Sunday, March 11, 2012

8 Natural Alternatives to Fabric Softener & Dryer Sheets

It seems the most harmful chemicals in dryer sheets and fabric softeners are in the seemingly lovely scent. Companies aren't required to release what chemicals are in a fragrance, so who knows what is hiding behind that so-called "fresh" smell.

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?


FABRIC SOFTENER & DRYER SHEET ALTERNATIVES

Here are some alternatives to fabric softener and dryer sheets, from my least favorite to my favorite:
  1. Air dry. Kind of a pain, especially when you don't have a yard.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. Throw a ball of aluminum foil into the dryer. This method works great for static cling.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 SAVES ME MONEY

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



48 comments:

  1. oh my gosh, that's scary! i am never buying scented dryer sheets again. haha. thanks for sharing all of your research and experiments with us!

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  2. I've stopped using dryer sheets when I had blake because I knew they were bad. I just didn't know how bad and I still don't have a good replacement. I am so glad you figured out about the downy ball as that will solve my problem of making time to go down to my haunted basement. Totally trying this one

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  3. Thanks for doing all of this research for us and sharing it with us! You have such great ideas!

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  4. I hope you're ok that I just pinned 3 of your "homemade" posts. I use Pinterest as an area to keep all good ideas.

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  5. I have been following your cleaning recipes and loving them! I am allergic to fabric sheets- they make my clothes SO SO SO so itchy. I use vinegar to make the clothes smell fresh and clean and kill mildew and any other germs and stuff. I didn't know until recently that it is a softener. I don't feel like it makes the clothes soft enough at times, and sometimes the static is bad. I'll have to try some of these tips!

    Love,
    Paige

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  6. Sarah,
    Sure, pin away! Thanks!

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  7. "Good riddance, Bounce" is right! I stopped buying the stuff a couple years ago, and using vinegar in the rinse and it's amazing how well it works! Also, some baking soda added to the wash cycle works wonders...I also do a homemade "dryer sheet" for when I want to scent the linens/towels by throwing in a wash cloth with a few drops of essential oils into the dryer. They come out smelling amazing! I don't do it for everything though, just when I'm feeling in the scent-y kinda mood :)

    http://naturesnurtureblog.com/2011/06/01/how-to-naturally-freshen-your-laundry/

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  8. Yes! I thought I was the only nut who put white vinegar in my washing machine's fabric softener dispenser. Additional bonus? Keeps mucky soap/softener buildup out of the machine and it's CHEAP! :)

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  9. Don't be afraid of the smell of vinegar as may be it is not that good for smell BUT after sometimes, the smell will disappear and a fresh clean air you can smell of. If your room or kitchen is smelly, boil 1 cup of vinegar, you can add in 1 cup of water with it and boil until it dries !! Vinegar is a very good stuff !!
    1. Add some good vinegar, honey to water as a life saving drink !! Why ? After 20 mins you will feel awake !! No more car accident !!
    2. Dilute it with water if you have itchy skin !!
    3. If bitten by a bee, pour some vinegar on a tissue/ cotton wool and press on the swollen spot and it will stop the pain at once. I tried it on my crying and screaming nephew! He stopped at once when I placed the vinegar cotton wool on the spot !! Prove it worked !!

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    1. Mrs. Lee, Thanks for sharing those very cool vinegar tips. Who knew vinegar could do so much? My cousin says that drinking Bragg's apple cider vinegar helps keep her skin clear.
      http://www.eatsleepcuddle.com/2012/04/crush-of-week-natural-skincare.html

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    2. We put a couple drops of tea tree oil on a cotton ball & gently apply to stings & bites. It works wonders for the pain & the swelling. I'll keep the vinegar tip in mind for the next time & see which works best for us. It's always good to have natural backups for when we might be out of an item.

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    3. Landon, That's good to know that tea tree oil works well for bug bites and stings. Thanks for the tip!

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    4. Tea tree oil is also good to put on poison ivy rashes to relieve the itching. It is also a great antiseptic.

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  10. I was using vinegar as a fabric softner and it worked great....except that it didn't help with static cling on some of my clothes. It was bad enough that I went back to regular fabric softner (I tried the kind made with vinegar and conditioner but I seemed to use a ton of it). Any ideas to help with static cling (in the dryer) when using vinegar in the 'softner compartment' of the washer?

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    1. Hi Nicole, Roll up a ball of aluminum foil and put it in the dryer cycle with your clothes or spray the wet clothes with vinegar before you start the dryer. Good luck!

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    2. I love the foil ball idea, but I'm worried it would scratch the inside of the dryer over time, and cause damage to the clothes fibers.
      Any long-term side effects??

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    3. I did the aluminum foil ball and it worked until the fabric softener residue had been all washed out, then it was static out the wazu again

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  11. I use vinegar as my fabric softener but have had trouble with static cling. Will adding more than one foil ball help with loads of fleece? Static cling is the only downside to doing laundry right now.

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    1. Yea, I think adding more foil balls would help reduce static cling. Good luck!

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    2. I only use the dryer in the winter, or long rainy periods during warmer months. Since the dryer balls are sold in sets of 2, I made 2 foil balls out of the heavy duty foil & they did the trick on static cling for me.

