Are Dryer Sheets Dangerous

Are Dryer Sheets Dangerous? What Toxins Could Harm Your Dogs?

Are dryer sheets dangerous? What toxins do dryer sheets contain that could harm your kids, your dogs or your family? Let’s investigate! Bounce supposedly produced the very first dryer sheets in 1975, which is why I don’t really ever recall my mom using them in my youth (that will date me!) In fact, I distinctly remember my mom saying “Don’t be ridiculous!” when I suggested she buy them (hey, I liked the way my friend’s clothes smelled…and I didn’t know what I know today LOL)  Dryer sheets were created to “solve” the problem of static cling in clothing, and prevent static electricity from causing clothes to “stick together” in the dryer.

Unfortunately, the chemicals on the dryer sheet cling to your clothes, so any nasty ingredients are actually sticking to your clothes when you pull them out of the dryer.

 

Okay first things first: it’s important to realize that the dryer sheet ingredients I discuss below are NOT LISTED on the box, and I had to do some digging to find them. Why aren’t they listed? Because manufacturers aren’t required by law to list any ingredients other than disinfectants and those known to be actively hazardous on the dryer sheet box. What does “actively hazardous” mean, exactly? 

According to Christopher Gaviscom, founder of The Honest Company, “[the term “hazardous” only] includes ingredients that cause fires or explosions but not those that cause cancer or developmental diseases.” Crazy, huh? So causing fires is bad, but potentially causing cancer, it seems, is just fine.  Ugh.

Potential Health Dangers of Dryer Sheets

To name just a few health effect of both long term and acute exposure: cancer, respiratory distress, CNS disorders, nausea, dizziness, liver damage, kidney damage, lower heart rate and fertility problems. Let’s look a little closer look at the evidence.

 

Ingredients Typically Found in Dryer Sheets

(And remember, these are not legally required to be listed on the box, which is why you probably didn’t know about them!!). Are dryer sheets dangerous…..you betcha! Take a look at the ingredients:

Benzyl Acetate: linked to pancreatic cancer, and highly absorbable through the skin.

Benzyl Alcohol: an upper respiratory tract irritant and linked to central nervous system disorders, nausea, vomiting and dizziness in higher doses.

Chloroform: a neurotoxin and carcinogen.

Alpha terpineol: can cause numerous central nervous system disorders.

Ethyl acetate: a narcotic that may cause damage to liver and kidneys at higher doses (or perhaps with prolonged exposure.

Linalool: linked to central nervous system disorders, respiratory disturbances and depressed heart activity.

Pentane: This one is pretty bad, too. It’s linked to respiratory failure, skin problems (dermatitis), and is a common gasoline additive. Nice–now I want to rub it all over me. Not. 

Quaternary ammonium: these are endocrine disruptors, cause respiratory distress and fertility problems in animals, and are toxic to aquatic life. In addition, according to a recent study done in the EU by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, “quats” can contribute to the formation of carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines in the body.

(List of ingredients commonly found in dryer sheets according to the EPA. Symptoms of exposure can be found in industry-generated Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS))


Environmental Effects of Dryer Sheets

So not only can dryer sheets affect your health and the health of your family, they also contribute to air pollution. “Air pollution?” I can hear you saying. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Nope, I’m not.

Ecocentric Mom boxA study by a University of Washington team found that dryers emit up to 25 volatile active compounds or “VOC”s when dryer sheets and other related laundry products were being used compared to when they were not. Seven of these “voc”s were found to be hazardous air pollutants, and two were found to be “highly carcinogenic” substances!!   Do you really want or need to be releasing that garbage into the air around you?

Healthy Alternatives to Dryer Sheets

Okay, so I’ve convinced you on the question are dryer sheets dangerous to your, your dogs AND your kids. (at least I hope I have!) You’ve come to the conclusion that dryer sheets are so. Not. Worth it. What’s a gal to do? There are options, thankfully, and they’re available for very little money–probably even cheaper than a lifetime supply of chemically-laden dryer sheets! I’ve found two items that work really well:

Purecosheets: $15.04 plus free shipping with no minimum order. These are cloth sheets made by a small Canadian manufacture. They are hypo-allergenic, reusable, chemical-free and unscented. They can be used over 500 times. Some users report using them for years, while doing laundry up to 5 times a week. They are meant to stay IN the dryer between uses. Users in very dry areas have report they are not as effective as wool dryer balls, so you may want to try wool dryer balls instead if you live somewhere arid.

