Get rid of chemical fabric softeners: Protect your health and the environment
Website Special 2007

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 will shorten drying time by 15-25%. Dryerballs are made to eliminate static and soften clothes. They also cut down on ironing, because clothes come out of the dryer less wrinkled.

Alison Petten, RN, is an educator and health consultant and a volunteer with EHANS. 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 chemicals 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 a number of health problems clear up when people stopped using chemical fabric softeners. “I have seen marked improvement in clients with psoriasis, eczema, asthma and migraines.” Petten says. “Others have told me that their irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis improved when they cut chemical fabric softeners out of their laundry routine.”

One woman who Petten advised was unable to work due to severe asthma. After inquiring about her home environment, Petten suggested she start by eliminating fabric softener from her laundry, especially from her pillow and bedding. After creating a space free of fabric softeners in her own bedroom, 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, no chemicals are added to wash water, which means no chemicals to 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.

The non-profit Environmental Health Association is selling Nellie’s Dryerballs to raise money for its public awareness projects, including the popular on-line Guide to Less Toxic 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.”

The Guide to Less Toxic Products,, helps people learn about the hazardous chemicals in many common products, from shampoos to air fresheners to household cleaners. The website provides lists of less toxic alternatives, and many make-your own recipes. There are a number of suggestions for alternatives to chemical fabric softeners on the website, including dryerballs. The Guide to Less Toxic Products is referenced by local and national organizations, including the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and the Environment.

Dryerballs are guaranteed for two years, but typically last much longer. A list of merchants selling Dryerballs for EHANS is available at: