Change your laundry habits… Chemical fabric softeners and your health
UPdate Fall 2008

A simple change in your laundry routine can save money, protect your health, and help the environment, all at the same time.

Instead of using chemical fabric softeners in your laundry, the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia (EHANS) suggests a switch to dryerballs. What’s a dryerball? It’s football shaped or round (there are diffeent varieties), about 3” long, and bumpy. A set of two dryerballs in your dryer shortens drying time, reduces static and softens clothes. Using dryerballs also cuts down on ironing, because clothes come out of the dryer less wrinkled.

Alison Petten, RN, is an educator and health consultant and a member of EHANS’ Managing Board. She is a strong believer that we can do a lot to protect our health by making smarter choices in the products we use every day. “There are some very nasty ingredients in fabric softeners,” Petten says. “Several ingredients release formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer in lab tests. Others can cause asthma-like symptoms. The ingredients in fabric softeners can also irritate skin.”

Unlike chemical fabric softeners, dryerballs leave no chemical residue. Chemical fabric softeners, whether liquid or dryer sheets, are designed to leave chemical residue in clothes and bedding. This cloud of chemicals becomes part of the air we breathe, and remains in contact with our skin, all day and all night. The chemicals also increase the risk of dryer fires, because they are highly flammable.

“ A lot of people don’t make the connection that the chemicals which we breathe, and those we absorb through the skin, get into the bloodstream and can effect every organ and system in the body,” Petten explains.

Petten has seen many health problems clear up when people stopped using chemical fabric softeners. “I have seen marked improvement in clients with psoriasis, eczema, asthma and migraines,” says Alison. “Others have told me that their irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis improved when they cut chemical fabric softeners out of their laundry routine.”

One striking example was a woman who was unable to work due to severe asthma. After inquiring about her home environment, Petten suggested the woman begin by eliminating fabric softener from her laundry, especially from her pillows and bedding. After completely eliminating fabric softeners from her bedroom, including bedding, sheets, pillows and clothing, the woman’s health improved enough that she was able to return to work.

Dryerballs are good for the environment too. They save energy by shortening drying time by 15%- 25%. Petten uses two sets together, and finds her laundry dries even faster, saving her both time and money. With dryerballs, clothes are softened without adding chemicals to wash water, which means no fabric softening chemicals go down the drain and end up in our lakes and rivers. Everything that goes down the drain eventually ends up in the environment, because sewage treatment plants don’t filter out chemicals from laundry or other cleaning products.
“We want our fundraising to carry a message”, says Petten. “When we sell dryerballs, we talk to people about how important it is to really think about the products we use. We want to show people there are good alternatives out there, and making changes isn’t as hard as you think. That’s what the Guide to Less Toxic Products is all about.” Selling Nellie’s Dryerballs is EHANS major fundraising activity for projects such as the popular on-line Guide to Less Toxic Products.

A complete list of merchants selling Dryerballs for EHANS can be found at

UPdate, Fall 2008, Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia