Toxicity of Dryer Sheets, Fabric Softeners, and Laundry Detergents

Written by Sarah C. Corriher (reprinted for safekeeping)

Health conscious people have a tendency to overlook the hazards in their cleaning materials, and manufacturers are not required to accurately list the ingredients of such products. Manufacturers simply do not mention ingredients that they think customers would disapprove of. In other cases, they use vague terms like “brightener”, instead of listing the standard chemical names.

Laundry detergents usually contain chemicals that are dangerous to the health and irritating to the skin. A residue of these chemicals remains on clothing after it is washed. Clear evidence of this can be found in scented products, because chemical fragrances would be useless if they were simply washed out. Chemical fragrances are especially bad, and are known for aggravating asthma.

This is likely to be the worst dryer product on the consumer market because of its added “Febreze”, whose main ingredient is dichlorobenzene.  (See MSDS below.) This extremely carcinogenic solvent is used to manufacture paint thinners. It is hidden in plain sight using the marketing name “Febreze”. It is readily absorbed into the body through both the lungs and the skin. The chemicals of “Febreze” are known to cause respiratory distress and sudden heart attacks in otherwise healthy people. Benzene compounds transform into DDT compounds when exposed to chlorine compounds, such as those found in tap water, laundry bleaching agents, and the ingredients of Febreze. These issues have been known throughout the chemical industry for approximately 60 years, so none of the toxicity is accidental. It is exactly how Febreze “works” — by poisoning the mucous membranes to cripple a victim’s sense of smell. The “freshness” of Febreze comes from a chemically-crippled immune system.

MSDS re dichlorobenzene

Nonylphenol is a byproduct of a chemical that is used in laundry detergents. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it has been detected in human breast milk, blood, and urine. It has been shown in animal studies to cause adverse reproductive and developmental effects. It is so prevalent that it is now being detected in municipal water supplies.

Sodium lauryl sulphate is an industrial degreaser that is found in a wide variety of cleaning products. It is even in most toothpastes. It is known for being a skin irritant. When it breaks down, it releases another chemical, 1,4-dioxane. The National Institutes of Health have warned that 1,4-dioxane is “reasonably expected to be a human carcinogen”, because it has been repeatedly shown to cause cancer in animal studies. It is also known for causing kidney, liver and nervous system damage. Preliminary research is showing that it accumulates in the body over time. It likewise accumulates in the environment, in a manner similar to the infamous DDT pesticide.

Laundry manufacturers sometimes add formaldehyde to their formulas. Formaldehyde is carcinogenic, a skin irritant, and a respiratory poison. The massive list of formaldehyde side effects can be found in the article, Vaccine Ingredients and Vaccine Secrets. Formaldehyde was the main ingredient in hair straightening products that prompted O.S.H.A. to issue a hazard alert about the health risks. Some of the products have been reformulated to remove formaldehyde, because the California Attorney General sued the companies responsible.

Most cleaning products contain phthalates, which are chemicals that are normally used to make plastics softer and malleable. They are often present in laundry products as manufacturing byproducts. Phthalates cause massive hormone disruptions, which makes them particularly damaging to women’s health. They also cause cancer, birth defects, and fertility problems. Phthalates are still being studied, but the findings are arriving too late. The Centers for Disease Control reported that phthalates can be found in the blood of most Americans, and the greatest quantities are in women. Women have more contact with cleaning products, which is the main reason for their increased exposure. The breadth of the danger is not yet fully understood, but phthalates are being studied by several government agencies, including the F.D.A., the N.I.E.H.S., and the National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.

Many people who are searching for alternatives will be tempted to use borax as a natural alternative to detergents. However, borax is neither natural nor is it safe. It is a chemical skin irritant, and its residue on clothing is damaging to the skin. Some claim that it is natural because it contains the mineral boron, but it is a completely different substance, and even boron has been shown to present risks. It is acceptable to use borax on occasion to kill fleas, bed bugs, or other insects, and for bleaching, but laundry should be thoroughly rinsed through a second wash to ensure that none remains. This is especially important for those with sensitive or damaged skin.

The Most Common Ingredients in Fabric Softeners

  • Benzyl acetate
  • Limonene
  • Y-methyl ionone
  • Linalool
  • A-terpineol
  • Methylene chloride

In 1991, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a document revealing that potent carcinogens are present in fabric softeners and dryer sheets. Inside these chemical cocktails is benzyl acetate, which has been linked to pancreatic cancer. Limonene, a known lung irritant, was also prominent. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets are specifically designed to impart chemicals onto clothing, instead of being rinsed away. The chemicals lubricate clothing, to make them seem softer.

