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Fabric Softeners and Your Liver

Nicole Cutler

Aug 12th, 2011
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The public has been hoodwinked into thinking that fabric softeners are hygienic and necessary. However, the facts reveal that those with liver disease have every reason to find alternatives to commercially sold fabric softeners.

As the organ primarily responsible for detoxification, the liver must filter out the chemicals we encounter every day. Even though we usually think of toxic chemicals as dirty, uninvited substances in our lives, some of them are just the opposite. Fabric softeners represent the epitome of this conundrum – since we choose them to make our laundry smell clean and feel soft. Unfortunately, commercial fabric softeners are loaded with toxic chemicals, putting an additional and unnecessary detoxification burden on the liver.

While minimizing contact with toxins is usually advised for children, the elderly and those with a compromised immune system, it is also crucial for those with chronic liver disease. This is because battling chronic liver disease already stresses the liver before it must contend with its detoxification duties. In addition, those with chronic liver disease are likely to have liver inflammation or scarring that reduces the available surface area for filtering out toxins. With fewer functioning liver cells to filter toxins, those with liver disease are more susceptible to a toxin backup in the bloodstream. Depending on the magnitude of this backup, a whole range of potentially severe health problems can emerge. Some of the worst side effects implicated in toxins in the blood involve degradation of the central nervous system.

A majority of American households rely on fabric softeners for their laundry needs. They are so popular because consumers are led to believe that fabric softeners are the only way to:

  • Eliminate static cling
  • Make clothing feel soft
  • Leave laundered fabrics smelling clean and fresh

Unfortunately, most of the popular brands of fabric softeners contain toxins and carcinogens (known cancer-causing substances). According to the Allergy and Environmental Health Association, both liquid and dryer sheet fabric softeners are “the most toxic products produced for daily household use.”

Designed to linger in linens and clothing, the chemicals in fabric softeners are released slowly. While the release of these chemicals into the air creates a pleasant smell, they are also inhaled into the lungs of those nearby and absorbed through the skin of those who have direct contact with the item. Frequent users of fabric softener sheets may notice that their towels seem to lose absorbency and that their dryer vents clog easily. These two common short-comings of fabric softener sheets are a direct result of their chemical residue left behind. Some dryer manufacturers even warn consumers not to use fabric softener sheets, or include a clause stating use of chemical-based dryer sheets will void the warranty.

Found in most commercial fabric softeners, the following nine chemicals must be filtered out by the liver and are either considered to be a toxin or carcinogen. In addition, several are known to damage the liver:

  1. Benzyl acetate – carcinogen
  2. Alpha-terpineol – nervous system toxin
  3. Benzyl alcohol – nervous system toxin
  4. Ethyl acetate – damages the liver
  5. Chloroform – intensifies liver disorders and a nervous system toxin
  6. Pentane – nervous system toxin
  7. Ethanol – nervous system toxin
  8. Linalool – carcinogen and nervous system toxin
  9. Limonene – carcinogen

Besides breathing in the aromatic molecules released in the air by these toxins, skin that makes contact with clothing or linens dried with fabric softeners absorb the chemicals through the skin. The chemicals are especially absorbed by the skin during perspiration, when the body is wet and pores are open. The temperature used in laundering equipment makes these substances even more harmful. This additional hazard is because most chemicals are more dangerous when heated – which usually occurs in a clothes dryer.

Those who are aware of the toxicity that fabric softeners place on the liver recommend the following five alternatives for reducing static cling, softening fabrics and assuring a fresh laundry smell:

  1. Dissolve 1/2 cup of baking soda in the washing machine’s water before adding clothing. The baking soda functions as a water softener, resulting in soft clothing.
  2. Instead of baking soda, add a cup of white vinegar to the wash water to soften clothing. If you must use bleach in your laundry, never put vinegar in the same load; vinegar and bleach can react and cause toxic fumes.
  3. Since they are the culprits of static, keep synthetic fabrics out of the dryer. Hang them to dry instead.
  4. Natural fabric softeners can be purchased in most health food stores. Beware of commercially sold fabric softeners advertised as “Natural,” “Fragrance-free” or “Unscented,” because this does not equal chemical-free.
  5. For adding a floral scent to laundry, put a drop or two of essential oil on a clean washcloth and toss it into the dryer.

Commercially sold fabric softeners are full of chemicals that can stress the liver, and could pose a real threat to those already managing chronic liver disease. Help your liver by avoiding the toxins and carcinogens in these products. Instead, consider the alternatives for keeping your clothing soft, eliminating static cling and assuring your linens smell good.


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http://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/1476.pdf , Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet: Pentane, Retrieved August 1, 2010, New Jersey Department of Health, 2010.

http://realmama.org/2010/05/laundry-a-toxic-load-on-your-family-the-environment/, Laundry: A Toxic Load on Your Family & the Environment, Kari Jermansen Martin, Retrieved August 1, 2010, Real Mama … Healthy Planet, Healthy Families, 2010.

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/6-natural-alternatives-to-toxic-fabric-softeners.html, 6 Natural Alternatives to Toxic Fabric Softeners, Michelle Schoffro Cook, Retrieved August 1, 2010, Care2.com, Inc., 2010.

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/8-toxins-lurking-in-your-fabric-softener.html, 8 Toxins Lurking in Your Fabric Softener, Michelle Schoffro Cook, Retrieved August 1, 2010, Care2.com, Inc., 2010.

http://www.ei-resource.org/expert-columns/dr.-gloria-gilberes-column/take-a-whiff-of-this!-%28part-2%29-/, Take a Whiff of This! (Part 2) - Fabric Softeners, Gloria Gilbère, ND, DAHom, PhD, Retrieved August 1, 2010, The Environmental Illness Resource, 2010.

http://www.herc.org/hhc/MCSfactfict.html#FabSoft, Chemicals Found in Fabric Softeners, Julia Kendall, Retrieved August 1, 2010,The Healthy Housing Coalition, 2010.

http://www.liversupport.com/wordpress/2010/01/can-laundry-harm-your-liver/, Can Laundry Harm Your Liver?, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Natural Wellness, 2010.

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