How safe are the ingredients in fabric softeners? I've read they contain carcinogens.

Expert Answers
jgeertz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Conventional dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners do make our clothes feel soft and smell great with no static cling but studies have shown these products do contain chemicals that are known toxins after sustained exposure. Some of the harmful ingredients in dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners that researchers are most concerned about include:

 benzyl acetate - a carcinogen linked to pancreatic cancer

 chloroform - a carcinogen linked to kidney and liver disease

Fabric softeners stay in your clothes and can be inhaled and absorbed directly through the skin. Dryer sheets pose the additional risk of air pollution since chemicals are released in the dryer and subsequently vented outside which may lead to respiratory health risks.

The good news is there are alternatives to conventional fabric softeners. Adding a quarter cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle will soften clothes as well as reduce static cling. Don't mix vinegar with bleach though since it can release toxic gas fumes. Many people have tried  eco-friendly brands of dryer sheets or products like soap nuts. If you are lucky enough, an outdoor clothesline works  nicely too!