Ditch Your Dryer Sheets to Avoid These Toxic Chemicals
Ditch Your Dryer Sheets to Avoid These Toxic Chemicals
Just pop in a dryer sheet, and suddenly your clothes come out fluffy, static-free, and scented as fresh as a spring meadow! What's not to love? Well, hidden behind those pleasing aromas lurks a dirty secret—dryer sheets are filled with toxic chemicals.
Our 100% New Zealand wool dryer balls are a reusable, nontoxic alternative that naturally softens fabrics and reduces static without any synthetic fragrances or chemicals.
Are Dryer Sheets Necessary?
While they filled an important role in the laundry ecosystem, today there are better, more eco-friendly alternatives to dryer sheets.
Dryer sheets became popular in the 1960s as a solution to static cling. By coating fabrics with quaternary ammonium compounds (quats), early dryer sheets could reduce static buildup caused by indoor machine drying. Their added fragrances also left clothes smelling fresh.
For decades, dryer sheets have been a staple in laundry routines, relied on for their anti-static and scent benefits. However, effective alternatives to dryer sheets now exist. While static cling can be annoying, products like wool dryer balls can reduce static without added chemicals.
Other options like vinegar as a fabric softener also skip concerning ingredients found in dryer sheets. Given the availability of healthier, non-toxic alternatives that serve the same static-reduction function, dryer sheets are no longer an essential product.
The reasons dryer sheets caught on initially made sense decades ago. But today's eco-conscious consumers have better choices. Products like our chemical-free wool dryer balls provide a safer anti-static solution, demonstrating that dryer sheets are not truly necessary.
Plus, dryer sheets are laden with toxic chemicals that are bad for your health and for the environment.
What Toxic Chemicals are in Dryer Sheets?
The "fresh" scents of dryer sheets actually mask a startling array of hazardous ingredients. Let's peel back the label and take a closer look at what's lurking within those scents.
The synthetic fragrances added to dryer sheets contain hundreds of chemical compounds, many of which are potentially hazardous. These can include phthalates, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), allergens, and respiratory irritants. Fragrances are a primary concern due to their unknown long-term effects and lack of disclosure requirements.
Of course, we all want our laundry smelling good, which is why essential oils are such an amazing way to add fragrance to laundry. They’re environmentally friendly, non-toxic, and all-around awesome. Apply them to wool dryer balls, or use our essential oil spray (available in orange, lemon, and lavender scents).
For a more complete list of options, see our article on essential oil recipes.
Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats)
Quats like DTDMAC (dimethyl ditallow ammonium chloride) are added as fabric softeners but may irritate the lungs if inhaled, especially in industrial settings. Effects from household exposure are uncertain.
Chloroform, a probable carcinogen, can form when quats interact with chlorine in tap water during laundry. Concerning due to inhalation risks and potential long-term buildup on clothes.
Classified as a possible carcinogen, acetaldehyde is released in dryer vent emissions when fragranced sheets are used. Can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract.
Benzene is a known carcinogen present in dryer vent emissions. Chronic inhalation exposure is linked to serious health concerns, like leukemia.
Optical brighteners make clothes appear brighter but can provoke allergic skin reactions in sensitive individuals. The dyes absorb into the skin and the environment.
Traces of the known carcinogen formaldehyde may be present in sheets from manufacturing. Also irritates the respiratory system.
Dipalmethyl Hydroxyethylammoinum Methosulfate
A synthetic petrochemical-derived softener with unclear environmental impacts. Lingers on clothes touching skin, so effects are a concern.
Ethyl acetate is used as a solvent in dryer sheets but can irritate the eyes, throat, and lungs at high concentrations. VOCs, like ethyl acetate, are potential hazardous air pollutants.
Are Dryer Sheets Bad For Your Health?
Dryer sheets are bad for your health, linked to everything from respiratory irritation to hormone disruption and increased cancer risk.
The fragrances and VOCs released from dryer vents can irritate the eyes, throat, and lungs. Acetaldehyde and other compounds act as respiratory irritants. Fragrances contain potentially hazardous chemicals that can exacerbate asthma.
Studies show breathing in fragranced laundry product emissions can trigger headaches, especially in sensitive individuals. Exact mechanisms are unknown but are likely due to irritant effects and scent compounds.
