scent-free. I say good riddance, Bounce!
Have you tried any of these alternatives? Do you know any other fabric softener alternatives not on the list?
This post is linked to: Simply Natural Saturdays, Simple Steps to Healthy Living, Homemaker on a Dime, Morristribe's Homesteader Blog Carnival, Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop, Frugal Friday, Simple Lives Thursday, Raising Homemakers Link-Up, Tiny Tip Tuesday, Anti-Procrastination Tuesday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Little House in the Suburbs, Strut Your Stuff Saturday, Homestead Barn Hop, Monday Mania