The Toxic Chemicals Hidden in Dryer Sheets & Fabric Softener

By Marilee Nelson |

The Toxic Chemicals Hidden in Dryer Sheets & Fabric Softener

The Environmental Working Group consistently studies products and tests ingredients for safety, and found that over 70% of fabric softeners have a D or F rating. Unfortunately of the many toxic cleaning products in a home, the chemicals in dryer sheets and fabric softeners are considered to be among the most toxic.

In this article, you will learn about the dangers of dryer sheets and fabric softener as well as some safe laundry room swaps. Let's begin!

Chemicals in Dryer Sheets & Fabric Softeners

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets are made up of harmful chemicals combined with a hefty dose of fragrance.

Overall, fragrance in dryer sheets and fabric softener products are particularly difficult to remove because they have been designed to cling to fabric so the signature scent stays in the clothing. This is called “fragrance substantivity,” which describes how long a fragrance lasts on a particular surface and how it is affected by temperature, humidity and other conditions. Lingering chemical residues in clothing enter the body through our skin, which is actually equivalent to eating these chemicals!

Many of these fragrant chemicals are harmful, and according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) study, 72% of products with the ingredient "fragrance" contained endocrine disruptors called phthalates. (There’s a lot to dig into with phthalates, so learn all about phthalates and why you should avoid them on our blog.)

Related Read: How to Toss Your Toxic Laundry Detergent

Is Fragrance Bad For You?

Since the term “fragrance” on a label can mean up to hundreds of synthetic, harmful chemicals, when using fabric softeners or dryer sheets, the body cannot get away from them. Up to 95% of the synthetic chemicals used to make fragrance recipes are derived from petrochemicals. These particular ingredients are known carcinogens (cause cancer), neurotoxins (cause nervous system disorders), asthmagens (cause asthma), obesogens (cause weight gain and metabolic disorders), endocrine disruptors, and cause birth defects, and allergies.

Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the issue with fragrance because their constant exposure to these chemicals makes it impossible for them to realize the impact it makes on their health and the health of those around them. We are emotionally attached to fragrance in our everyday lives, and it takes a shift in our perspective to learn how to live without these toxins.

Toxic Chemicals & Ingredients To Avoid

In general, ingredients to avoid are: benzyl acetate, limonene, chloroform, dichlorobenzene, benzyl alcohol, camphor, biodegradable cationic softeners, alpha terpineol, pentane and linalool. These ingredients each have their own pool of symptoms, but overall they are mostly known to irritate eyes and skin, cause respiratory issues and damage to the nervous system. A quick search on each will show you all of the ways these ingredients are harmful to our health.


Check out The Toxicity of Dryer Sheets, Fabric Softeners, and Laundry Detergents for a breakdown of the most common ingredients in these products (and as a note, this list doesn’t include the synthetic fragrances that are added to these products!).

Read Also: 7 Non-Toxic Laundry Bleach Alternatives

Healthy Home = Healthy Air Quality

Even if your fabric softener is stored away and only used occasionally it is still harming your health as the chemicals in the bottles and boxes are off-gassing into your living environment. You are surrounded by these chemicals day and night through your skin and lungs, when you sleep in your sheets and breathe the air in your home! That’s another reason using fabric softeners, dryer sheets or laundry detergent with fragrance is dangerous; air quality is SO important. It's true that Better Air Means Better Health.

Tip: If you can smell detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets in the laundry room when you’re not using them, that’s a sign that they’re off-gassing chemicals and degrading your indoor air quality!

Related Read: Home Cleaning Guide for Allergy Sufferers

One Last Downside of Fabric Softener

If you need another reason to ditch your fabric softener (aside from being bad for your health) harsh chemicals actually soften fabrics by breaking down the fibers in your clothes! This means that you are actually wearing out your clothes faster each time you use fabric softeners and dryer sheets!

Find Non-Toxic Laundry Swaps with Branch Basics

Removing dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners with harmful chemicals from your home will go a long way towards immediately improving your indoor air quality. Ditching toxic products is a powerful first step in a deep cleaning process! Wool Dryer Balls are a great alternative for dryer sheets, and they soften clothes while reducing dry time, wrinkles and static. Learn more about the benefits of wool dryer balls (and how to use them) on our blog. Or, learn about our favorite natural alternatives to fabric softeners.

It may take some time, but it is worth it. To fully detox and remove the fragrance from your clothes, turn your clothes inside out and sun them until odors are gone. After the sun has cleared the clothes (could take one day, or up to a week!) wash them with the Branch Basics Laundry Kit and Oxygen Boost. Check out Branch Basics laundry instructions. You really can do it all with BB, including laundry stripping - the non-toxic way!

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.