Ingredients like quats and benzyl acetate can irritate and dry out sensitive skin with repeated direct contact. Fragrances also contain potential skin allergens.
Certain chemicals found in fragrances and quats have exhibited hormone or endocrine disrupting effects in laboratory studies, even at very low levels. The long-term implications are still unclear.
Compounds like benzene, chloroform, and acetaldehyde are known or suspected carcinogens that can be released from dryer vents or linger on clothes. Links between dryer sheets and cancer risk need further study.
Venting dryer sheets indoors leads to greater inhalation exposure to chemicals of concern. Proper venting is important, especially in air-tight homes.
Are Dryer Sheets Bad for Your Hair?
This might come as a shock, but those fragrant dryer sheets you've been using for years could actually be damaging your hair!
Let's break it down. Most scented dryer sheets are loaded with chemicals and artificial fragrances that can build up on your hair over time. Ingredients like quaternary ammonium compounds give dryer sheets their static-fighting abilities, but these can leave a film on your hair that dulls its shine and weighs it down.
The heavy fragrance from dryer sheets isn't doing your hair any favors either. All those strong perfumes can irritate your scalp and strip your hair of its natural oils. Not good!
Some people also suspect that dryer sheets contain toxins that could potentially be absorbed into the body through the scalp. While more research is needed, this is enough to make you think twice.
Are Dryer Sheets Toxic to Dogs?
Dogs, with their heightened sense of smell, can be extra sensitive to the strong fragrances in dryer sheets. Some of the chemicals used can also be irritants to a dog's skin.
When dogs inhale the scent of dryer sheets, it can cause nasal irritation or even respiratory issues in some cases. Dogs that lick fabric softened with dryer sheets are also at risk of ingesting those chemicals.
Some troubling symptoms after exposure can include vomiting, excessive drooling, and wheezing. If you notice these signs in your pup, call your vet right away.
Who Is Vulnerable to Dryer Sheet Chemicals?
When it comes to the questionable ingredients lurking in our laundry products, cleaning products, and other consumer products, some people are more vulnerable than others.
- Children have delicate and developing immune systems, so they tend to be more susceptible to adverse effects from toxins and chemicals. The same goes for the elderly, whose immune function declines with age. No one wants their grandmother or little niece breathing in a bunch of synthetic fragrances!
- Those with asthma, allergies, chemical sensitivities, or respiratory conditions also need to be extra cautious around products like dryer sheets. The strong scents and funky fumes can trigger headaches, breathing issues, and other symptoms in this group.
- Pregnant women have to think about how chemicals could impact their baby's development at such a crucial time. Yikes! New moms should pay attention too, since residues on clothing could get passed to infants.
- Pets can react poorly to all the questionable ingredients in laundry and household items. Their little noses are so much more sensitive than ours!
In short, if you’re human, you’re vulnerable, but some of us are more vulnerable to dryer sheet chemicals than others.
What are Some Non-Toxic Dryer Sheet Alternatives?
Let's explore some excellent non-toxic choices to soften clothes and reduce static:
Wool Dryer Balls
Our reusable wool balls are a game changer! As they bounce around the dryer, wool balls separate clothes and fluff them up, cutting down on drying time.
The wool's natural static-reducing abilities also mean fewer wrinkles. Plus, wool's magical moisture-wicking properties let it soften clothes without any funky chemicals.
Aluminum Foil Dryer Balls
For a super cheap option, simply crumple aluminum foil into tennis ball shapes. These DIY foil balls help separate clothing in the dryer while the metal cuts down on static, reducing wrinkles. Make balls from heavy duty foil and replace them periodically as they wear down.
Distilled White Vinegar
Either add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the washing machine's rinse cycle or spritz it directly onto dry clothes. Vinegar naturally softens fabrics and neutralizes funky odors. Its acidic properties also reduce static electricity. Use it undiluted or add a few drops of essential oil to mask the scent.
Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of baking soda right onto clothes in the washing machine or dryer. It softens fabrics and absorbs odors without adding perfume. Baking soda also helps remove detergent residue. For a light, natural fragrance, add a few drops of essential oil.
Skip the dryer altogether and let clothes air dry the old-fashioned way. Hanging wet items to dry in the fresh air softens fabrics naturally and gives them an outdoorsy, sun-kissed scent. It's best for delicate fabrics. Use clothespins, hangers, or a drying rack to get that fresh, line-dried feel without any hazardous chemicals.
