First, the gory details: Repeated washings with fabric softeners will definitely increase the material’s flammability and decrease its ability to absorb water and breathe, especially if the fabric is 100% cotton or 100% polyester.
Softener coats fabric with petroleum-based chemicals that are designed to prevent static electricity in your clothes and bedding. One of the effects is that the original finish of the fabric, which is part of what makes it feel or look the way it does, begins to break down so that the fabric wears out more quickly and more easily.
Another effect, and the more dangerous one, is that many of these chemicals are, at the very least, irritants to the human body. Ingredients range from benzyl alcohol, which bothers the upper respiratory tract, to phthalates and benzyl acetate, which have been linked to breast cancer and pancreatic cancer, respectively. A number of these ingredients have been put on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Hazardous Waste Lists.
So how do you keep your linens and textiles soft without exposing yourself to all these chemicals?
Vinegar is a good natural softener that won’t put chemicals on your fabrics or make your clothes less absorbent. Plus, it’s generally cheaper than traditional softeners. If you’re concerned that it will make your clothes and sheets smell like vinegar, no worries — it doesn’t leave a smell behind at all. Check out this post from Green Idea Reviews for a personal account of vinegar as a fabric softener.
However, vinegar won’t prevent static quite like regular fabric softener or dryer sheets. A great alternative to these is an aluminum foil ball. Not only is it cheaper in the long run (as they easily can be used for over six months), but an aluminum foil ball won’t leave chemicals on your clothes or bedding. It will work well in conjunction with the vinegar as a softener. Once again, Green Idea Reviews has a good personal post about using this alternative to dryer sheets.
Not only is it a cheaper transition from traditional softener to vinegar and aluminum foil, but it’s also a fairly smooth one. It’s an easy way to live a healthier life while maintaining your basic life habits.