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Article 7: Fabric Softeners Create a Gas-ly Family Visit

Kootenai Valley Times – September 7, 2000

– by Dr. Gloria Gilbere

By now everyone is aware of the dangers of second hand smoke—but not everyone realizes the dangers of second hand fragrances.


Dear Dr. Gloria:

As a person living with a respiratory system affected by multiple chemical sensitivities, I submit the following personal account to add some humor to a serious situation caused by use of fabric softeners.

Our son changed his family's vacation plans to visit us a few days ahead of schedule to spend time with his grandmother who had broken her leg. His wife and children first visited her family, and then joined us. The next morning, I became suddenly ill on the second floor by something wafting upstairs from our living room. I knew not what, but I knew I had to vacate the house immediately.

Our grandson, 2.5 years old, saw an opportunity to get out of the house on to the front porch with me. I'm afraid my shock and dismay outweighed my grandmotherly spirit, for I shouted: "JORDON, YOU'RE OUTGASSING!"

His big brown eyes welled up. Two big tears dropped onto his cheeks, down his face onto his shirt. With the saddest face he said, "My mommy doesn't say THAT to me!" He ran inside sobbing and said, "Grandma said I was OUTGASSING!" My daughter-in-law, with a bemused look, then with a grin asked, "What is going on?"

Apparently, her family had washed their clothes for them, using fabric softener—which they don't use. When they opened their suitcases and began dressing, the fumes wafted upstairs. It turns out that my grandson had started coughing as they were getting dressed. He kept saying, "Oh, my shirt smells so good!"

My son then had to wash the clothes repeatedly with Borax. The final touch was to throw vinegar into the rinse. The clothes came out fine, and I was able to enjoy the family visit—and my grandson still loves me.

Both children have respiratory and headache reactions to fragrances. Interestingly, neither child lived on his/her allergy medicines while visiting us, as they have to do while visiting the other grandparents.

Barb Wilkie
Larkspur, CA


Dear Barb:

The health effects of synthetic fragrances, especially in fabric softeners, is becoming more and more evident. Many people experience respiratory ailments, such as asthma, bronchitis, walking pneumonia, and allergic coughs without giving any thought that the culprit could be the products used in their washer and dryer. The sad truth is that by using fabric softener sheets, as they outgas through the dryer vents, we're also endangering the health of our neighbors. Fabric softeners contain chemicals known to cause cancer/ and or damage to the lungs, brain and nerves. We need to become informed consumers for our health, that of our family, community and planet. Baking soda does an excellent job as a non-toxic fabric softener and anti-static agent; and it's much more economical, naturally.


This and subsequent articles are for the purpose of education and to provide support to the millions afflicted with allergies and multiple chemical sensitivity syndromes.

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