Dryer Sheets FAQ
What are the harmful chemicals in liquid fabric softeners?
Almost all liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets contain chemicals classified under federal law as carcinogenic, toxic, and hazardous to personal and environmental health, including benzyl acetate (linked to pancreatic cancer), benzyl alcohol (an upper respiratory tract irritant), ethanol (linked to central nervous system disorders), limonene (a known carcinogen), chloroform (a neurotoxin and carcinogen), and others.
Are dryer sheets toxic if ingested?
Yes, dryer sheets contain chemicals that could be toxic if ingested, especially for small children. You should keep dryer sheets safely out of reach.
Why not use dryer sheets?
You should avoid using dryer sheets because they contain questionable chemical ingredients with possible health and environmental risks. This is the reason many advocate avoiding them as a precaution.
Which dryer sheets are safest?
Unscented, fragrance-free laundry dryer sheets made with plant-based ingredients instead of synthetic chemicals are considered the safest options.
Should you avoid fabric softener?
Critics argue the chemicals have not been proven safe and could have long-term health and environmental impacts. However, most evidence shows low risk when used as directed. Still, avoiding fabric softeners is likely the safest option until more definitive research is done on the effects of buildup and chemical interactions.
What are dryer sheets made of?
Most dryer sheets contain a mix of synthetic fragrance chemicals, fabric softeners like quaternary ammonium compounds (quats), conditioning agents like fatty alcohols, antistatic agents, preservatives, and other ingredients.
The fragrance chemicals are a primary concern since they can contain hundreds of compounds, many of which are untested and not disclosed. The quats act as softeners, but some argue they leave chemical buildup on clothes.
Can bed sheets be toxic?
Bed sheets can potentially contain harmful chemicals like flame retardants and formaldehyde if they are not certified organic or chemical-free. Look for OEKO-TEX certified sheets and other bedding, which are tested for harmful substances. Organic sheets made from fabrics like organic cotton, linen, and lyocell are ideal for avoiding chemicals of concern in sheets.
Are dryer sheets bad for kids?
The toxic chemicals in dryer sheets may pose a health hazard for children. The biggest concern is fragrances, which can trigger allergic reactions or asthma flare-ups in sensitive kids. Parents of children with diagnosed fragrance sensitivities should use fragrance-free dryer sheets or avoid them altogether.
Do detergent sheets interact with other laundry products?
Detergent sheets interact with your laundry to clean it effectively, while having far less negative environmental impact than liquid detergents and other scented products.
See our comparison of liquid detergent and detergent sheets for more on the subject.
Can scented laundry products cause cancer?
While research is still ongoing, some studies have found links between synthetic fragrance exposure and increased cancer risk. This is due to compounds like benzene and acetaldehyde found in certain chemical fragrances. There is no definitive evidence that scented laundry items directly cause cancer. However, minimizing exposure by choosing fragrance-free options may be beneficial for your health.
How can I create an eco-friendly laundry routine?
An eco-friendly laundry routine includes choices like using biodegradable detergent sheets instead of plastic jug detergents, line drying clothes when possible, washing in cold water, and adding wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. Look for plant-based, non-toxic ingredients in all laundry products.
What research on ingredient safety is done for laundry products?
Reputable brands have their products safety tested through peer-reviewed studies and analysis by bodies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. This helps identify ingredients that may cause issues like respiratory irritation, skin irritation, or other health effects when exposed over time. Ongoing research continues to evaluate concerns around compounds found in some laundry products.
Do dryer sheets cause air pollution?
When heated in the dryer, chemicals in conventional dryer sheets can emit volatile organic compounds that degrade indoor and outdoor air quality. Dryer vent emissions could potentially contribute to increased ozone and smog. They are also connected to potentially adverse health effects such as asthma and respiratory irritation.
Do laundry sheets and other laundry products emit pollutants?
Dryer sheets and other conventional laundry products can emit pollutants. Some ingredients, like ethyl acetate, can break down into concerning compounds like formaldehyde during washing and drying. Levels released are low, but improving ventilation around running washers and dryers can help dilute any potential pollutants.
That's why we make all our products to be friendly to the environment and to your health. Shop our full collection of eco-friendly laundry products to transform your laundry routine—and your family’s health!