Dryer Sheets and Fabric Softeners: A highly profitable and toxic bane to peaceful coexistence. Breathe easy? There is no escape. No BBQ. No fresh scent after a gentle rain.
Horrible any time of year, but warm weather brings more time spent outdoors, and windows are open. Always enjoyable. That is if you are not subjected to the noxious and debilitating smells emanating from laundry dryers, or even on the clothes of someone next to you. You don't have to be chemically "sensitive" to have a bad reaction. It’s insidious stuff. You become a prisoner in your home, and can't even have a window open.
There are no regulations for dryer emissions in the United States. There is no filter available that I know of that will purify the emitted fumes. But that's not all; it's not healthy to have fabric that has been so treated on your skin. It's especially bad for babies and small children. People have too long equated the smell of chlorine with "clean," and perfumed clothing with "clean." Give me clean dirt smell any day, and an ordinance to ban this stuff an/or these emissions. Neighbors shouldn't control enjoyment of one's surroundings. Dialogue fails. I don't get why people don't understand how harmful it is to them. I'm not making this chemical toxicity stuff up.
When airborne, the emissions land on plants, birds, and insects. I have read reports of bees dropping dead midflight when they have been hit with dryer emissions. It takes hours for the smell to evaporate from plants. How much plants absorb, I do not know.
For people who don't dry clothing outside, vinegar can be added to the rinse water; baking soda works very well as a fabric softener. You can support Maine home-grown business by using Maine-made wool dryer balls instead of fabric softeners and dryer sheets, from such companies as LooHoo, based in Camden.
The following report is from the Environmental Health Association of Ontario, Canada. I chose this 1996, Canadian reference, as it is the most comprehensive in providing alternative suggestions for many commonly used toxic products, and it is an authoritative source. What is stated here is applicable to dryer sheets, which, due to heating and exhaust ventilation cause significant distress. Note that regular users become oblivious to the scents as they are neurotoxic.
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Health Risks of Fabric Softeners
© Echo/Ecological Housing, 1998
There are many potentially dangerous products used in the home. To list the chemicals in each of them and the health risks for each of these would produce a truly huge volume. We have chosen fabric softener as the prime illustrative example for a number of reasons.
It is the most toxic product produced for daily household use. It has been found to be associated with numerous illnesses and chronic conditions. It is widely advertised, widely used. The effects of its toxicity are insidious; a user becomes "chronically maladapted" to it. The exposure is so constant that it can be difficult to connect the product with the signs of reactivity it causes. Neurostimulant/irritants and central nervous system toxins used in these products are known to produce an addictive-type response that may cause the user to experience a feeling of pleasure when the product is directly inhaled. Regular users of fabric softeners (and perfumes) also often claim they "can hardly smell it". This too is an effect of chemical ingredients on neural receptors.
The product is designed to impregnate fibres and slowly re-release for an extended period of time. That re-releasing affects the health not only of users, but those around them.
The following information contains a partial list of the chemical ingredients of fabric softeners and the potential effects of exposure to them as quoted from manufacturers' Material Safety Data Sheets. For the purposes of this document, Central Nervous System has been abbreviated to CNS. CNS toxin exposure symptoms include: dizziness, disorientation, nausea, headaches, mood swings, numbness in face or extremities, pain in neck or spine, memory loss, aphasia (difficulty speaking), confusion, irritability. CNS disorders include: Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Dementia, Seizures, Multiple Sclerosis, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Hyperactivity, Strokes, Attention Deficit Disorder, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Risks of Perfumes and Scented Products (continued in Comments, with apologies for the duplications and lack of alignment of chemicals with effects).