 

 

Smart Sheep 6-pack Wool Balls:  $18.95 plus free shipping for Prime members and free shipping for everyone else for orders over $25.  These are made of 100% premium New Zealand wool. They are extremely effective at reducing static cling, and they also prevent bed sheets from becoming tangled. They also have the super-neat ability to remove pet hair from clothing and reduce wrinkles in clothing–how awesome is that? They last (seemingly) forever and ever, certainly up to 1000 washes. They are larger than other wool balls for sale on Amazon, with a 9 inch diameter (which basically means they’re more effective); each one is about the size of a tennis ball. They contain zero chemicals or fragrance (yay!) so I like to scent mine with Young Living Lavender or Lime oil. (Feel free to take a look at my other site where I sell Young Living oils. I’d love for you to join my team!) Smart Sheep Wool Balls have received rave reviews on Amazon, and they are what I use in my own home–so thumbs up from me.

Of the two choices above, my choice is the Smart Sheep Wool Balls. They are more environmentally friendly, as the Purecosheets are made of polyester. However, some people prefer “sheets” as they are more familiar with them, so I decided to include that option.

Oh, one more thing! You may have seen plastic dryer balls on Amazon as well. I have chosen not to endorse them because, well….plastic. The plastic obviously is less environmentally sound than wool, and it’s hard to know if the plastic is leaching chemicals onto your clothes–why risk it?  The two options above work SO WELL it seems silly to choose a plastic, noisy ball with worse reviews, even if they are a bit cheaper in the short term.

I hope this post sheds some light on the question are dryer sheets dangerous, and gives you some good ideas for healthier and more environmentally friendly alternatives.

  1. A 2008 University of Washington study entitled “Toxic Chemicals Found In Common Scented Laundry Products, Air Fresheners”; https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723134438.htm
  2. A 2011 University of Washington study entitled “Scented laundry products emit hazardous chemicals through dryer vents”; http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-08/uow-slp082311.php
  3. CDC guide to Pentane and its health risks: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/81-123/pdfs/0486.pdf

Post Author: Hillary

20 thoughts on “Are Dryer Sheets Dangerous? What Toxins Could Harm Your Dogs?

    GiuliaB

    (May 2, 2016 - 8:29 pm)

    Wow Hillary, so much to know but which is never mentioned on labels or whose implications you are not to know. I read you practice acupuncture. Have you also got a background in chemistry? You display a knowledge which is otherwise uncommon to regular consumers of such products, but denotes your passion for this subject. And the other thing I wanted to mention is this. Personally I don’t use dryer sheets as I don’t use a dryer at all. I dry my washing outside as much as possible, given the often inclement weather in UK, or on an electric dryer in winter (low energy consumption). And this is my suggestion: wouldn’t it be better to just not use tumble dryers at all? Sorry, don’t mean to sound controversial, but I’ve always preferred the smell of freshness of clothes dried outside ??

      Hillary

      (May 2, 2016 - 8:43 pm)

      Hi Guilia!! Yes! Outdoors clothes line drying is optimal. But most people cannot do that, especially if you live in a city. And sadly, many communities have actually BANNED clothes line drying–can you believe that? Crazy but true. But yes, if the option is there, one should definitely try line drying–it makes the clothes smell much better and saves on electricity. But if you do have to use a dryer, then it’s best to avoid those nasty commercial dryer sheets. Thank you for posting–oh, and I LOVE your blog 🙂

    Matt

    (May 2, 2016 - 8:51 pm)

    Wow, seems like everything can kill you these days. Who would’ve thought of all things dryer sheets could cause stuff like cancer and disease. Luckily I never used dryer sheets – maybe i’ll try wool balls.

    Krissy

    (May 2, 2016 - 9:04 pm)

    Hi Hillary!
    WOW thank you for this page! I had no Idea about dryer sheets! I’ve always loved the smell of them but I won’t use them now! I have sensitive skin and break out very easy and who knows what would happen if I used dryer sheets often but I am not going to try! Thank you and keep up your great work!!!
    Kind regards,
    Krissy

      Hillary

      (May 2, 2016 - 10:09 pm)

      I am glad you’re reconsidering using them, especially given that you have sensitive skin. They really are awful! And they look so innocent, those darn dryer sheets! LOL.

    dinh

    (May 2, 2016 - 9:28 pm)

    I used to use dryer sheets but found that the static was still there so I don’t use them now. I hang my clothes as much as possible but tumble dry them a little bit to get the creases out.

    I didn’t know that there were so many toxic chemicals in the the dryer sheets. It’s a shame that it’s not required to be put on the label. 🙁

    The wool dryer balls sound fantastic and I think I may look into that. Do you use all 6 at a time or what?

      Hillary

      (May 2, 2016 - 10:09 pm)

      good question! i will amend my post to reflect the answer, which is generally 3 per load. Also, be sure not to ‘overstuff’ your dryer when using them, as they need room to move about.

    Stuart Noel

    (May 2, 2016 - 10:16 pm)

    Wow, I would have never guessed that dryer sheets were dangerous. This is great information and very useful. Keep this up, it is great stuff to know. I really like the alternatives and will definitely return to your site to get the alternatives.

