If you’re looking to give your clothes the scent of outdoor freshness or spring renewal, you might want to reconsider. There are several nasty toxic chemicals in dryer sheets, most of which pose a threat to respiratory, nervous system, skin or reproductive health.
Here are some of the reasons to stop using dryer sheets. Most constitute the primary toxic ingredients in dryer sheets.
Corporate Lack of Transparency
Dr. Anne Steinemann, professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Melbourne, Australia, conducted a study of harmful emissions from 37 common household products, of which dryer sheets were included. She found that only 3 percent of ingredients were actually disclosed on product labels or information. Sadly, in the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Act does not require all ingredients to be disclosed. As a result companies rarely disclose all of the ingredients in their products, particularly those that fall under the category of “fragrance” which is a group of several hundred chemicals. Instead, these chemicals are protected as trade secrets.
Dr. Steinemann found that fragranced products contain chemicals known as terpenes, which are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that interact with ozone in the air to form additional chemicals like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, among others. Both formaldehyde and acetaldehyde are known carcinogens. Keep in mind that unscented products still typically contain most of the other harmful chemicals listed below.
Dryer sheets contribute to indoor pollution
As part of her study, Dr. Steinemann subjected 11 laundry products (laundry detergents, dryer sheets and fabric softeners) to testing to determine ingredients and found that every product contained at least one toxic or hazardous chemical, but most contained more than that. The lack of ingredient disclosure by companies or regulation by government agencies has led to a largely unregulated industry in which potentially toxic ingredients are rampantly used and emitted into both indoor and outdoor air, contributing to air pollution and a wide variety of health concerns.
Dryer sheets contribute to outdoor air pollution
Dr. Steinemann also found 25 VOCs emitted from dryer vents, including: acetaldehyde, acetone and ethanol. These compounds suggest that fabric softeners and dryer sheets are a largely unexplored but serious contributor to air pollution.
Dryer sheets are linked to the following serious health issues (see harmful ingredients below):
- cancer, including pancreatic cancer
- headaches and migraines
- impairment of brain and nervous system functions
- drowsiness, dizziness and fatigue
- sudden and dangerous drops in blood pressure
- asthma attacks
Here are some of the common ingredients found in dryer sheets (and liquid fabric softeners too, so don’t get the mistaken idea that liquid options are superior—they’re not!) and the health implications of each:
Acetaldehyde — carcinogenic.
Alpha terpineol — linked to brain and nervous system disorders, headaches, loss of muscle control and depression.
Benzyl acetate — linked to pancreatic cancer.
Benzyl alcohol — linked to respiratory and nervous system disorders, including: dizziness, drops in blood pressure, headaches, nausea and vomiting.
Chloroform — a neurotoxin (substance that attacks the nervous system) and carcinogenic. Inhaling its vapors (which is exactly what happens when clothes are in the dryer, or when they off-gas while you are wearing them) can cause a loss of consciousness, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, nausea and vomiting.
Ethanol — a central nervous system toxin listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Hazardous Waste List.
Ethyl acetate — also on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste List, this chemical causes headaches.
Linalool — causes depression, loss of muscle control and brain and nervous system disorders.
Pentane — causes depression, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, headaches and nausea.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends avoiding fabric softeners altogether since they can cause asthma and allergies as well.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the president of PureFood BC, an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty & Cooking.