Is Fabric Softener Safe?

Jul 22, 2019

Fabric softener has been a laundry room standard for over 50 years. Yet current trends show that sales have been declining year after year. Apparently, fabric softener is losing popularity with younger generations. Why is that?

In today’s world of uber informed consumers, fabric softener is facing scrutiny over its ingredients. Dangerous chemicals and fragrances have shoppers thinking twice about whether daily exposure to fabric softener is really worth the risk.

So is fabric softener safe to use? Let’s investigate.

Fact: Fabric softener does not contain magic

For those of us without a background in chemistry, fabric softener seems like a gift from the laundry gods. Just one small cup can magically transform hard, stiff laundry into bouncy, fresh fabrics.

That annoyingly cute, snuggly teddy bear has been selling it to us for years. 

So how does fabric softener work?

To understand how fabric softener works, it helps to understand why you might need it in the first place. The reason clothes come out of a regular wash feeling stiff is largely due to minerals and sediments in your wash water. The minerals leave behind a hard residue, which causes your clothing and towels to feel rough and scratchy.

That’s where fabric softener comes in. When fabric softener is added to the wash, it coats the fabric in a scented, petroleum-based substance. A waxy coating protects the clothing from minerals and makes it feel softer to the touch. It’s a simple idea, and we know that it works. So what’s the problem?

Sure, your clothes may look and feel softer, but that waxy coating can also trap dirt, stains, and odors. What’s more, residues from fabric softeners build up in your washer over time, potentially damaging your washing machine. Now, instead of minerals, you have a chemical residue on your clothing. For those with skin sensitivities, the chemicals and fragrances can be an absolute deal-breaker. 

Fact: Using fabric softener on a daily or weekly basis WILL NOT kill you

No need to panic. Fabric softener has been tested on enough animals to show that humans can survive a lifetime of exposure. However,  it’s worth considering the potential environmental and health risks. 

More than ever, we are becoming more concerned (and better informed) about the barrage of chemicals in our daily lives. We are beginning to re-evaluate our choices as consumers, and fabric softener is one of those choices.

Fact: Fabric softener is a load of chemicals.

TV commercials love to show actors inhaling a breath of “April-Fresh Rain” straight from the dryer. Let’s be honest: they’re really just huffing chemicals.

Studies have shown that fabric softeners like Downy or Bounce contain harmful VOCs (volatile organic chemicals), animal-based fats, and fragrances. Unfortunately, these additives have caused adverse effects in lab mice. Additional studies show that a small percentage of humans with sensitivities also report negative reactions after exposure.

Softeners contain an array of ingredients which pollute our bodies, our homes, and eventually end up in our water supply and oceans. Furthermore, fabric softener is neither vegan nor cruelty-free (as you can see from the lab mouse experiments).

According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group,) it scored an “F” for environmental hazards and health risks. The site provides a “laundry list” a mile long of the potential health and safety risks of fabric softener. These risks include reproductive toxicity, blindness, asthma, and hormonal imbalance. Yikes!

Fact: You have a choice when it comes to softening solutions.

Thankfully, there are options out there if you are ready to ditch the Downy. One simple solution is to add a cup of white vinegar to your wash. The vinegar will cut through hard water, leaving your clothes clean and soft. 

A more comprehensive solution is to install a whole-house water softener. Water softeners use sodium to remove minerals and sediments from your entire water supply. Installation is easy, and you won’t have to worry about lingering toxins.

The benefits of a water softener extend beyond the laundry room. Water softeners leave your hair and skin softer. They are gentler on appliances, too.

It never hurts to re-think our everyday purchases. It’s important to consider whether all the chemicals we consume are truly worth the risks. So please, do your homework and make informed choices. We can’t trust actors (or teddy bears) to get all the facts. 

We are committed to providing alternative water systems for health-conscious and eco-friendly customers. We truly care about the health and wellness of our customers, and we’re ready to welcome you to better water.