Natural Alternatives to Toxic Fabric Softener Products


Want an easy way to eliminate super toxic chemicals from your daily life?  Throw away your dryer sheets and/or fabric softener!

I have never liked the filmy residue these products leave behind on my clean laundry.  When I learned that fabric softener products are highly toxic, it came as little surprise.  What really saddens me is that people continue to use these products not realizing they are soaking their clothes in chemicals which will later be absorbed into their skin.  And the skin of their children!

What is wrong with commercial fabric softener products?

When trying to find a manufacturer list of ingredients in Downy, Bounce or any other leading brand of fabric softener, I found that the ingredient list is rather vague.  On many products it goes something like this: Biodegradable cationic softeners and perfume.  (Quote from a box of Bounce dryer sheets.)  Biodegradable?  That sounds good for the environment!  And perfume, I like that!

Not so fast.

What is a cationic softener?  Cationic softeners are made up of something called quaternary ammonium salts (quats), with the most common compound used being  dipalmitoylethyl hydroxyethylmonium methosulfate, which is synthetically derived from palm oil.  Quats work to reduce static and make fabrics feel softer by emulsifying and settling on clothes.  This means when you wear your clothes, synthetically derived ammonium salt will be rubbing all over your body and get absorbed by your skin.

And perfume; any time you see that word on a label you can be sure it is of moderate to high toxicity.   According to, “The word “fragrance” or “parfum” on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.”

Fabric softeners have been proven in studies to cause respiratory distress because the chemicals can become airborne and inhaled.  People with asthma should definitely not be using chemical softeners on their clothes.  Further, using chemical fabric softeners can pollute the environment when they are sent out the dryer vent.  I can always tell when my neighbor is doing laundry because I smell an overwhelming “fragrance” around her dryer vent.  (It blows onto our driveway.  City living is close living!)  It may smell nice but it is not healthy to be breathing that stuff in.

What about “sensitive” commercial fabric softeners?

I found the ingredient list for Ultra Downy Liquid, Free and Sensitive, which I thought would be less harsh than the normal product line.

Ultra Downy Free Sensitive

More ammonium chloride.  Thankfully,’s Skin Deep database classifies ammonium chloride at a low risk level, but it still does not sound like something I want rubbing all over my children’s skin.

Formic Acid.  Is used as an anti-microbial agent and preservative.  It occurs naturally in ant and bee venom.  Formic acid can inhibit cells from accessing oxygen from the bloodstream, causing cell death.  (Source)

Benzisothiazolinone.  As the list states, this chemical is included as a preservative.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified this chemical as a possible human toxicant or irritant, while the European Union has deemed it toxic to humans and banned it from use around the mouth or lips.  The EPA has also found it to be toxic to aquatic life and therefore this chemical presents environmental concerns.

Diethylenetriamine Pentaacetate.  According to this document from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), diethylenetriamine exposure can occur through inhalation or absorbed by the skin.  The CDC has found this chemical to be an extreme irritant to the eyes, skin, mucous membranes and upper respiratory tract.

As you can see, even the “Free & Sensitive” line is still full of toxins.  I don’t know how others may feel but I prefer to avoid chemicals, especially when there are easy, natural alternatives available.

My Natural Alternatives to Toxic Fabric Softeners.

White Vinegar


This is the method I currently use in my laundry.  I simply pour a little undiluted white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser, about half full, and the machine disperses it during the rinse cycle.  Surprisingly, your laundry will not smell like vinegar.  I cannot stand the smell of vinegar.  One time I poured the fabric softener dispenser all the way up with vinegar and my clothes came out with a faint smell, so with future loads I simply reduced the amount I added and the smell was gone.

I use this with every load.  We have really hard water and my laundry can get really rough without using the vinegar.  It helps reduce static and naturally soften clothes.  The best part (besides how easy it is) is the cost.  It is super cheap!


Wool Dryer Balls

This is something on my wish-list.  I have not tried wool dryer balls, but I have heard nothing but good things about them.  You can add a drop or two of essential oils to the balls, throw them in the dryer and enjoy the benefits.  Even the reviews on Amazon are all really good.  This is a must-try for the near future.  Maybe it will even get my husband to switch over!

wool balls

Photo courtesty of


What is your choice of fabric softener?  Have you ever tried wool dryer balls?  Please share in the comments below!

Easy and Natural Alternatives to Toxic Commercial Fabric Softeners #greenliving #chemicalfree #cleanliving #greenlaundry

Additional Sources:


4 thoughts on “Natural Alternatives to Toxic Fabric Softener Products

  1. I have always been highly allergic to fabric softeners and my son is, too! We use EcoNuts Laundry “Soap” (soap nuts) and they do a great job of softening clothing and removing the gunk that laundry detergent builds up! I’ve never thought to use white vinegar, but DUH! Haha!


    • Oooh another great suggestion. Thanks Jaclyn! I am going to try soap nuts. We use an eco-friendly detergent but its from Costco so how “eco-friendly” can it really be. Soap nuts sounds especially great for babies and small kiddos. Thanks again!


  2. Have you noticed any difference with static electricity when using vinegar? Fabric softness are supposed to have properties that help lessen static electricity and I was just curios if the vinegar did the same? Thanks for the great tip!


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