This Common Laundry Product Could Be Doing More Harm Than Good
Ah, fabric softener. Many people consider it an essential part of the laundry process, on par with detergent and dryer balls. In 2013, there was a whopping $10.8 billion market for the product, and it only seems to be growing with time. Unfortunately, while there are some better options popping up these days, conventional fabric softeners have been associated with human and environmental health concerns. Here are four reasons to consider swapping yours out in favor of a more gentle, eco-friendly alternative:
1. Fabric softener could actually damage your clothes and towels over time.
Fabric softener essentially applies a thin, waxy coating to your laundry, which has to be water-resistant in order to survive the washing process. This waterproof coating makes your clothes feel softer but lessens their ability to properly absorb water and laundry detergent. (This means your clothes won't respond as well to washing and will be more likely to lock in bad odors.) It can also make your towels less absorbent over time.
Natural materials like cotton, hemp, and bamboo normally absorb light perspiration on their own. But as soon as fabric softener is introduced, that absorption can be lost. When used on synthetic clothing containing elastane and nylon, fabric softener can leave a residue that dulls the item's finish and attracts odor-causing bacteria.
2. Some conventional brands aren't vegetarian.
Weirdly, some fabric softeners aren't vegetarian- or vegan-friendly. One ingredient that's been discovered in it is Dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride (in other words: animal fat) has been found in some brand's bottles. This fat is extracted from suet—the fatty tissues around the kidneys of cattle and sheep—and its can make fabrics softer to the touch.
3. It's not great for the environment.
Fabric softeners often contain petroleum-based chemicals, which are not easily biodegradable and can be harmful to aquatic life once they're washed down the drain. Not to mention, one study by the University of Washington found that certain chemicals in fabric softener are likely human carcinogens, developmental toxicants, and allergens that can contribute to eczema.
4. It's bad for your washing machine and plumbing.
As many brands of fabric softener are petroleum-based and contain animal fat, they can clog up your washing machine (especially if it's a front-loading one) and pipes. Fabric softener can also encourage the growth of mold in your machine.
So what's a fabric softener lover to do? Make your own version!
This eco-friendly alternative to fabric softener is good for you, your clothes, and your environment. It's perfect for people with sensitive skin, and it contains just two simple and inexpensive ingredients:
- Glass bottle/jar
- White vinegar
- Essential oil of your choice (I love lemon and sweet orange for a zingy citrus aroma)
- Fill your bottle/jar with vinegar, then add around 30 drops of essential oil. (This ratio will give your laundry a clean aroma without a hint of vinegar, promise!)
Vinegar makes for a great natural fabric softener because it cuts through soapy residue and it won't interfere with the absorbency of your laundry, making your clothes and towels last longer and smell better. Not to mention, it won't leave deposits in your washing machine or plumbing. In fact, vinegar also cuts through grease so you'll actually clean your machine every time you do a load of laundry. Double win!
Wendy is the author of Fresh Clean Home and founder of Moral Fibres, a UK-based green lifestyle blog. She graduated from the University of Aberdeen with a BSc in Environmental Geography and received her MSc in Environmental Sustainability at The University of Edinburgh. You can learn more about her work on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.