People reach for dryer sheets to make their clothes soft, scented, and static-free. When I was in fashion school, we talked about dryer sheets in textiles class and our instructor explained that the coating on dryer sheets was nothing but scented wax that melted and very lightly coated our clothes.
Twenty years later, we know more and we know better.
The David Suzuki Foundation says that the synthetic perfumes used in dryer sheets are derived from petroleum-based ingredients, and they say, “once the scented air leaves your dryer vent and floats into your neighbourhood, it’s increasingly causing allergic reactions in people with chemical sensitivities.” (Chemical sensitivities are on the rise – I notice it, do you?).
Dr. Anne Steinemann, an internationally recognized scientist, Professor of Civil Engineering, and Chair of Sustainable Cities at the University of Melbourne, helps people create healthier living and working environments. In 2011, she published a study about the chemicals in laundry products and discovered an enormous and rather alarming range of chemicals:
- Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders
- 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
- Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled
- 1,4-dioxane: A recognized carcinogen
- Chloromethane: A developmental toxin
- 2-Butanone: A suspected toxicant
- O, m, or p-cymene: A suspected toxicant
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS/SLES), and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS)
- Nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE): Hormone disruptor
- Phosphates: Major environmental health hazard
- Optical brighteners
How is it legal to sell toxic concoctions like this, you ask? “Simple,” says Canadians for A Safe Learning Environment (CASLE), “It’s still very much an unregulated market. Manufacturers are not required to disclose any ingredients in cleaning supplies, air fresheners or laundry products. The fragrance industry is actually allowed to regulate itself (italics mine) through a trade association known as the International Fragrance Association.”
For modern readers with an eco-conscience, this should raise alarms. The CASLE article explains that though substances are tested on adults, it is only for skin reactions, not neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, or anything else. The group says that only 1300 out of more than 5000 ingredients used by the fragrance industry are tested and evaluated for safety.
“If they’re coming out of a smokestack or tail pipe, they’re regulated, but if they’re coming out of a dryer vent, they’re not,” says Dr. Steinemann.
Eco-friendly dryer and dryer sheet alternatives
I’m always on about air-drying clothing for environmental reasons and to protect clothing. Dry heat in the dryer causes shrinkage and damages your clothes; it eats away at garment colour and at fabric fibers. The stuff in the lint trap is actually small bits of your clothing that over time will cause your clothes to lose body, develop holes, and become thread-bare.
If you want your clothes to last, try some of these alternatives to electric clothes dryers and dryer sheets:
–> The old-fashioned way is always preferable: line-dry your clothes. Back yards and balconies are great for hanging clothes out on the line. For people who live in smaller spaces, try drying your clothes on a drying rack.
–> For an eco-friendly laundry softener, National Geographic’s Green Guide recommends adding a quarter cup of baking soda to the wash cycle. Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to boost the laundry-softening properties, and reduce static cling.
–> Maddocks Holdings Limited, a Canadian industrial parts supplier makes PurEcosheets, reusable static eliminator sheets. One sheet will last through 500 tumble dries and reduce the amount of laundry waste in landfills. There are no chemicals in these sheets, so this reduces buildup in dryers and keeps them running efficiently.
–> Dryer balls are great to reduce drying time, soften clothes, reduce static, increase fluffiness, and make laundry a little more fun! Dryer balls are simply medium-sized balls of wool that bounce around clothes in the dryer and improve air flow. Order them online or make your own dryer balls for a cool project! Should you want scent to your laundry, simply add drops of essential oil to your dryer balls.
–> Lots of good, green laundry products on the Reuseit website.
So now you have a choice: toxic, wasteful, chemical-laden dryer sheets or reusable, inexpensive, and eco-friendly dryer products? Both options do the same thing, but the latter is non-toxic, leaves virtually no carbon footprint, and has no side effects. How could you not?