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    3. Can I ask if you reuse the same foil balls or do you have to use new each time? Why do you think foil works?

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    4. Yes, you can reuse the foil balls many times. The metal discharges the static electricity. Someone else said they put safety pins in their dryer loads to get rid of static.

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  12. We don't have a dryer, and I opt out of commercial softeners, but do use white vinegar like this. Don't have the Downy ball, but I add a little to the rinse cycle. I love what it does for our clothes!

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  13. Great post!!! Yes, my husband has a super-nose, too. :) He liked his clothes being scented - so I make my own (the kind with conditioner) and since I have a top-load machine, I have a built in fabric softener dispenser. But, I agree - I would get frustrated messing with the Downy ball. :)

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  14. Hi Kendra. I really am enjoying your blog. Back tonight to read what I didn't get to last night. :)

    Had a question & a tip.

    What sort of detergent to you use? I also have hard well water & tried the homemade versions. They work great, but I notice my whites greyed over time. Just wondering if you'd tried any homemade versions you liked.

    Also, I use lots of vinegar - as the rinse agent in the dishwasher, in place of fabric softener in the rinse cycle & in my homemade cleaning products. I have a great vinegar tip. Watch your local grocery sale papers. During pickling season the gallon size vinegar can often be found buy one get one free. When it is I stock up for the year.

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    1. Hi Landon, Thanks for the tip about when to stock up! For my laundry detergent, I've been using 2 Tablespoons per load of this recipe: 1 c. Borax, 1 c. washing soda, and a bar of grated soap. I've been using it for about five months and haven't noticed graying whites yet. What recipe do you use and how long have you been using it?

      I'm still trying to figure out what soap works best. So far, all the soaps I've tried sometimes leave oily spots on my kids clothes. Also, this homemade detergent hasn't been very good at getting stains out of the kids clothes. I recently figured out I need to add oxygen bleach or hydrogen peroxide to the load when I'm washing their clothes. I've read that hydrogen peroxide can whiten so you might try that. I've noticed that tea tree oil whitens. I wonder if a couple drops in the load would be enough to do anything. Some other ideas I've read are soak your clothes in water and a 1/2 cup of lemon juice for 30 min or overnight before you wash them, dry your clothes in the sun, or blue them with this stuff http://www.mrsstewart.com/. Good luck!

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    2. I love Mrs Stewart bluing. It's old school but really works since the whitest whites have more blue in them than other whites.

      The detergent I have right now is the Duggars liquid recipe in a 5 gallon bucket. (Get a 5 gallon paint stick to stir it when it's time to dip out to fill a jug) It gets diluted in a gallon jug for use. It works well, but as I said our whites greyed over time, so I use store bought on the whites. I really want to stop having to buy detergent though. I keep it in a vinegar jug & made a mark on the side to show how much soap to add. Then top it off with water.

      http://www.duggarfamily.com/content/duggar_recipes/30455/homemade_liquid_laundry_soap_front_or_top_load_machine_best_value

      When I make the powder I use 2 cups grated soap (may be Fels Naptha, Octagon, Kirks Castile, Dr Bronner’s Castile, or Ivory), 1 cup Borax, 1 cup Washing Soda (NOT baking soda). I double or triple (it's been a a while, so I don't remember exactly) the recipe to fill a gallon ice cream tub & keep a little metal coffee scoop (2 Tablespoons) sitting next to the container. I use 1 scoop per load & it seems to last forever! A word of caution though. Don't leave the metal scoop in the mix because one of the ingredients will put little pock marks in the metal.

      The powder is the easiest to make. I've noticed that if the bar of soap is unwrapped for a couple of months it dries out enough to grate finer. Fresh out of the wrapper has too much moisture to get a fine grate without clogging the grater. My favorite is Fels Naptha. I place the unwrapped bar on the wrapper up on a shelf out of sight to let it dry out & it lends a pleasant scent to the room.

      Another tip: Ivory stopped making boxes of soap flakes almost 20 years ago, but the bars can easily be turned into soap flakes in the microwave. Simply cut the bar in 6 or 8 chunks & put it on a glass plate. Microwave at high for a minute or so. The kids will have fun watching it. It's like watching time lapse video of a cloud. You'll know it's done when it stops puffing up. Next, carefully remove the plate from the microwave & allow it to cool. It only takes a few minutes. Break of chunks & place in a gallon bag, then bump it against your hand, the counter, whatever. The soap falls into fine flakes that dissolve almost as soon as they hit the water. When I use Ivory I mix it with the other ingredients outside so as not to inhale any of the soap flakes from shaking the bag. I prefer the scent of the Fels Naptha on the clothing though & use the Ivory when the other isn't available. Since Ivory is a pure soap I tried the same method to powder Dr Bronner's & Kirks Castile & it worked on both bars. I wouldn't dare heat any of the bars from the laundry isle though. The finer the soap particles the less chance you have of getting those oily spots. A friend of mine grates her soap & tosses everything in the food processor to get it mixed well & chop the soap even finer than the grated pieces.

