Barb Wilkie's EHN Website
Last updated 2008

EHN Board President Barb Wilkie was very ill from chemically-induced kidney disease for several years. She passed away May 31, 2011. EHN presents this site both as a tribute and as valuable information. Many links and references will be out of date but Barb's research holds up over time. We will be transferring the site page by page, with updated details, to EHN's main site. If you would like to reach an EHN staff person, please contact us directly.

Fabric Softeners = Health Risks
From Dryer Exhaust and Treated Fabrics


Chemicals found in fabric softeners by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Julia's work was based upon the 1991 and 1992 EPA Reports:
  • 1991: Identification of Polar Volatile Organic Compounds in
    Consumer Products and Common Microenvironments

    Thanks to Jacki . . .


    Thanks to Betty . . .

    Betty's new site:

    Keep in mind that you can use non-synthetic fabrics and not have to worry about mainsteram
    fabric softeners. Or, use vinegar in your rinse, or perhaps try one of the safer products produced
    by companies that do not use petrochemical derived synthetics in the formulation of their products.
    But, if one is already scent-sensitized, lavendar oil can be problematic for oneself or to use in one's
    clothing worn around others who may be more sensitive. Also, keep in mind, the industry's
    products are trade secret protected. Natural does not mean "natural." And even, "fragrance-free"
    and "unscented" do not have to mean free of petrochemical-derived fragrance. However, if a
    product is sold as green, " It MUST NOT CONTAIN PETROCHEMICAL-DERIVED
    FRAGRANCE." See DOI at -- barb

    Symptoms of exposure are taken from industry-generated Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
    Compiled by Julia Kendall (1935 - 1997) in 1992 and 1993; distributed by EHN

    March 2001: Addendum to Julia Kendall's work

    Alpha-TERPINEOL -- Causes CNS disorders ... "highly irritating to mucous membranes"... "Aspiration into the lungs can produce pneumonitis or even fatal edema." Can also cause "excitement, ataxia (loss of muscular coordination), hypothermia, CNS and respiratory depression, and headache." "Prevent repeated or prolonged skin contact."
    BENZYL ACETATE -- Carcinogenic (linked to pancreatic cancer). "From vapors: irritating to eyes and respiratory passages, exciting cough." "In mice: hyperaemia of the lungs." "Can be absorbed through the skin causing systemic effects." "Do not flush to sewer."
    BENZYL ALCOHOL -- Causes CNS disorders. "...irritating to the upper respiratory tract" ... "headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, CNS depression, and death in severe cases due to respiratory failure."
    CAMPHOR -- Causes CNS disorders. On EPA's Hazardous Waste list. Symptoms: "local irritant and CNS stimulant" ..."readily absorbed through body tissues" ..."irritation of eyes, nose and throat" ..."dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles and convulsions." "Avoid inhalation of vapors."
    CHLOROFORM -- Neurotoxic. Anesthetic. Carcinogenic. On EPA's Hazardous Waste list. "Avoid contact with eyes, skin, clothing. Do not breathe vapors ... Inhalation of vapors may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract and loss of consciousness." "Inhalation can be fatal." "Chronic effects of overexposure may include kidney and/or liver damage." "Medical conditions generally aggravated by exposure: kidney disorders, liver disorders, heart disorders, skin disorders." "Conditions to avoid: HEAT..." Listed on California's Propostion 65.
    ETHYL ACETATE -- Narcotic. On EPA's Hazardous Waste list. "...irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract" ..."may cause headache and narcosis (stupor)" ..."may cause anemia with leukocytosis and damage to liver and kidneys" "Wash thoroughly after handling."
    LIMONENE -- Carcinogenic. "Prevent its contact with skin or eyes because it is an irritant and sensitizer." "Always wash thoroughly after using this material and before eating, drinking, ...applying cosmetics. Do not inhale limonene vapor."
    LINALOOL -- Narcotic. Causes CNS disorders. ..."respiratory disturbances" ... "Attracts bees." "In animal tests: ataxic gait, reduced spontaneous motor activity and depression ... depressed heart activity ... development of respiratory disturbances leading to death."
    PENTANE -- "Danger -- Harmful if inhaled; extremely flammable. Keep away from heat รค Avoid breathing vapor." "Inhalation of vapors may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract and loss of consciousness. Repeated inhalation of vapors may cause central nervous system depression. Contact can cause eye irritation. Prolonged exposure may cause dermatitis (skin rash)."



    Do Fabric Softeners Make You Sick?

    Exposure can result from the outgassing of vented dryers or from treated fabrics (e.g., clothes, sheets, towels), which are in close proximity to you. Questions to ponder:

    • Have you been enjoying a walk in the neighborhood and found you have suddenly fallen without realizing why?

    • Do you get a numb feeling in the side of your face -- and the doctors can't find the reason?

    • Do you get a sudden onset of dizziness or a headache?

    Fabric softeners, like other fragrant products, contain petrochemicals, used in untested combination. These chemicals can adversely affect the central nervous system (CNS) -- your brain and spine.

    CNS exposure symptoms include: aphasia, blurred vision, disor-ientation, dizziness, headaches, hunger, memory loss, numbness in face, pain in neck and spine. CNS disorders include: Alzheimer's Disease, Attention Deficit Disorder, Dementia, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, Seizures, Strokes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

    If you use fabric softeners (liquid or sheets), STOP!
    • Save the container as evidence -- doctors can request analysis.

    • If made ill by fabric softener used by another person, give product name if known.

    • Provide a description of your symptoms.

    • Take this paper to your doctor to help document your symptoms.


    Act Now

    If you suffer symptoms from exposures to fabric softeners --

    • Telephone 1-800-638-2772; press 1; press 999 -- to file an official complaint with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Say you want to file a report on a hazardous product. Emphasize central nervous system disorder symptoms. Allergic symptoms are not given priority in Commission investigations. Demand a recall. Please have everyone you know who reacts to fabric softeners call. The tally will be useful in litigation and publicity.

    • Telephone 1-301-504-0424 -- consumer product reports are available (for a fee) under the Freedom of Information Act. Request any of the following: 1) Emergency Room reports; 2) Death Certificate reports; 3) Consumer Complaints; 4) In-depth Investigations.

    • Telephone 1-800-543-1745 -- Proctor and Gamble (Downy & Bounce); 1-800-598-5005 -- Lever Bros. (Snuggle); or, contact the manufacturer of the product you know makes you ill.

    • Call the Air Quality Management and the Air Resources agencies in your area. File a complaint. Request a list of their board members. Ask for information regarding their policies for presenting issues to their boards. Request the boards consider the issue of scented fabric softeners in dryer exhausts as a factor in outdoor air pollution -- fragrance products are made with petrochemicals used in untested combinations.


    Feel free to copy and post, just please credit Julia Kendall.

    Return to The Work of Julia Kendall

    See addendum and note from barb about contacting CPSD at

    For other information on Fabric Softeners, see EHN's page F

    Other flyers by Julia Kendall:
    Making Sense of Scents

    Twenty Most Common Chemicals Found in Thirty-One Fragrance Products

    Also visit the work of Betty Bridges, RN listed in EHN's section


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