Dinged By Dryer Sheets

You know if you are one of those sensitive to dryer sheets and fabric softeners. (I think this is the No. 2 consumer complaint behind perfume.) You are sad that you don’t like to walk in your neighborhood on Saturday mornings because of the offense smell wafting from neighbors’ dryer vents. If someone uses them in your home you may have a nightmare of burning skin, respiratory irritation, anxiety attacks and irritability. I have one friend who became so sensitive to the fumes that he had to sleep in a chair until he could get new bedding! What is the problem with these laundry products? Plenty.

How I would love to have full disclosure of ingredients in consumer products. Given how many people complain about getting sick from dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener, it is disturbing that there is so little research available for the general public about the ingredients in the products. Dry sheets and fabric softeners actually waterproof your clothes to make them feel softer! I have found information on waterproofing and there are few safe ways to do that.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry-generated Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from the 1990s, the following is a list of chemicals in fabric softener products, most in untested combinations. Liquid fabric softeners additionally may contain formaldehyde.

  • Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer.
  • Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant.
  • Ethanol: On the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders.
  • Limonene: Suspected Gastrointestinal or Liver Toxicant, Immunotoxicant,
    Kidney Toxicant, Neurotoxicant,
    Respiratory Toxicant, and Skin or Sense Organ Toxicant.

  • A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage.
  • Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list.
  • Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders.
  • Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic.
  • Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders.
  • Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled.

To hide the chemical smell, companies load dryer sheets full of chemical fragrances, which are potentially carcinogenic.

Dryer sheets are designed to stay on clothing for a long period of time and slowly release their chemicals throughout the day, which leads to prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals.

The toxins in dryer sheets and their chemical fragrances enter the body both through inhalation or are absorbed through the skin.

Some of the symptoms experienced from prolonged exposure to the chemicals in dryer sheets include headaches, nausea, vomiting , dizziness, central nervous system disorders, blood pressure reduction, fatigue, difficulty breathing, skin irritation, difficulty concentrating and remembering, cancer, irritation to skin, mucus membranes and respiratory tract, and liver damage.

Alternatives point to successfully substituting vinegar in the rinse water of the laundry cycle. We’ve received quite a few comments from our readers finding this approach works well. There are also a number of alternative products on the market. Read our article Fabric Softener: Easy Greening.

Fabric softeners are static cling busters, mostly. One easy way to avoid using them is to use natural fibers.

By Annie B. Bond


Jo S.
Jo S.about a year ago

Thanks Annie.

Jo S.
Jo S.about a year ago

Just awful!!
Thanks Annie.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton4 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Joe R.
Joe R.4 years ago

Thanks Annie.

Ruth B.
Ruth B.4 years ago

The only complaint I have with dryer sheets /liquid fabric softeners/detergents is that the amount they say to use is way more than you need to use. By cutting it all in half, many problems could be avoided.

PS: Skip the paint thinners (REAL baddies), Use a full strength fabric softener or dry sheet to remove caulk and paint residue from your hands or other surfaces. LOL

Ruth B.
Ruth B.4 years ago

The list of ingredients for Bounce is freely available on the internet. It is in compliance with both US and Canada. (including obsessive California). The attempt to "scare" people away from using a product because YOU may have a problem with it is sad. I worry about people who think the whole world should conform to their particular problem, and often wonder how much of these "problems" is more psychological than not. Personally I don't care for strong scents, but would not disrespect someone else for their choices. When I have items that may not be used or worn right away, I use half of a mild scented dryer sheet.

Dawn B.
Dawn B.4 years ago

I am one of those people who goes for a walk and knows who has clothes in the dryer! I will be sharing this on my facebook page! www.raisingnaturalkids.com thanks!

Samantha Hodder
Sam Hodder5 years ago


Sandra Watson
Sandra Watson5 years ago

Thank you for reminding me of this :)

Gracie G.
Gracie G.5 years ago

We don't use sheets, we use liquid fabric softner. About 2 years ago my Sister became ill and we realized it was fumes from the sheets.