Have you been conditioned…

… into thinking that fabric softeners, conditioners and dryer sheets are absolutely essential to good housekeeping? From all the adverts to which we are subjected, we could be forgiven for thinking so! Perhaps we need to take a closer look. First there are all the millions of plastic bottles which get discarded every year in the UK, in the process of doing our laundry.

Second, you may not be aware that the coating the conditioners add to your clothes, to make them softer, only serves to lessen their capacity to absorb water and detergent over time. Not only that, but it can mean that bad odours can be locked in – just the opposite of all those dreamy adverts persuading us that our bed linen needs to smell like an ‘unstoppable’* perfumery! It is interesting to note, too, that the performance of sweat-resistant sportswear is reduced by the softeners – not good news for all the runners amongst us; the same goes for flame-resistant items. Cashmere, wool, bamboo, cotton and other natural fibres are also adversely affected.

Third, and vastly more important, studies have shown that certain chemicals, such as phthalates and synthetic fragrances (not a flower in sight!) found in fabric conditioners are known to be harmful to our health. These chemicals include carcinogens, hormone-disrupting toxins, and allergens that can contribute to eczema and asthma. Some of the ingredients don’t have to be disclosed either. Once these chemicals are washed down the drain, in the quantities in which they are, they can become highly toxic to aquatic life. Vegans may also want to check out the ingredients, as some use animal fats in the production of fabric softeners.

The alternative? A clean, green alternative is to mix white vinegar (marked as suitable for cleaning as well as cooking) with some drops of essential oil (unless you have skin that is sensitive to these oils) and add it to the appropriate drawer of your machine. The smell of vinegar will not linger – guaranteed! Or just ditch the fabric conditioners and dryer sheets altogether. You will prolong the life of your clothes – and your washing machine too.

Let’s not line the pockets of the already immensely wealthy companies with their clever marketing tactics. It’s just a question of adjusting our habits and getting used to a new way of working. Why not give it a go?

*Other brands are, sadly, available! Ed