When it comes to cleaning, I think I’m in pretty decent eco-shape. The general rule is minimal toxics and waste. For laundry, I use unscented, concentrated detergent (always an environmentally-friendly brand), wash mostly in cold, only wash full loads and run shorter cycles.
But, somehow my lifelong attachment to the dryer sheet slipped by me. I just felt that a little dryer sheet didn’t create that much waste and offered the important benefits of soft and cling-free clothes. I actually thought it seemed like a better thing to do than use fabric softener. Recently my husband for some reason brought up the fact that dryer sheets (and fabric softener) contain chemicals, and that hit me like a ton of recycled bricks. How did I not think about this before? How have I been carelessly poisoning us for all this time?
Once I got over the drama, I reminded myself that sometimes we have to be forgiving and go easy on ourselves; there are a lot of things to balance and prioritize in life and the fact that I had put my attention to other things did not make me The Anti-Environmentalist. So, on to figuring out how to replace the dryer sheets!
Great balls of dryer
I first thought of those plastic dryer balls I had seen promoted here and there. They claim to be eco-friendly because they replace fabric softener and dryer sheets. They’re even sold on the Gaiam website, which is supposed to be a leader in eco-conscious products. Sounded good at first, but I noticed that these are made out of plastic–possibly the same kind of plastic that we’re not supposed to put in the microwave because it releases nasty chemicals when heated. Hmmm. After a little investigating, I found out that they’re made from PVC, a highly toxic plastic. That is not something I want more of in my life. Here’s why. This is a common situation we’re faced with when trying to make environmentally-conscious choices: what is the trade-off on benefits vs. impacts? In this case, I didn’t feel that dryer balls at all offer a better solution than good ol’ dryer sheets.
It’s not just for baking
After reading up more, I found out that what seem to be the solutions to every cleaning problem you’ll ever have, baking soda and vinegar, can be used in the wash to soften clothes and prevent static cling. Adding 1/4 cup of baking soda or white vinegar to the wash cycle is supposed to do the trick. Adding the vinegar or baking soda to the rinse cycle is also recommended, but I don’t know if I can count on myself to remember to do that. I’ll try the wash cycle first and see how it works. The cool thing about this option is that baking soda and vinegar are super cheap!
One sheet is worth 500 loads
When I came upon the reusable non-toxic dryer sheet, I thought I might have my answer. These are made from cloth, have no chemicals and are supposed to soften clothes and remove static cling. One cloth lasts up to 500 loads, which if they work, is awesome. They don’t provide a scent, but I used unscented dryer sheets and don’t care about fragrance anyway. (If you do want fragrance, a good tip I found is to make a little sachet of lavender and throw it in the dryer.) I read the positive reviews on Amazon and found recommendations on environmental websites, so I figured I’d give it a try. I orderered a pair and they should be on the way. I’ll report the results!
Another option to try is using eco-friendly fabric softener (brands like Seventh Generation and Ecover make this) but if I can get away with using one less product in a bottle, the better, so I’ll hold off on this one.
I could of course also try air-drying everything, but in my little apartment, that just sounds overwhelming, time-consuming and annoying; plus it gives clothes that crunchy feeling. I know this would be the best choice environmentally though, so maybe I’ll look into air-drying some things that crunchiness doesn’t matter as much with.