But, wait! We use Free and Clear fabric softener sheets. That has to count for something, right? Apparently not. “100% free and clear of perfumes and dyes” does not mean that they are 100% free from formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals. Unlike foods, the product packaging for household goods is not required to list the materials that are used. I went to the manufacturer’s website to check ingredients, most of which are closely guarded trade secrets. They do reveal, however, that they use “Fabric Softening Agents.” Helpful! My particular manufacturer adds that the agents are Cationic Types.
The purpose of a chemical fabric softener is to leave behind a residue that will act as a lubricant, making the fabrics feel softer. They are designed to leave chemicals on our clothes, sheets, towels, and more. These residues can be absorbed by the skin and inhaled when the chemicals are released during use. From what I understand, the cationic agents are a little less residue-intensive because they form an electrostatic bond, creating “lubricity” by changing the direction of the fibers. When the fibers all go the same way, there is less friction and less cling. So, the cationic types might not leave behind as many chemicals, but they still leave behind enough to be noticeable – check out the next paragraph:
I read the story of a woman whose dryer was not working. The repair technician said that it sounded like a clogged lint trap. This would be impossible, as the woman cleaned out the lint trap after each load. Indeed, when the tech removed the lint screen, it was completely free of lint or other debris. Then, the tech proceeded to place the screen under a kitchen faucet. The water wouldn’t pass through! Enough residue was left behind in the lint trap to create an invisible barrier. I checked the owners manual for our dryer, and found that we, too, had instructions to periodically wash the lint screen with soap and water. So, I pulled out the lint trap, carried it to the kitchen, and almost 2/3 of it was completely impermeable to water. I washed it gently with soap, and the water flowed right through. Even the “free and clear” sheets with the cationic softening agents left residue on the fabrics.
So, I gave the dryer balls a whirl. I know that there are dryer balls made of more eco-friendly materials (saw some made of wool at a cloth diaper store this weekend), but I wanted to get started right away and without a big investment. Target sold a pair for less than $5, and I was already at Target with my brood, so we went with these dryer balls.
The result? So far, so good. The only loads I have seen a difference with so far are the towels. They do not get quite as soft with the dryer balls. All of the clothes loads feel the same. There’s not a huge difference in performance, it’s cheaper, and there is no risk of toxic chemicals clinging to the laundry that we live in. We’re switching to dryer balls. I should also mention that even though the towels did not feel as soft, towels are the loads that NOBODY should use dryer sheets because the chemical residue impedes absorbency.
Next stop: Line drying our clothes. First step – take on the crazy covenants in place for our homeowners’ association. Stay tuned . . .