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Saying 'no' to fabric softener.

As I was enjoying your latest issue, a sentence in the article, "Let It All Hang Out!" (House & Home, September/October 2006) startled me into awareness. In the midst of a fine discussion about saving energy by avoiding the clothes dryer, I found, "If you don't like to deal with the stiffer, sometimes-wrinkled fabric that results from al fresco drying, add a bit of fabric softener into your wash, throw it into the dryer for five minutes, and presto, the softener is activated."

Activated indeed! Consider the following quote from www.jrussellshealth. com/chemsensair.html: "Fabric softeners contain some of the most toxic chemicals (like chloroform, benzyl acetate and pentane) that are known to cause cancer and/or damage to lungs, brain and nerves. These chemicals are even more dangerous when heated in a clothes dryer. The toxic fumes then go into the neighborhood air and everyone for blocks around is forced to breathe them in. Babies, children, older people, and people who are already sick are especially hurt by these chemicals, and the damage can be permanent, causing lifelong illness."

If this sounds like a strong statement, be assured that, as the director of an organization educating about toxic chemicals and products in everyday life, I have seen more than enough evidence to support it. There are many less toxic options for avoiding that fabric stiffness which I, too, find unpleasant. From my favorite standbys, baking soda and vinegar, to products designed for this purpose, softening one's wash need not turn it into a chemical stew!

Liberty Goodwin

Director, Toxics Information Project

Providence, RI

Starre Vartan replies: You are absolutely right. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets are toxic for the reasons you describe and are especially aggravating to people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. I should have specified nontoxic softeners in the text of the article, since there are plenty out there! Ecover, Seventh Generation, EnviroRite and Natural Value all make nontoxic products, and a half cup of vinegar per load can be used for the softening effects.
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Author:Vartan, Starre
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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