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Ditch and Switch: Easy DIY Nontoxic Fabric Softener

As a young mom in my twenties, I was in the throes of learning to care for my babies, trying to figure out ongoing concerns of acid reflux,  eczema, and failure-to-thrive in my firstborn, while also navigating an assortment of my own health perplexities including asthma, weird skin issues, mystery tumors, and autoimmune thyroid disease. In an effort to get down to the bottom of what was causing our issues and to do whatever I could to promote better health for our family, I went down the road of researching some of the environmental factors known to contribute to and exacerbate these issues.  

As a result, every single household product we were using came under close scrutiny.  What kept popping up in my research was a connection between health concerns (such as asthma and skin irritations) and toxic exposure associated with commonly used laundry products.  Fabric softeners and dryer sheets were at the top of the list of major offenders.  

For me, what it came down to was a desire to minimize our toxic exposure and to make the environment in my home as safe and healthy as possible for me and my family!  In my last post, I talked about why we ditched dryer sheets; today I'm putting the spotlight on fabric softener.  If you're like me and want to minimize your toxic load in general and reduce toxins in your laundry room in particular, please ditch the fabric softener!  

Let me give you the quick rundown on why, which centers around three trouble ingredients common to most conventional fabric softeners: quaternary ammonium compounds ("quats" for short), fragrances, and added colorants and preservatives. 

Ditch These Toxins
Quats are a group of chemicals that soften fabrics, essentially by "sliming" them.  They include chemicals that, frankly, I can barely read much less pronounce!  Examples of a few quats are diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride, dialkyl dimethyl ammonium methyl sulfate, dihydrogenated palmoylethyl hydroxyethylmonium methosulfate, and di-(palm carboxyethyl) hydroxyethyl methyl ammonium methyl sulfate.  (A mouthful, right?!)

Why should we be concerned about them?  In short, according to information provided by the Environmental Working Group, these chemicals have been found--
1) to cause asthma in otherwise healthy people;
2) to be highly toxic to aquatic life;
3) to pose a serious risk of toxicity to the reproductive and endocrine systems; and
4) to pollute the air in general.

In addition, fabric softeners, like dryer sheets, are formulated with an assortment of questionable fragrances. Like I mentioned in last week's post, these fragrances often consist of untested chemicals involving toxic ingredients such as phthalates and synthetic musks.  Such substances are known to cause migraine headaches, allergies, skin irritations, and difficulty breathing.  (Not good!) 

A third cause for concern are the preservatives and colorants used in fabric softeners; they can include substances such as methylisothiazolinone--associated with skin reactions and rashes--and glutarol, a known asthma trigger and skin allergen.

So if you're looking to improve the air quality in your home, minimize risk factors to your health, and reduce your overall toxic exposure, consider ditching fabric softener and switching over to nontoxic alternatives.  

I've got to say that one of the fun perks for me in making this switch has been that I feel totally comfortable allowing my kids both to use these options and to help make them! Case in point, my young chemist sidekick below, helping me mix up our latest batch of homemade, all natural, nontoxic fabric softener (sharing the recipe below).  ;-)
Switch to a Natural Option
Here are a few nontoxic options to consider:

1) Wool dryer balls that naturally help to soften and fluff items in the dryer
2) Plain white vinegar --Add 1/2 cup to the rinse cycle; or if your washing machine is like mine, add it to the "fabric softener" dispenser.
3) DIY natural solution with vinegar and essential oil --This one is a recent favorite of mine.  The vinegar is diluted in water, and the Wild Orange essential oil lends a lovely citrusy fragrance. Here's how to make it:

DIY Natural Fabric Softener with Essential Oils
Ingredients and Supplies:
Quart-sized glass Mason jar 
1 cup water 
3/4 cup white vinegar
2 Tablespoons baking soda
4 drops Wild Orange essential oil

Instructions:
1.  Pour water and vinegar into the jar.  
2.  Slowly sprinkle baking soda a little at a time into the mixture.  Be careful not to add too much at once: adding a base like baking soda to an acid like vinegar creates a chemical reaction with lots of bubbles!  If you just dump in the baking soda or add it too fast, your mixture will fizz and bubble up over the top of the jar. (I speak from personal experience... ;-) ) 
3.  Add essential oil and top jar with lid.  Shake well to blend, and shake again before using in your washing machine.
4.  Add 1/2 cup to your washing machine's rinse cycle or fabric softener dispenser.

Have you used Wild Orange essential oil before?  Would you like to try a free sample?  







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