The effects of inhalation of these chemicals have not been well studied, but there are people who breathe these chemicals for hours every day, when laundering inside the house. Those in apartment blocks are especially vulnerable, because exposure can be persistent when other inhabitants wash their clothes on a rotating schedule. In recent years, there have been increases in work-related lawsuits because of forced exposure to perfumes, which are known to yield asthma attacks, and difficulty breathing. The same chemicals in perfume and cologne products are also used in laundry detergents and softeners.

Safe laundry products may be found on the Internet or in health food stores. Natural laundry soaps typically contain soap nut extract or extracts from citrus fruits. Surprisingly, they are usually as effective as the harsh detergent chemicals. Natural soaps can be less effective in areas with “hard” (mineral rich) water. In such cases, the effects of the minerals can be neutralized with the addition of distilled vinegar. Vinegar also works as a fabric softener. A ball of aluminum can remove static from clothing in the dryer.

Source:  HealthWyze Organization

Other link(s):

“Are Soft Clothes Really Worth It?”by Wendy Priesnitz

Keep Your Clothes Soft and Cling-Free, Naturally |  There’s no reason to expose yourself to these risky chemicals when natural alternatives exist. Not only are they safer for you, your family and the environment, but they’re often much more economical too.

  •  Add a quarter cup of baking soda to wash cycle to soften clothes

  • Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to wash or rinse cycle to soften clothes (don’t use bleach at the same time)

  • Dry your clothes outside on a clothesline to eliminate static cling

  • A piece of wadded up aluminum foil placed in the dryer with clothes will cut down on static cling

  • Use less laundry detergent for softer clothes

  • Install a water softener

  • If you really feel that you need to use a commercial product, check out your local health food store for a natural fabric softener or reusable cloth dryer sheets that use a natural base like soy instead of chemicals.


1,4-Dichlorobenzene (para-Dichlorobenzene) – 106-46-7

Hazard Summary-Created in April 1992; Revised in January 2000

    The primary exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene is from breathing contaminated indoor air.  Acute (short-term) exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene, via inhalation in humans, results in irritation of the skin, throat, and eyes.  Chronic (long-term) 1,4-dichlorobenzene inhalation exposure in humans results in effects on the liver, skin, and central nervous system (CNS).  No information is available on the reproductive, developmental, or carcinogenic effects of 1,4-dichlorobenzene in humans.  A National Toxicology Program (NTP) study reported that 1,4-dichlorobenzene caused kidney tumors in male rats and liver tumors in both sexes of mice by gavage (experimentally placing the chemical in their stomachs).
    EPA has classified 1,4-dichlorobenzene as a Group C, possible human carcinogen.

Please Note: The main sources of information for this fact sheet are EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), which contains information on inhalation chronic toxicity of 1,4-dichlorobenzene and the Reference Concentration (RfC), and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s (ATSDR’s) Toxicological Profile for 1,4-Dichlorobenzene.


  • 1,4-Dichlorobenzene is used mainly as a fumigant for the control of moths, molds, and mildews, and as a space deodorant for toilets and refuse containers. (1)
  • 1,4-Dichlorobenzene is also used as an intermediate in the production of other chemicals, in the control of tree-boring insects, and in the control of mold in tobacco seeds. (1)

Sources and Potential Exposure

  • The general population is mainly exposed to 1,4-dichlorobenzene through breathing vapors from 1,4-dichlorobenzene products used in the home, such as mothballs and toilet deodorizer blocks.  The median indoor air concentration of 1,4-dichlorobenzene detected at 2,121 sites was 0.283 parts per billion (ppb). (1)
  • Ambient air levels of 1,4-dichlorobenzene are very low; a study with 1,447 samples reported the majority of levels below the detection limit. (1)
  • 1,4-Dichlorobenzene has been detected in drinking water at levels ranging from 0.01 to 1.54 ppb.
  • Occupational exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene may occur in factories that produce or process 1,4-dichlorobenzene products. (1)

Assessing Personal Exposure

  • Exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene can be assessed by measuring its breakdown product, 2,5-dichlorophenol, in urine and blood. (1)

Health Hazard Information

Acute Effects:

  • Acute exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene via inhalation in humans results in irritation to the eyes, skin, and throat. (2)
  • Animal studies have reported effects on the blood, liver, and kidneys from oral exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene. (1)
  • Tests involving acute exposure of rats and mice have shown 1,4-dichlorobenzene to have moderate toxicity from oral exposure. (3)

Chronic Effects (Noncancer):

