We, the Care2 editors, are living proof that there is life without fabric softeners.
None of us have ever used them! But we know many of you do, and judging from the flood of hate mail about fabric softener fragrances we know you are seeking a better smelling product . So here are our best safe product recommendations and a discussion we invite you to share with us about the best DIY practices:
We expect that part of the reason we, Care2 editors, don’t ever even think that we need fabric softeners is that we collectively wear mostly natural fibers, which don’t get static cling, the main fabric softener fix. Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and lycra, are prone to get full of static.
Also, the actual scouring of the fabric in the washing machine will soften the fabric, and the dryer fluffs the fabric even more. Fabric softeners add a chemical to the fabric to “soften” them even more, even when there is no need.
Most fabric softeners add a film to the fabric, which can actually accumulate and dull the colors. Many complain that clothes are left greasy because of this. Fabric softeners also add a huge toxic load to the environment of your home and clothing, from powerful fragrances to suspected cancer-causing neurotoxic chemicals such as toluene and styrene.
Is this why one of the most common email queries we receive is about fabric softeners? That the smell so many of you hate is toxic?
The three main ingredients found in fabric softeners are surfactants (used in detergents), fragrance, and undenatured ethyl alcohol. The later is suspected of causing many health problems, from being a liver toxicant to an endocrine disrupter.
The chemicals in fabric softener chemically manipulate the fabric to be softer, and many of you like that. What to Do?
Choose Green Products
Happily there are some green fabric softeners on the market from companies full of integrity. Products include those from Seventh Generation and Ecover, and are found in health food stores and some supermarkets.
Fabric softeners are acidic, so adding ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse water is one way to experiment with replacing commercial fabric softeners. Another idea floating around the internet is to saturate 1 teaspoon of a natural hair conditioner on a small rag, and put that into the dryer as a homemade dryer sheet. We would love your feedback about whether these work, and what other ideas you have. Please add to the comments on this article!