For those of you who haven’t heard of the word “dryer sheets”? Well, they’re thin sheets of what look like absorbent paper placed in between your bundles of wash that just came out of the washing machine dryer.

They work as fabric softeners, prevent clothes from accumulating lint, have resistance against future stains, and make ironing them a lot easier.

But, do you know that despite all these benefits, dryer sheets have more disastrous effects on someone’s health – not just your clothes?

The Lure of Artificial Fragrances

When washers use dryer sheets, they are basically coating their clothes with artificial perfumes. These fragrances are chemicals that are highly toxic and may contain known carcinogens that cause liver damage and cancer to mammals.

In a study of Professor Dr. Anne Steinemann, with her team,  the effects of fragrances in laundry products (both dryer sheets and detergent) were tested. They found more than 25 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted by dryer vents.

Organic compounds are chemicals that usually contain carbon and found in living things. Volatile Organic Compounds contain vapors or gases. Along with the element carbon, VOCs possess elements such as oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, hydrogen, sulfur, bromine and nitrogen.

Furthermore, the study also discovered that dryer sheets and detergents have the highest concentrations of acetaldehyde, acetone, and ethanol (two are considered carcinogenic).

In short, to put this in context, acetaldehyde, one of the carcinogenic VOCs they found in dryer sheets, had emissions that represent 3% of total acetaldehyde emissions from automobiles in the study area.

Therefore, there are still dangerous chemicals present that could harm thousands of people using dryer sheets. This is despite the manufacturing studies these products had to go through before being released into the market.

The EPA and VOCs

Based on the study we just mentioned and other tests, it is safe to say that Dryer Sheets can cause neurotoxicity, respiratory problems, hormone imbalance, and yes, cancer.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several industry info sheets from the 1990s called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) state a list of chemicals in fabric softener products, with a great majority of them in untested combinations:

Chloroform – An anesthetic, neurotoxic and established carcinogen. Considered really toxic to your brain. If inhaled, may cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, loss of consciousness, dizziness, and drowsiness.

Benzyl Alcohol – An upper respiratory tract irritant. It can create havoc to your central nervous system (CNS) disorders, dizziness, sudden drops in blood pressure, headaches, vomiting, and nausea.

Ethanol – another hazardous fabric softener ingredient included in the EPA’s Hazardous Waste List; linked to CNS disorders.

Alpha-Terpineol  ̶  A chemical linked to brain and nervous system disorders, depression, loss of muscle control, and headaches.

Pentane – It can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, fatigue, and depression.

Ethyl Acetate – Also on the EPA Hazardous Waste List, it was tested and reported to cause headaches.

Benzyl Acetate – Studied and linked to cancer of the pancreas.

Linalool – In scientific studies, this chemical is linked to brain and nervous system disorders, depression, and loss of muscle coordination.

What’s a great alternative to this scary dryer sheets? Wool balls. They’re 100% natural and effective at eliminating static cling and wrinkles. Also, if you do wash in the great outdoors, just lay down your clothes on the grass. It will have a lovely smell afterward ;).

Well, do you have other ideas as alternatives to Dryer sheets? Let us know in the comments below!


Image by auntmasako / CC BY 2.0