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Fabric softeners have been incredibly popular since the mid-1900s back when dyes, detergents, and dryers were harsh on clothes, making them rough and scratchy. However, with better technology, fabrics, and laundry products available to us today, fabric softeners are no longer necessary, but we still find that they’re commonly used.
These usually come in 2 forms: a liquid used in the washing machine or a coated sheet used in the dryer. These are designed to prevent static, help with wrinkles, add a scent, and make the materials feel softer. They do this by covering the fabric in a thin, lubricating film. This coating also helps to separate the fibres, making things like towels fluffier. Additionally, they are scented and designed so the scent will remain in the fabric. While all of this sounds well and good, there’s actually a large underlying problem.
A major ingredient in a lot of fabric softeners is Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, which ease static but can cause skin and respiratory irritation. Studies of medical professionals who used cleaning products with QACs, which are also anti-bacterial, found an increase in asthma in those who were regularly exposed to them. The widespread use of QACs in household products is also linked to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In addition to all of this, studies have also found that liquid fabric softeners can actually make fabrics more flammable.
Not only are fabric softeners and dryer sheets harmful to the people that use them, but they are incredibly harmful to the environment as well. QACs don’t easily biodegrade, and because they go directly into our water systems, this can be incredibly toxic to aquatic life.
Fabric softeners can also contain petroleum or palm-oil-derived ingredients which may not be cruelty-free, as an ingredient found in some fabric softeners is dehydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride, an ingredient derived from animal fat.
If you’re someone who enjoyed using fabric softeners but is now worried about their negative effects, there are still alternatives that you can turn to that will give you similar results without the harm. Air-drying your clothes helps reduce static and saves a lot of energy, and in turn, increases the longevity of your clothes. There’s less wear-and-tear, colour fading, and shrinkage from heat.
In addition to this, dryers break down spandex/elastane faster, causing your clothes to become misshapen, as well as causing microtears in the fabric. However, if you need to use a dryer, wool dryer balls can both help soften your clothes and remove static while also cutting down on drying time, which saves energy in the long run.
There’s a surprising amount of wastefulness in our day-to-day lives. Not only are our laundry items harming our clothing, but they’re also causing harm to ourselves and the planet. By reducing even just this small impact we have, we’d be doing a larger service for everyone around us. And while it may mean that we need to adjust our habits a bit, the benefits will definitely reach far further than we realise.