Fabric Softener - yes or no?

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Fabric Softener - yes or no?

Did you know commercial Fabric Softeners are not only bad for the environment but are also detrimental for your health?

I know, surprising right! We have been so conditioned (yes a play on words there) to think they are a necessary part of our washing lives. As a society, we started using Fabric Softeners soon after commercial laundry powders were developed because the powders left our clothes rough and scratchy. Our TVs and magazine pages are full of ads that look like this one, convincing us why we need fabric softeners.

However, with the increase in ingredient technology in laundry powders, the fabric softeners are usually no longer the necessity they once were. Fabric Softeners are generally designed to prevent static, help with wrinkles, add a scent and make the materials feel softer. They achieve these goals by covering the clothes in a thin layer of film that is designed to stay on the fabric to help the scent stay there while they’re being worn.

So what is the downside to Fabric Softeners?

Like I said, fabric softeners cover the clothes in a layer of film that is designed to stay there. A chemical classified as a phthalate is what helps the fabric softener ‘stick’ to the fabric during the washing process (the same ingredient is used in commercial perfumes to make the scent ‘stick’ to your skin for longer too). Every time that item of clothes or towels or sheets are washed in that fabric softener that layer is added to, and gets thicker over time. Many parts of your washing machine and the pipes also receive a coating of this fabric softener. None of this is ideal. I often get asked by people whether my Laundry Detergent and Laundry Powder recipes would work on their athletic clothes which often smell pretty bad or their towels which have stopped being so absorbent. My first question is whether those clothes and towels have been subjected to commercial fabric softeners every time they’ve ever been washed? If yes, my answer is that the layers of fabric softener have to be removed first, before anything can ever clean those items and before the towels will have a chance to become absorbent again.

So what is the problem with Phthalates?

They have been linked to a variety of diseases and illnesses that have had marked increases in society since they were invented and distributed in everyday products. The biggest issue is that these chemicals are endocrine disruptors which means they play havoc with our hormones. The scary part is that we can be constantly exposed to these things every day from plastic food containers and wraps, vinyl flooring, glues, paints, body washes, shampoos and conditioners, scented candles, nail polish and many more. The increase in the use of these chemicals in so many things in our homes has contributed significantly to the increased infertility, earlier onset of puberty and increased anti-social behaviour we see in society today. The ACCC specifically lists this risk in children up to 36 months of age if they chew items containing this toxic ingredient for more than 40 minutes per day – but why would you want them to be near it for even 1 minute ever?

Unfortunately most people aren’t aware of phthalates yet and it’s still difficult to determine their existence on ingredients lists but one day it is my dream to start seeing these labels on products so we can make more informed choices.

The biggest danger in commercial fabric softeners is the fragrance that is added to make it smell a certain way. Unless it is specifically listed as coming from nature (eg. essential oils) and not a lab, you have no idea what toxic ingredients have been used to create the scent in the lab. Due to current regulations, companies can claim that their fragrance is a trade secret so they don’t have to disclose the specific ingredients. Therefore if the ingredients list simply states “fragrance” or “perfume” or “natural scent” stay very far away from them. You have a right to know what is in products that you will putting in the air you breathe and absorb into your skin. Here’s a better idea – make them yourself and choose every ingredient that goes into them.

My recommendation to the fabric softener issue – either use none at all, or make your own out of completely natural and safe  ingredients.

How to make your own:

This recipe can be made up in any bottle (re-use one you’ve finished with) – glass is always better when essential oils are involved, but I make my decision based on who has access to it and how safe the location is. For example our Fabric Softener sits on top of our laundry bench on the edge of the laundry tub so I use a plastic bottle as it often ends up falling into the tub.

  1. In a glass jar or heat-proof container add somewhere between 1 tablespoon to 1/2 cup of salt (depending on how much you want to make in the end) and fill with boiling water and stir to dissolve. This solution should make up about half to three-quarters of the final volume of Fabric Softener you want to make.
  2. Once the salt solution cools, tip it into the final container.
  3. Fill almost all of the remaining space with vinegar.
  4. Add approximately 20 drops of your choice of essential oils (eg. OnGuard, Lavender, Clearify, Wild Orange, Lemon, Tea Tree and many more).

Check out the full range of essentials oils available.

If possible, always dry your clothes in the sun.

Why is is better to dry your clothes outside than in the dryer:

  • it saves you money to spend on more important things
  • less fossil fuels entering our atmosphere
  • helps remove strong odours
  • gentle on clothes
  • UV rays help to whiten and brighten white or light coloured clothes or towels
  • UV rays help to disinfect clothes – perfect help for kids clothes
  • you get 10 mins of sunlight – great for your vitamin D levels
  • peace and quiet time while you hang that washing.
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