by Daisy Luther
Choosing the safest dryer sheets and fabric softeners for your family takes some research. Because these products are designed to linger, they are chemically designed to coat the fabric of your clothing, towels, and bedding. This means that whatever they’re using to provide that fresh scent and softness will be right there against your skin for you to inhale and absorb all day long.
That fresh clean fragrance is anything but healthy
Most fragrances are made from a combination of many untested chemicals including suspected hormone disruptors like phthalates and synthetic musks. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets generally contain quaternary ammonium compounds, which are considered asthmagens by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics. An asthmagen is a substance that can cause asthma to develop in people who previously did not have a respiratory issue. Quaternary ammonium compounds can also cause skin irritations, and because they have antibacterial properties, could help to propel the development of antibiotic-resistant germs.
The Whole Home Detox series is dedicated to removing the causes of chronic illness from our homes, one room at a time. We’ve discussed the toxins linked to health concerns that could be lurking in your laundry room and the things you want to avoid in your detergent. This week, we’re taking a look at the safest choices for dryer sheets and fabric softeners that are available. Because better choices are far more expensive than the chemical laden options, we’ll also look at some thrifty DIY options.
My choices are based on a few things: availability, either good ratings on Amazon or personal experience, price, and better ratings by the Environmental Working Group, which assesses the risks inherent in thousands of different commercial products. If you purchase dryer sheets or fabric softener, go here to see what grade your favorite brand receives from the EWG. For more information, be sure to refer back to the article that goes into detail about the undesirable ingredients.
The Safest Dryer Sheets and Fabric Softeners
There really were not very many commercial products that could be recommended. These are the only products that received a B from the EWG and had at least 4 stars from Amazon. The only one I have personally used is the Seventh Generation Fabric Softener Sheets. (I use dryer balls and DIY options.)
Dryer Sheets and Fabric Softeners to Avoid
My beloved Mrs. Meyer’s Dryer Sheets scored a C, so while they weren’t the very worst, I won’t be buying them again. It really goes downhill from there. Seriously, nearly all of them are horrible. The following were among the worst scoring products and really have no place in your laundry room. (I was especially horrified by “Babyganics” brand. It’s expensive and leads people to believe they’re doing the best for their little ones.)
Have you tried dryer balls? I really like them because they do make clothing softer, reduce static, and help your laundry dry faster. Another bonus: unlike commercial fabric softener, they don’t reduce the absorbency of towels and cloth diapers.
Dryer balls: I like the wool dryer balls because I’m not sure I trust tossing a plastic product into a hot dryer and having it tumble along with our clothing.
Dark load dryer balls: For dark loads, consider having a set of these black dryer balls so that you don’t have any little bits of light colored fluff on your clothing. (For the record, there is very little fluff, so if you can only swing one set, don’t worry.)
Lint remover dryer balls: We have pets, farm animals and deal with hay on a daily basis. Because of that, I add a few of these lint-remover balls into each dryer load. They work well to get the last little bits of fuzz off of our clothing. Be sure to rinse them after each load or they’ll stop collecting fuzzies.
Tennis balls: If you aren’t worried about fuzzies, you can even throw a couple of tennis balls in with your laundry for the same softening effect.
DIY for the Very Safest Dryer Sheets and Fabric Softeners
Look no further than white vinegar. That multi-purpose, do everything product is at it again, showing off. Add half a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washing machine. Don’t be concerned that you’ll walk around smelling like a pickle afterward. The vinegar small washer right out and your clothing and sheets will be nice and soft. Another bonus? Unlike commercial fabric softener, vinegar doesn’t coat fabrics and reduce the absorbency, so it can be used on towels and cloth diapers.
You can make your own dryer balls. Making felted wool dryer balls is inexpensive, easy, and can be a fun (and useful) craft to do with the kiddos. This article has the DIY, and below, you can find a video that shows just how simple it is.
Want to foil static cling? Use aluminum foil in the dryer. (See what I did there?) The reason that foil works to remove static is because the material absorbs the electrical charges that cause it. Simply make a large, tight ball from aluminum foil and toss it into the dryer. These won’t really soften your clothes very much – they are strictly for removing static, so you’ll want to use them in conjunction with wool dryer balls and/or vinegar for softening power.
Scented Dryer Sheets
If you want to add some scent to your laundry, it’s easy to do so in the dryer with some essential oil. I keep an old baby wipe container on my dryer that has some washcloths in white, black, and a color to go into the appropriate load. I put a few drops of tangerine essential oil on each washcloth and they stay closed up in the container until it’s time to be tossed in the washer. If you don’t like tangerine, you can use whichever scent you want. Lots of people also like lavender essential oil for this. (If you order an essential oil from Spark Naturals, be sure to put DAISY in as the promo code for an additional discount.)
Gaye, from Backdoor Survival, has a little twist on it – she adds essential oil to a coffee filter and tosses it in the dryer. (She is the Queen of Multipurposing – check out her tips on using coffee filters.)
When it’s an option, there is nothing I love more than laundry dried outside on the clothesline. Sadly, my current location is far too dusty and clothes come back inside dirtier than they were before I washed them in the first place. If you line dry, you won’t have to worry about static cling, as that is largely an issue that comes from using the dryer. You can’t get a better scent than laundry dried in the sunshine no matter how many essential oils you use. I recommend using a vinegar rinse before you line dry, and if clothing is still crunchy (and that bothers you), you can run it through the dryer for 10 minutes with a dryer ball.
What I Use:
I use several things in the dryer: a homemade washcloth dryer sheet, a few wool dryer balls, 2 lint remover balls, and 3 aluminum foil balls. My laundry is soft, static and lint-free, and smells lovely. It isn’t a hassle at all. Everything but the washcloth dryer sheets gets tossed back into the dryer when I remove the clothing, and waits there until the next load. I rarely use the vinegar rinse because I never really used liquid fabric softener in the first place.