Can dryer sheets cause cancer?

Have you ever been out for a walk in your neighborhood, and gotten a whiff of someone’s laundry? It may smell great, but the perfume smell is no friend to the environment, and it’s certainly no friend to you either. Did you know that fragrances are among the world’s top five allergens?

Dryer sheets and fabric softeners were created for synthetic fabrics, to prevent static cling. They are designed to leave a chemical residue on fabric, most commonly “quats” (short for quaternary ammonium compounds).

That long-lasting fragrant smell is long lasting is called fragrance substantivity, and it is intended to last by the manufacturer. These scented sheets and softeners can be deceptively toxic—with chemicals contributing to a wide range of health problems, allergic reactions, and other symptoms through skin contact and inhalation for unknowing consumers.

Dryer sheet fragrance chemicals are not natural—they are derived from chemicals—many are known carcinogens that cause liver damage and cancer in mammals.

“Most of our exposure to hazardous pollutants occurs indoors, and a primary source of these pollutants is our everyday consumer products,” says Anne Steinemann at the University of Melbourne in Australia.Australia.

Dr. Anne Steinmann tested dryer vent emissions with 25 of the most common brands of scented laundry products, here’s what she found:

  • More than 600 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were emitted, and only two of those compounds were listed on any of the associated MSDS. In addition, none of the chemicals were listed on any of the 25 product labels. Instead, these chemicals are listed under generic categories such as “biodegradable surfactants,” “softeners,” or “perfume.”
  • Two of the VOCs found; acetaldehyde and benzene are considered by the EPA to be carcinogenic and unsafe at ANY exposure level.
  • Seven of the VOCs are classified as “hazardous air pollutants.”
  • Three of the highest concentration VOC levels were for acetaldehyde, acetone and ethanol.
  • Only 25 percent of the VOCs were classified as toxic or hazardous under federal laws.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry-generated Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) , the following is a list of chemicals used in fabric softener products.

  1. Alpha-Terpineol – This chemical has been linked to disorders of the brain and nervous system, loss of muscle control, depression, and headaches
  2. Benzyl acetate – Benzyl acetate has been linked to cancer of the pancreas
  3. Benzyl alcohol – This upper respiratory tract irritant can cause central nervous system (CNS) disorders, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and dramatic drops in blood pressure.
  4. Chloroform – Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic. Really toxic to your brain. Inhaling its vapors may cause loss of consciousness, nausea, headache, vomiting, and/or dizziness, drowsiness.
  5. Ethanol – Another fabric softener ingredient which is on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list and linked to CNS disorders.
  6. Ethyl Acetate – causes headaches and is on the EPA Hazardous Waste list
  7. Linalool – in studies, this chemical caused loss of muscle coordination, nervous system and brain disorders, and depression
  8. Pentane – causes headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, and depression.

According to the lesstoxicguide.ca site “Fabric softeners may contain quarternary ammonium compounds (quats) and imidazolidinyl, both of which are known formaldehyde releasers.

For about 5% of people, quats are an extreme sensitizer. They may cause a variety of asthma-like symptoms, including respiratory arrest. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chronic fatigue and a variety of other symptoms. In lab tests formaldehyde has caused cancer and damaged DNA.”

Common symptoms to dryer sheet exposures

Dryer sheets have numerous chemicals which can cross your blood brain barrier, in addition many fragrances are petroleum based and can be neurotoxic.  Chemicals can sensitize your immune system and build up your level of toxicity, making you more reactive with each exposure.

Due to the large number of chemicals in dryer sheets it is impossible to list all of their adverse reactions, but here is a list of common reactions:

Allergic asthmaBirth Defects
Brain fogEndocrine disruption
CancerCentral nervous system disorders
Difficulty concentratingDizziness
Eye IrritationHeadaches
LethargyMigraines
NauseaRashes
Reactive Airways DiseaseSinus Problems
Skin ItchingVomiting

The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, a leading international authority on asthma, considers many of the chemicals in dryer sheets “asthmagens,” substances that can cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy people. Since asthma affects 1 in 10 children, dryer sheets should be avoided.

That’s why I’m so glad I discovered a brand that only uses biodegradable plant-based softening agents, and fragrance capsules without formaldehyde! This brand uses natural essential oils for fragrance. It is available in dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener. My favorite is called Clean Cotton and it uses tangerine, clove, and patchouli essential oils. My second favorite is called Spring Breeze which is a blend of chamomile, geranium, and cedar wood. My family’s favorite though, is Garden Lavender, they claim when used on the bed linens, they sleep so much better and feel more rested—the primary ingredient in Garden Lavender is lavender essential oil. With long-lasting scent encapsulation technology, clothes laundered with my favorite brand continue to smell naturally clean and fresh for days after being washed. We love the brand and are glad we are doing our part for a healthy and safer home.