  • Chronic exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene by inhalation in humans results in effects on the liver, skin, and CNS (e.g., cerebellar ataxia, dysarthria, weakness in limbs, and hyporeflexia). (1)
  • Animal studies have reported effects on the respiratory system, liver, and kidneys from inhalation exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene, while oral studies have reported effects on the blood, liver, and kidneys. (1,4)
  • The Reference Concentration (RfC) for 1,4-dichlorobenzene is 0.8 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) based on increased liver weights in rats. The RfC is an estimate (with uncertainty spanning perhaps an order of magnitude) of a continuous inhalation exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups), that is likely to be without appreciable risk of deleterious noncancer effects during a lifetime. It is not a direct estimator of risk but rather a reference point to gauge the potential effects. At exposures increasingly greater than the RfC, the potential for adverse health effects increases. Lifetime exposure above the RfC does not imply that an adverse health effect would necessarily occur. (4)
  • EPA has medium confidence in the study on which the RfC was based because the critical study employed an extensive reproductive protocol including histopathologic examination of tissues of adults and offspring; medium confidence in the database because there are a number of supporting studies for the developmental and reproductive toxicology database; and, consequently, medium confidence in the RfC. (4)
  • EPA has not established a Reference Dose (RfD) for 1,4-dichlorobenzene. (4)
  • ATSDR has established an intermediate oral minimal risk level (MRL) of 0.4 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day (mg/kg/d) based on liver effects in rats. The MRL is an estimate of the daily human exposure to a hazardous substance that is likely to be without appreciable risk of adverse noncancer health effects over a specified duration of exposure. (1)

Reproductive/Developmental Effects:

  • No information is available on the reproductive or developmental effects of 1,4-dichlorobenzene in humans. (1)
  • In one animal study, exposure of pregnant rats to 1,4-dichlorobenzene via inhalation did not result in developmental effects in the offspring.  In another study, an increase in the incidence of an extra rib was reported in the fetuses of pregnant rats administered 1,4-dichlorobenzene by gavage. (1,2)
  • A study reported decreased number of live births, pup survival, and pup weights, but no birth defects in the offspring of animals exposed to 1,4-dichlorobenzene via inhalation. (4)

Cancer Risk:  [take with a grain of salt; EU research says otherwise}

  • No information is available on the carcinogenic effects of 1,4-dichlorobenzene in humans. (1)
  • No adequate animal cancer studies are available on exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene via inhalation. (1)
  • In an NTP study, 1,4-dichlorobenzene was found to cause kidney tumors in male rats and liver tumors in both sexes of mice when administered via gavage. (8)
  • EPA has classified 1,4-dichlorobenzene as a Group C, possible human carcinogen. (7)
  • EPA has calculated an oral cancer slope factor of 0.024 (mg/kg/d)-1. (7)

Physical Properties

  • 1,4-Dichlorobenzene is a white solid with a sweet taste and a strong odor. (1)
  • The odor threshold for 1,4-dichlorobenzene is 0.18 parts per million (ppm). (7)
  • The chemical formula for 1,4-dichlorobenzene is C6H4Cl2 and the molecular weight is 147.02 g/mol. (1)
  • The vapor pressure for 1,4-dichlorobenzene is 1.76 mm Hg at 25 °C, and it has a log octanol/water partition coefficient of 3.52. (1)

Conversion Factors:
To convert concentrations in air (at 25 °C) from ppm to mg/m3: mg/m3 = (ppm) × (molecular weight of the compound)/(24.45). For 1,4-dichlorobenzene: 1 ppm = 6 mg/m3.

Health Data from Inhalation Exposure


ACGIH TLV–American Conference of Governmental and Industrial Hygienists’ threshold limit value expressed as a time-weighted average; the concentration of a substance to which most workers can be exposed without adverse effects.
NIOSH IDLH–National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s immediately dangerous to life or health limit; NIOSH recommended exposure limit to ensure that a worker can escape from an exposure condition that is likely to cause death or immediate or delayed permanent adverse health effects or prevent escape from the environment.
OSHA PEL–Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s permissible exposure limit expressed as a time-weighted average; the concentration of a substance to which most workers can be exposed without adverse effect averaged over a normal 8-h workday or a 40-h workweek.
NOAEL— no-observed-adverse-effect-level.

The health and regulatory values cited in this factsheet were obtained in December 1999.
a Health numbers are toxicological numbers from animal testing or risk assessment values developed by EPA.
b Regulatory numbers are values that have been incorporated in Government regulations, while advisory numbers are nonregulatory values provided by the Government or other groups as advice.  OSHA numbers are regulatory, whereas NIOSH and ACGIH numbers are advisory.
c The NOAEL is from the critical study used as the basis for the RfC.


  1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Toxicological Profile for 1,4-Dichlorobenzene

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From a Yellow Canary of the 21st century, living in our disabling biosphere

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