Change your laundry habits…
Chemical fabric softeners and your health
UPdate Fall 2008
A simple change in your laundry routine can save money, protect your health,
and help the environment, all at the same time.
Instead of using chemical fabric softeners in your laundry, the Environmental
Health Association of Nova Scotia (EHANS) suggests a switch to dryerballs.
What’s a dryerball? It’s football shaped or round (there are diffeent
varieties), about 3” long, and bumpy. A set of two dryerballs in your
dryer shortens drying time, reduces static and softens clothes. Using dryerballs
also cuts down on ironing, because clothes come out of the dryer less wrinkled.
Alison Petten, RN, is an educator and health consultant and a member of EHANS’ Managing
Board. She is a strong believer that we can do a lot to protect our health
by making smarter choices in the products we use every day. “There are
some very nasty ingredients in fabric softeners,” Petten says. “Several
ingredients release formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer in lab tests.
Others can cause asthma-like symptoms. The ingredients in fabric softeners
can also irritate skin.”
Unlike chemical fabric softeners, dryerballs leave no chemical residue. Chemical
fabric softeners, whether liquid or dryer sheets, are designed to leave chemical
residue in clothes and bedding. This cloud of chemicals becomes part of the
air we breathe, and remains in contact with our skin, all day and all night.
The chemicals also increase the risk of dryer fires, because they are highly
A lot of people don’t make the connection that the chemicals which we
breathe, and those we absorb through the skin, get into the bloodstream and
can effect every organ and system in the body,” Petten explains.
Petten has seen many health problems clear up when people stopped using chemical
fabric softeners. “I have seen marked improvement in clients with psoriasis,
eczema, asthma and migraines,” says Alison. “Others have told me
that their irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis improved when they cut chemical
fabric softeners out of their laundry routine.”
One striking example was a woman who was unable to work due to severe asthma.
After inquiring about her home environment, Petten suggested the woman begin
by eliminating fabric softener from her laundry, especially from her pillows
and bedding. After completely eliminating fabric softeners from her bedroom,
including bedding, sheets, pillows and clothing, the woman’s health improved
enough that she was able to return to work.
Dryerballs are good for the environment too. They save energy by shortening
drying time by 15%- 25%. Petten uses two sets together, and finds her laundry
dries even faster, saving her both time and money. With dryerballs, clothes
are softened without adding chemicals to wash water, which means no fabric
softening chemicals go down the drain and end up in our lakes and rivers. Everything
that goes down the drain eventually ends up in the environment, because sewage
treatment plants don’t filter out chemicals from laundry or other cleaning
“We want our fundraising to carry a message”, says Petten. “When
we sell dryerballs, we talk to people about how important it is to really think
about the products we use. We want to show people there are good alternatives
out there, and making changes isn’t as hard as you think. That’s
what the Guide to Less Toxic Products is all about.” Selling Nellie’s
Dryerballs is EHANS major fundraising activity for projects such as the popular
on-line Guide to Less Toxic Products.
A complete list of merchants selling Dryerballs for EHANS can be found at
UPdate, Fall 2008, Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia