Dear Umbra,

With winter upon us, I’m thinking about a serious matter: fabric softener. During the summer, I don’t use any. However, with snow looming, static cling is on my mind. Long story short, which is better: liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets?

Shippensburg, Penn.

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Dearest Allie,

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Your home will be a happier, healthier place if no fabric softener darkens your dryer. Both liquid and sheet contain a stunning amount of notoriously toxic chemicals, which often serve to make the softener smell pretty. Turns out fragrances are usually composed of a witch’s brew of solvents — which explains why some folks come over all funny in the presence of artificial scents.

Quite a few of the fabric-softener solvents, particularly if exposed to heat, are hazardous when inhaled or when they come into contact with skin. A less-toxic solution is to add a cup of white vinegar during the final rinse cycle in your washing machine. I also suspect that if you don’t overdry your clothing — that is, if you pull it out of the dryer when it’s still slightly damp to the touch — you’ll get less static. And I’d recommend switching to all-natural fabrics such as cotton.


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