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Household cleaning product companies like Proctor & Gamble Co. have reported consistently decreasing sales of fabric softener over the last decade, but the question is why?

Over the last decade, U.S. fabric softener (or sometimes referred to as fabric conditioner) sales have dropped by a staggering 15 percent1, and according to an article published by the Wall Street Journal, P&G is blaming the sharp usage decline on millennials for not knowing what the product is used for.

Although millennials are being blamed for the decrease in fabric softener usage, it’s not because they are too dumb to know what it’s used for. Instead, many people are becoming more educated about the dangerous chemicals that are common ingredients in fabric softeners, and they are proactively choosing to not use them.

Why do people buy fabric softener?

Fabric softeners were invented in the mid-1900’s and have since been used to combat static cling, reduce clothing stiffness, and protect clothing from color fading, stretching, pilling, and fuzz2. In addition, many people use fabric softeners to give clothing a fresh, clean scent.

What are the different kinds of fabric softener?

There are currently two types of fabric softeners:

Liquid – Fabric softening liquids are added to your laundry during your washer’s rinse cycle so that it can be dispersed equally throughout your clothing.

Dryer Sheets – Fabric softening dryer sheets accompany your wet clothing when you place it in your dryer. The moisture from your clothing and heat from your dryer releases the fabric softener from the dryer sheet and transfers it into your clothing.

What’s in fabric softener?*

Unfortunately, fabric softeners have a variety of potentially harmful chemicals in them that are associated with many adverse health affects. A few of these chemicals are listed below:

  • Glutaraldehyde: a regulated chemical that can cause respiratory problems and skin reactions and conditions like eczema
  • Ethyl Alcohol: a known carcinogen that is listed by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) and the NTP (National Toxicology Program)
  • Fragrances and dyes: artificial fragrances and dyes can cause skin conditions and allergic reactions
  • Hexylene Glycol: an aerosol that is absorbed by inhalation and is associated with skin, eye, and respiratory irritation
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Di-C14-18): a toxic chemical that causes serious eye damage and skin irritation
  • Hydrochloric Acid: an acid that causes severe skin burns and eye damage and is toxic if it is inhaled

Why avoiding fabric softener may be a better option:

For fabric softeners to be effective, they need to remain in your clothing. This means that from your morning shower when you dry yourself with your towel to the clothing you wear all day and night, your skin is in continuous contact with these chemicals and absorbing them through your pores.

Alternatives to fabric softeners:

Static cling, clothing stiffness, fading, stretching, unpleasant odors, and pilling are often caused by washing clothing in poor quality water. When you are washing your clothing with hard water, the minerals in your water prevent your clothing from becoming fully clean, and a lot of the time, they stay in your clothes, which contributes to static.

Here are a few things can help you have cleaner laundry without using fabric softener or other chemicals:

1. Purchase a water softener. When your clothes are washed in cleaner water, they are not exposed to as many abrasive chemicals and minerals that are found in your municipality’s water. This makes it easier for your washer and dryer to do their jobs and gives you cleaner and softer clothing. Not to mention–using cleaner water in your appliances will probably make them last longer!

2. Use vinegar instead of fabric softener. If you fill your fabric softener dispenser with vinegar instead of fabric softener, the vinegar will be dispersed into your clothes during the rinse cycle (if your washer does not have a fabric softener dispenser, you can add the vinegar directly to your clothing during the rinse cycle for the same affect). Vinegar is a natural fabric softener, and will help your clothes feel softer when you pull them out of your dryer. Don’t worry–your clothes will not smell like vinegar once they are dry. Keep in mind that the harder your water is, the more vinegar you will need to use to make your clothing soft, so start with less and then add more until you’re comfortable with the amount of vinegar you’re using and the softness of your clothes.

3. Use wool dryer balls when drying your clothes in the dryer. Wool dryer balls are a natural way to reduce static and soften your clothes while they are in the dryer.

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