Are Dryer Sheets and Liquid Softeners Safe for the Environment?

By Bob Schildgen

Hey Mr. Green,

Do you recommend any dryer sheets or liquid fabric softeners for clothes?

— David in Brentwood, New Hampshire

Having never used such products myself, I turned to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which is a great source for information. The EWG's highest recommendations for dryer sheets are Grab Green Wet Dryer Sheets, Unscented; Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day (in various scents); and Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Dryer Sheets, Unscented. Grab Green got a B, while the other two only earned a C grade. All the 40-some others got a D—or worse, an F.

As for fabric softeners, EWG recommends Attitude Green Shield (in various scents, and Green Shield Lavender Mint). They both got an A grade, while 51 of the total of 180 kinds rated earned a whopping F. See here for more details.

EWG recommends that you skip fabric softeners altogether, because they may contain "quats," that is, "quaternary ammonium compounds known to trigger asthma and may be toxic to our reproductive systems," and other compounds such as "distearyldimonium chloride, diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride, variants of hydroxyethyl methyl ammonium methyl sulfate" or stuff with vague names like "biodegradable fabric softening agents" and "cationic surfactant"—not to mention some 3,000 other chemicals.

If you still feel a desperate need for a softener, just go online and search for fabric softener + alternatives. You will easily find at least a half-dozen alternatives that are safer than the chemical choices.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.