      Hillary

      (May 2, 2016 - 11:12 pm)

      Glad to hear that you learned something on my site! Thanks for visiting!

    Scott

    (May 2, 2016 - 10:58 pm)

    Hi Hillary! I recently had a dryer just about go out on me. It was overheating and would kick off. I called out a service guy to look at it and he told me the dryer sheets I was using were the problem. He explained the chemicals on them heat up and then stick to the screen. These chemical build up on the screen eventually blocking the airflow. He showed me how to clean the screen with some detergent and vinegar. He said it was a fire hazard

    Now with your list of harmful ingredients in dryer sheets I am going to go throw them away. I am done! I don’t want to worry about them anymore.

    I am going to look into the wool balls. The other issue you mentioned they help with is tangled bed sheets. I wash my sheets often and they always end up in knots. Pet hair is always a problem. Do the wool balls need any periodic cleaning themselves to remain effective?

      Hillary

      (May 2, 2016 - 11:11 pm)

      Omgosh that’s a GREAT point that I totally forgot to mention-they really mess up your dryer machine over time! I am going to add that to the post–thank you so much. No need to clean the dryer balls. If you have to, for any reason, put them in a lingerie bag before washing them. They WILL felt more, which is a-ok in terms of how they work, but be aware. I’ve had mine 6 months and never washed them–I mean, you’re using them on clean laundry, right? 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

    Angela

    (May 2, 2016 - 11:01 pm)

    This is a great article! We haven’t used dryer sheets in over three years, right around the time we started to cloth diaper. I agree with your dryer ball recommendation. They are SO worth it! A happy bonus is that my girls like to help me fold laundry because we occasionally find “surprise” dryer balls that have made their way into the laundry basket.

    Elizabeth Ralston

    (May 3, 2016 - 12:59 am)

    Hillary,

    Thank you for your article and for all of the research that went into it. I used dryer sheets many years ago. I’m surprise I survived them, not to mention members of my family, who also used them. How these manufacturers get away without having to disclose this information is beyond me. It should be illegal. Right now, we do not use anything at all in the dryer. If we do decide to use a product for static, I think the wool balls would do very well. Thanks for the advice!

      Hillary

      (May 3, 2016 - 7:58 am)

      I totally agree. A few years ago, my husband came home with a jumbo costco-sized box of bounce dryer sheets–I was like “Um, what the heck? That’s like, cancer in a box!” Luckily, he promptly returned them. But yes, the fact that these don’t have to be disclosed is appalling. There’s no ‘safe levels’ of chloroform, IMO!

    Chris

    (May 3, 2016 - 1:30 am)

    It’s crazy to think what companies don’t have to disclose on packaging, especially seeing that dryer sheets contain chemicals like chloroform. I never knew about most of these negative ingredients and I still use them. Never ever again now after reading this. Thank you very much for this information. It is very helpful for me to make an informed decision and provided me with new information about the dangers of dryer sheets.

    Summerly

    (May 3, 2016 - 2:07 pm)

    Very interesting article, thanks for informing us about this– too bad companies aren’t required to say this on the packaging. Is it just the major name brands that use the hazardous ingredients or the smaller, lesser known brands as well? I like the alternatives you suggested. Seems like they really work well and are not a threat to our health or the environment. I’ll be looking into buying some!

      Hillary

      (May 3, 2016 - 10:08 pm)

      I will be discussing individual name brands in a future post, but given the ecological waste of non-reusable dryer sheets, I always recommend the wool balls as the most environmentally friendly option. 🙂

    Brian

    (May 3, 2016 - 9:32 pm)

    Hi Hillary,

    I too am shocked that companies don’t need to declare these hazardous components. However do we know what the concentrations of these chemicals are in the dryer sheets? Living in the city is hazardous nowadays with all the polutants and yet most of us still do it! We tend to say that as long as the concentrations are small the risks are low.

    Nevertheless, I agree with you entirely – if there is a safe and pretty cheap option available, why not go for that.

    Thanks so much for all your research in this area!

    Chuka

    (May 4, 2016 - 10:18 am)

    Hi Hillary,

    I am shocked by these revelations and thank you for this post. I decided years ago to get rid of my dryer because I didn’t like the ‘fumes’ and perhaps it was the result of dryer sheets 🙁

    It is rather frightening how manufacturers disregard human/environmental health and well-being in pursuit of wealth. Problems with foods, drinks, household stuff – the list is endless. You have exposed one more.

    While I was reading your post, I was wondering about clothes softeners and the potential chemicals they carry. I would be interested to find out.

    Rachel Francis

    (May 16, 2016 - 5:48 pm)

    Hi. Wow, great article! I like to think of myself as an eco-conscious person but I have to admit that I never considered how harmful dryer sheets could be. I am always so concerned what could do harm to my children and myself. I will definately start using wool balls (I have never even heard of them). Thank you for this wonderful insight!

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