Dryer sheets, safe or no?

Why you should ditch your dryer sheets

I just finished the worst of a series of treatments to fight breast cancer. Now that the chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery is over and I'm left with 5-10 years of just taking a pill, it stands to reason that I would be asking myself what on earth I can do to avoid ever going through that again. I’ve done some research and I’ve come to the conclusion that the probable cause for the current outbreak of cancer in our culture is all the toxins we put into our systems through our food, our skincare, our medicines, and our cleaning products. I’ve always been on the more natural side of things when it comes to products that my family uses near or in our bodies, but I’m even more careful now, knowing the great lengths one must undergo to rid a body of even the most treatable of cancers.

I get overwhelmed if I think of cleansing my house of toxins all at once. Our world is saturated in products full of chemicals that do long term damage to our body’s systems that we haven’t even studied yet. Because these things are government approved, we accept it and we feel safe with it. But I am doing little things, one by one to help fight the overload of toxins in my house and my family. Using reusable products instead of paper and eating organic are some things we’ve established in our house for awhile now, but we’re now working on replacing cleaning and skin care products as well.

One thing I haven’t used in a very long time is dryer sheets. I hate them. I hate the scent, I hate the way the scent makes me feel, and I hate the way it makes my clothing feel. After having read the list of chemicals and their side effects at, it’s no wonder I don’t feel quite right when wearing clothing that has been treated with fabric softeners.

So why avoid dryer sheets and conventional fabric softeners?


Poison, for one. Dryer sheets are filled with a variety of chemicals (not found listed on the box) that cause general malaise throughout all of the body’s systems, and even a couple that are neurotoxins, carcinogens, and respiratory irritants. Guys, I looked. There's chloroform in them. Yeah, the stuff they used in the 1800s to knock people out for surgery. Gross. I don’t want that stuff near my kids. Or me. And that’s just one of the ingredients on the list.

Sensitive skin and asthma

Fabric softeners usually work by leaving a film on your clothing that makes it feel softer. I know many people like the way this feels and smells, but it just makes me feel like my clothing is dirtier. Also, this can be quite an irritant to people with sensitive skin like me, allergies or asthma. It’s not like detergent or other cleaners that are used and then rinsed away. Dryer sheets work by maintaining a residue of the chemical on the clothing so that these chemicals get carried with you as they continue doing their job. This is bad news for people with allergies to fragrances and the other irritants in the ingredients list.


Even good, clean scents like essential oils can be irritants to people with allergies and breathing problems. The scents in dryer sheets cannot be classified as good or clean once we realize they come from at least 15 harmful chemicals. If scents don’t bother you, that’s great, but when you realize that many people around you can actually have allergic reactions to the fragrances that surround you, it makes you second guess using fragrances at all. Once, during a concert, I had to accompany my friend outside because her throat closed up and she couldn’t breathe due to a fragrance allergy. It was so scary sitting outside with her trying to calm her down so she could breathe as she laid on the floor in a dark hallway. I don’t ever want any fragrances I wear—even from my dryer sheets—to pose such a life threatening hazard to anyone.

Bad for absorbency

If you use cloth diapers or even if you just like to keep your towels absorbent so they actually work, then you really don't want any repellant film left on the fabric. Long before I was a cloth diaper user I always wondered why my towels didn't´t do their job as well when doused in fabric softeners. Then when I started using cloth diapers, I rid my house of fabric softeners completely lest I accidentally ruin my beloved fluffy diapers. Now, not only are my diapers super absorbent, but my washcloths, hand towels, and beach towels are as well. I love that!

What you should use instead:

Okay, so maybe you’re not like me and you actually like the scent and feel of clothing after they’ve been treated with a dryer sheet. There are alternatives. Safe alternatives. Alternatives that won’t irritate your skin or the lungs and bodies of you and those around you.

Natural fabric softeners

There are companies out there that make all natural fabric softeners with gentle, non-toxic, plant-based materials. While you’ll definitely need to check to see if these are safe to use with your cloth diapers, they will be safe for you and your family to use on your non-absorbent clothing.

Wool dryer balls

In my house we use wool dryer balls to soften our clothing. They help with drying time, static, and keeping clothing soft. Wool helps absorb moisture, and the agitation of the balls through your laundry helps lift and separate clothing. Also, if you must do fragrances, you can use all natural and therapeutic grade essential oils that won’t cause any damage to your body’s delicate processes. You can easily buy your own dryer balls or do a quick internet search on how to make your own. I pulled apart some old wool diaper covers I’d knit and wound them up into dryer balls and we use those along with some I purchased.

Baking soda and Epsom Salt

Baking soda and epsom salt are other natural alternatives to fabric softeners in the wash. They can be used separately or together and added to the rinse cycle, or dissolved in the water before adding clothing. You can add essential oils to these as well if you want your clothing to be fragrant.

White vinegar

Vinegar is a great fabric softener. Actually, I’m already familiar with the softening aspects of vinegar as I did the “no poo” method on my hair for awhile and I used apple cider vinegar as conditioner. Well, as soft as it made my hair, I can imagine what vinegar (white vinegar is best) will do for laundry. Add it in the fabric softener dispenser or in a Downy ball with a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil (think scents like a woodsy Frankincense, an invigorating grapefruit, or a gentle Lavender), or keep that same mixture in a spray bottle and spray your clothes in the dryer. Your clothing will smell and feel great.

Handmade dryer sheets

You can soak squares of cotton (old washcloths will do) in vinegar or in an all natural liquid fabric softener. Add essential oils if you’d like and then keep these soaked cloths in an air tight container. Add them to your dryer just like you would store bought, disposable, toxic dryer sheets. It’s not only non-toxic, but inexpensive as well.

It’s sad to think of how the industrial age has introduce so many chemicals into our daily lives as the years have passed. Even with all the knowledge we now have of what those chemicals can do to us, we’re less a preventative culture than we are a symptom-treating, pharmaceutical-loving culture. I am not opposed to some symptom treating, but I prefer to attempt to find the source of the problem, whether it’s diet, lifestyle, or the toxins found in just about everything we purchase and use these days. Again, it’s nearly impossible to cut out all of the toxins industrialized America introduces into our systems every day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cut out some of them. So, if you haven’t taken steps to do that, why don’t you start with getting rid of your dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners and try some of these natural alternatives instead? Your family and your body will thank you.