Obsessed with Fabric Softeners & Dryer Sheets? These Harmful Chemicals May Make You Rethink Your Laundry Routine

Obsessed with Fabric Softeners & Dryer Sheets? These Harmful Chemicals May Make You Rethink Your Laundry Routine

We all want our laundry to look, feel, and smell clean. But what exactly does “clean” smell like? To some, it smells like the absence of offensive odors, with a hint of freshness. To others, it might smell like the signature scent of your favorite laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, or laundry scent booster beads. However, out of all of the chemicals found in everyday household cleaning products, those found in softeners and dryer sheets are considered to be among the most harmful. 

The reality is that most commercial dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners are composed of noxious chemicals combined with a hefty dose of synthetic fragrance chemicals. The term “fragrance” on a label can mean dozens or even hundreds of harsh chemicals. These fragrance chemicals have been designed to cling to fabric fibers so that the signature scent stays on the clothing long after it’s been washed and dried. In fact, it may take as many as twelve to fifteen wash cycles to completely remove the chemical residue from your clothing, bedding, and linens. This is known as “fragrance substantivity”, which describes how long a fragrance lasts on a particular surface and how it’s affected by temperature and other conditions. Since these harsh chemicals permeate the clothing, they gradually enter the body through the skin and lungs. Alarmingly, many of these chemicals can directly affect the nervous system and endocrine system, and can contribute to respiratory irritation, asthma, and chronic illnesses. 

Even if you may only use your fabric softener or dryer sheets occasionally, they can still off-gas chemicals inside your living space and degrade your indoor air quality. Off-gassing (also known as out-gassing) refers to the release of airborne particulates or chemicals – dubbed volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – into the environment. Do you smell your laundry products when you walk into your laundry room? If yes, it means that these products are off-gassing. 

Dryer sheets are particularly harmful because when heated in the dryer, VOCs are released through dryer vents and out into the environment. 

And if you use these products every time you wash a load? Then it’s likely that these chemicals are accompanying you day and night through your skin and your lungs as you wear your clothing and sleep in your sheets. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of these issues, and because of the non-stop exposure to these harsh chemicals, it’s difficult for them to realize the impact it has on their health – not to mention the health of those around them. Additionally, constant exposure to these sweet-smelling chemicals can actually leave people craving the smell of the laundry products.

Related: What’s That Smell? Avoid These Big Bad Chemicals Found in Common Household Cleaners 

There are enough harsh chemicals, toxins, and carcinogens in most liquid fabric softeners, dryer sheets, and other laundry products to make Erin Brockovich stand up and take notice. 

Here are just a few of the pernicious chemicals commonly found in laundry products: 

Alpha Terpineol

Commonly found in traditional disposable dryer sheets as a fragrance ingredient. This chemical can cause headaches, loss of muscular control, respiratory problems, and central nervous damage. 

Benzyl Acetate

Found in laundry products that contain essential oils (bergamot, lavender, sage, and more). Has been linked to pancreatic cancer. 

Benzyl Alcohol 

A common ingredient in fabric softeners and dryer sheets; A known allergen that can cause respiratory tract irritation. Also a known central nervous system depressant. 


It is easily absorbed through the skin. It can cause confusion, dizziness, headaches, skin irritation, and central nervous disorders. 


In fabric softeners, chloroform is a solvent and aromatic agent. It’s a known carcinogenic neurotoxin and is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Hazardous Waste list. The inhalation of chloroform fumes depresses the central nervous system. In high concentrations or with repeated exposure, chloroform may cause headaches, gastrointestinal problems, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of the respiratory tract, and loss of consciousness. It also aggravates kidney, liver, heart, and skin disorders.

Ethyl Acetate

A solvent used in the manufacture of dryer sheets, Ethyl Acetate, dissolves easily and leaves behind only a pleasant smell. This narcotic is also on the EPA's Hazardous Waste list. It can cause eye irritation, respiratory irritation, headaches, anemia and can cause damage to the liver and kidneys. Prolonged exposure may lead to dry or cracked skin.


An alcohol compound that has a pleasant flower-like scent. It’s often used to scent dryers, sheets, and fabric softeners. It can cause central nervous system disorders, respiratory problems, and impair motor activity.


Usually omitted from ingredients lists because they are hidden behind the “fragrance” label. The chemical, which is used in laundry products to prolong that fresh laundry scent, is known to disrupt hormone and reproductive systems.

When it Comes to Laundry, Less is More. 

Besides the long list of adverse health effects, the toxic mixture of harsh chemicals found in fabric softeners and dryer sheets isn’t doing our clothes and linens any favors. As mentioned above, the formulas found in these products are designed to be absorbed into the fabric’s fibers – creating a lasting fragrance and softness. But over time, these chemicals build up in our clothes and linens, and the residue can attract dirt and grime. For instance, on bath towels, fabric softeners interfere with the natural absorbency of cotton and, over time, can make your plush bath towel about as inviting as a polyester suit.

So, why are we buying products that are harmful to our health, the environment, and our laundry? There is a better way. 

Rather than using harmful scented laundry products, opt for a fragrance-free laundry detergent and just say “no” to scented softeners and dryer sheets. Our allergist and dermatologist recommended Anti-Allergen Laundry Detergent is plant and mineral-based and 100% biodegradable, making it a planet-friendly choice. It’s also hypoallergenic, and does not contain fragrance, dyes, or perfumes. And while it’s gentle on household washables, it’s powerful enough to remove even the toughest odors and stubborn stains. 

In the place of dryer sheets or softeners, try using wool dryer balls; a set of four usually costs less than a month’s supply of single-use dryer sheets. Dryer balls are a fantastic all-natural way to soften your clothes, eliminate static, and reduce energy usage by drying your clothes faster, all without leaving a chemical residue all over your clothing and laundry machines.

Have questions about cleaning or reducing allergens? We have answers! The Ecology Works has been leading the way in green cleaning since 1993. We can help you select the products you need to live a better, allergen-free life. Please feel free to Contact Us or message us on Facebook. No question is too small! We're here to help.