You probably won't find any warning labels on a bottle of liquid fabric softener or a box of dryer sheets, yet these products may contain ingredients that can irritate skin and cause other health problems. While fabric softeners often contain fragrances and dyes that irritate the skin after getting into fabric, generally their ingredients are not hazardous to the environment. There's really no need to use a commercial softener, however. Its purpose is to bust static cling, and it does this by coating your clothing with a sort of waxy film.
If eliminating static cling is your aim, you can accomplish this on your own by using 1/4 to 1/2 cup vinegar in your wash water. You can add the vinegar directly into the liquid softener cup, if your machine has one, or add it on top of the clothing during the rinse cycle. Our green goal, however, is to use less -- ask yourself how many of your laundered items really need to have a softener added at all. For many items, adding softener is just an unnecessary luxury; you could eliminate a product or two, including vinegar, by washing those clothes or fabrics without softeners.
Fabric softener can build up on clothes over time, which ultimately reduces clothes' longevity. Parents should be aware that the accumulation can reduce the inflammability protectants in children's clothing. Just to be on the safe side, you should read the labels on your children's clothing and heed the manufacturer's advice on whether or not to use fabric softener. It should also be noted that flame-retardant clothing for children does contain harmful PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), which are known to cause thyroid problems in lab rats and are also linked to neurological damage.