      You can also dissolve your current powder by stirring it in a glass of hot water before adding it to the machine. That will also stop the oily spots.

      Sorry to ramble. I'm fascinated by how easy it is to make what I need at home without paying for the name on the bottles & all the water they add.

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    3. Thanks for the tips Landon! I'm going to put my grated soap in the food processor and see if that helps eliminate oily spots.

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  15. Thanks for your ideas. I don't use the fabric softener sheets. I tried those balls and didn't think they did any good. I just did a load with vinegar to de-funktify some towels, and there were no static issues. I didn't imagine the vinegar contributed that that, but maybe it did.

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  16. Great tips! I have never really used fabric softener, since I'm very sensitive to smells. It's never caused us a problem! I do use white vinegar in the rinse cycle, though.

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  17. I love this list! I knew about the vinegar but who would have thought aluminum foil in a ball! not me! haha.. thanks for this list! We'd love it if you'd share this at our link party - Home is Where the Heart is! http://www.homesteadsimple.com/home-is-where-the-heart-is-link-it-up-wednesdays-1/

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  18. I use a microfiber washcloth with 3 metal safety pins in it in my dryer. It is GREAT to cut the static.

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  19. Thanks for the info. about mixing bleach and vinegar. I didn't know that. I also use vinegar in my rinse cycle. Sometimes I add a little lavender essential oil with my vinegar. I don't notice that it scents my clothes, but it makes the house smell good for a while.

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  20. My husband was super attached to his bounce, and swore he would never give it up unless I came up with something that actually got rid of static. So I started trying everything because after all bounce is the devil. Vinegar in the rinse cycle worked well, but not enough for my husband. Then I discovered the best thing yet- wool dryer balls. My husband is sold and as an added bonus, six balls cuts my drying time in half so I never have to wait for clothes to finish drying to switch the washer out. I use both vinegar in the rinse cycle and the balls in the dryer and I have zero static.

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    1. I'm glad to hear the vinegar and wool dryer balls work so well for you! Thanks for sharing!

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    2. Vinegar in the rinse and felted wool dryer balls work for me too. Don't buy them...make your own!! Much cheaper. Wind wool yarn into tight balls, stuff them into old pantyhose (knotted between each), and wash and dry them several times with your regular laundry to felt them.

      Laundry dries in much less time, and the wool kills the static!

      Has anyone else noticed that towels are much more absorbent? That's a nice perk of dropping the chem softeners!

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    3. Sounds awesome. How long do the felted balls last?

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    4. Where do you get wool dryer balls?

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  21. I love the research you did for this post. I've been using vinegar in the laundry for about a year and I love it!

    I would love it if you would share this at my new Smart Solutions linky party. You can link up here:

    http://theprudentpantryblog.blogspot.com/2012/07/prudent-projects-smart-solutions-linky_13.html

    Have a great day!

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  22. Hi, I used to love using vinegar in the rinse cycle! I loved it with my store detergent to make it rinse clean. But now that I have my home made detergent, it doesn't leave residue on the clothes. I also never have static cling, so I've never been a big dryer sheet user. But my home made detergent isn't scented, and since I don't use fabric softener or anything they don't smell like anything (clean, but nothing pretty).

    Does anyone have any tips for an all natural fabric softener/dryer solution? It doesn't have to soften clothes, it would just be for the smell.

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  23. I use the Lavender flower dryer sachets from Trader Joe's. I don't remember how much they are, maybe $3 or $4? A pack of 4 lasts a while, since you can reuse them over and over until they fall apart, lol. Okay, don't wait quite that long. The package says 3 loads, but I think I use them at *least* 10 times each. I don't get any static usually and the clothes smell awesome.

    If you have a good source for lavender, you could make your own too, just fill a small muslin bag with lavender flowers, but tie it tightly, because they may work their way out in the dryer. It's not really a problem for me having flowers in my laundry, but I guess having lots of dried flowers in the vent is probably not safe.

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  24. I don't bother with the vinegar any more. If you're drying clothes in the dryer, they get soft enough. BUT there is still the occasional problem of static. I tried the aluminum foil balls, but that still cost$ & I had to remember to put the used balls int he recycling bin. The best solution I found is to take hubby's old, holey socks (after cutting off the cuffs for wristbands) and pinning 4-5 large safety pins to them. *Be sure to use good quality pins, like diaper pins and not the cheap ones that bend easily* Then I can spritz the sock with a mixture of water & essential oil for a light fragrance. Every so often, I'll throw the pinned socks in with a load of wash.

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    1. I can't wait to try out your ideas! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  25. I just ran across this as I'm still looking for a natural fabric softener jut for some scent. I noticed your update, and I have to say it must be something else than vinegar that is causing holes. I find that so hard to believe as I've been using vinegar for the rinse cycle for many, many years and have had ZERO problems! Also, I make wool dryer balls that are wonderful for static (except for my 83 yr old mothers poly underwear) and they cut drying time in half. I could never understand putting foil in with your clothes because, here it comes, foil has sharp edges! No matter how hard of a ball you make it, there's always going to be sharp points. Possibly your hole problem???

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