Dear EarthTalk: which is better for our environment: to use dryer sheets in the dryer or liquid fabric softener in the wash?It seems they both have properties that are not very green.
If you're concerned about the health and safety of your family members, you might want to stay away from both conventional dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners altogether. While it may be nice to have clothes that feel soft, smell fresh and are free of static cling, both types of products contain chemicals known to be toxic to people after sustained exposure.
According to the health and wellness website Sixwise.com, some of the most harmful ingredients in dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener alike include benzyl acetate (linked to pancreatic cancer pancreatic cancer
Malignant tumour of the pancreas. Risk factors include smoking, a diet high in fat, exposure to certain industrial products, and diseases such as diabetes and chronic pancreatitis. Pancreatic cancer is more common in men. ), benzyl alcohol (an upper respiratory tract respiratory tract
The air passages from the nose to the pulmonary alveoli, including the pharynx, larynx, trachea, and bronchi.
Respiratory tract irritant), ethanol (linked to central nervous system disorders Nervous system disorders
A satisfactory classification of diseases of the nervous system should include not only the type of reaction (congenital malformation, infection, trauma, neoplasm, vascular diseases, and degenerative, metabolic, toxic, or deficiency ), limonene lim·o·nene
A liquid, C10H16, with a characteristic lemonlike fragrance, used as a solvent, wetting agent, and dispersing agent and in the manufacture of resins. (a known carcinogen carcinogen: see cancer.
Agent that can cause cancer. Exposure to one or more carcinogens, including certain chemicals, radiation, and certain viruses, can initiate cancer under conditions not completely understood. ) and chloroform chloroform (klôr`əfôrm) or trichloromethane (trī'klôrōmĕth`ān), CHCl3 (a neurotoxin neurotoxin /neu·ro·tox·in/ (noor´o-tok?sin) a substance that is poisonous or destructive to nerve tissue.
See neurolysin. and carcinogen), among others.
Since fabric softeners are designed to stay in your clothes for extended periods of time, such chemicals can seep out gradually and be inhaled or absorbed directly through the skin. Liquid fabric softeners are slightly preferable to dryer sheets, as the chemicals in dryer sheets get released into the air when they are heated up in the dryer and can pose a respiratory health risk to those both inside and outside the home.
For those who don't want to give up the benefits of fabric softeners but are afraid to risk exposure to potentially toxic chemicals, National Geographic's Green Guide recommends adding either a quarter cup of baking soda or a quarter cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. Either one will soften clothes, while the latter will also address static cling. (Be sure not to mix either with bleach, though, as resulting chemical reactions could cause noxious fumes fumes
odorous gases and other volatile materials; inhalation of irritating fumes causes coughing and, if sufficiently severe, irreversible pulmonary edema. .) If eliminating static cling is your top priority, try drying natural-fiber clothes separately from synthetic materials. The combination of cotton and polyester is often the culprit behind static cling. Better yet, reports Green Guide, line dry synthetic clothing, as it tends to dry fairly quickly anyway.
A few companies have heeded the ever-increasing call for greener, safer ways to soften clothes and reduce static cling. Seventh Generation's Natural Lavender Scent Fabric Softener and Ecover's Natural Fabric Softener are both good choices that rely on vegetable products and natural essential oils instead of harsh chemicals to get the job done.
Another safer option is Maddocks' Static Eliminator, a non-toxic, hypoallergenic hy·po·al·ler·gen·ic
Having a decreased tendency to provoke an allergic reaction.
adj reusable dryer sheet made out of a proprietary, chemical-free polynylon. The Canadian company Maddocks originally developed the material to rid industrial-scale mechanical systems of explosion-inducing static electricity, but soon realized that it could benefit consumers as well, who can now buy the sheets--each one is good for some 500 wash loads--from natural foods retailers as well as from several online vendors.
CONTACTS: Sixwise.com, www.sixwise.com; The Green Guide, www.thegreenguide.com; Seventh Generation, www.seventhgeneration.com; Ecover, www.ecover.com; Maddocks' Static Eliminator, www.staticeliminator.ca.
Deborah, via e-mail