Is Downy Fabric Softener Safe? Complete Guide

Downy fabric softener reviews

So you just did your laundry. And your clothes are soft, fresh and they look as good as new! But do you doubt whether the Downy Fabric Softener you used is safe for you and your baby? Is it toxic? 

This article will help you weigh up the pros and cons of Downy Fabric Softener.

Downy Fabric Softener ingredients 

  • Diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride (DEEDMAC)

Sounds very complex, but this is essentially an ammonia-based surfactant. It is the primary chemical compound for softening clothes. It does this by eliminating friction between the fibers of the clothes.

This smoothens them out and makes them fluffy. It also functions as an anti-static. It does this by coating the fibers and lubricating them.

DEEDMAC is used as an antibacterial and antimicrobial agent as well. It prevents the growth of mold and also kills germs. 

  • Calcium chloride dihydrate

This is another key ingredient of the Downy fabric softener. It is used to reduce the thickness of the liquid. This is necessary to allow the liquid to move through the fabric easily and without resistance.

  • Acids

Two types of acid are used- Formic and Hydrochloric acid. These are used to maintain a neutral pH and to balance the acid and alkaline components.

  • Polydimethylsiloxane (Dimethicone)

This is a silicone-based compound that has multiple purposes. It is mainly used as an additional softening agent.

Also known as dimethicone, it controls the foaming and lathering ability of the liquid. The compound helps in removing wrinkles and promotes easier ironing. 

  • Pentasodium pentetate

This is a chemical compound that keeps the softener chemically stable. It prevents the different ingredients from interacting with each other. The softener is able to dissolve in water because of this ingredient.

  • Preservatives

Finally, there are preservatives in the softener.  This is usually in the form of methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI) or benzisothiazolinone. 

They all work to prevent the softener from going bad. This is because they are antifungal and antimicrobial agents.

  • Artificial fragrance

Various perfumes and dyes are also added to give color and scents to the softener. This also leaves the clothes smelling crisp and fresh. 

Is Downy Fabric Softener safe for dogs? 

No, Downy Fabric Softener should not be used for washing or rinsing dogs or for their bedding.

If you must use it to wash their bedding or toys, then air the fabric out well. Make sure your dog is not exposed to it before it dries completely. 

You should keep them away from the liquid or the dryer sheets. Your dog could lick or chew the liquid/sheets.

The toxic chemicals and detergent in Downy softener can harm your dog. The effects could range from just irritation to vomiting, seizures, etc. 

The reaction could be severe if your dog has ingested or licked the liquid from the floor or the machine. Otherwise, if it has just come into contact with it, the harm may be milder.  

Do not bathe your dog in this softener. Do not rub Downy softener on its fur to make the fur smooth. You shouldn’t use it to control your dog’s shedding. If the dog licks itself then it could be poisoned. This poisoning is similar to alkaline toxicity in humans. 

Is Downy Fabric Softener safe for babies? 

Downy has an infant-specific product called the Downy Baby Free and Gentle Conditioner. This softener is mild and dermatologically tested. It provides a safe conditioner for your baby’s clothes. 

This softener does not contain any added dyes that are known to cause irritation and allergies to babies’ sensitive skin.  You should only use this Downy variety to soften your baby’s clothes, diapers, blankets, etc. The other varieties can still cause rashes and other skin problems. 

This is because other Downy softeners have detergents and other harsh chemicals. These could harm the delicate skin of infants. 

Another point to note here is that a lot of baby clothes tend to be made with flame-retardant materials. Using general softeners from Downy (besides the baby-specific variety) can deplete your baby clothes of this. This is a fire hazard especially when your infant has begun to crawl and hold on to surfaces.

In any case, you need to still be careful with the Downy Baby Free and Gentle Softener. At the end of the day, this is also made with a lot of chemicals. This could further aggravate sensitive skin.

Use a mild detergent, and if necessary, use Downy’s Baby Gentle Softener in moderation. Stop using it if it causes any inflammation, redness, or itching on your baby’s skin.

Is Downy Fabric Softener safe for septic systems? 

Proctor and Gamble, which markets the Downy brand, has stated all the ingredients in Downy fabric softener are safe for septic tanks and sewer systems. 

Many liquid softeners tend to form a greasy film that coats the septic tank. This can clog the septic tank and pipes. Downy softeners dissolve completely in water and are also completely free of oil or petroleum. As such, they should not cause any issues with the septic system.

Is Downy Fabric Softener gluten-free? 

You may ask – why does a fabric softener have to be gluten-free? It is not like you are going to eat it! But for people who are allergic to gluten, or who have celiac disease it does matter. Their skin is also sensitive to traces of gluten. You don’t need to consume gluten for it to cause problems.

Fortunately, Downy Softeners/Conditioners are gluten-free. They are not made from any grains like wheat, rice, barley, etc. which contain gluten. It is also 73% allergen-free – this includes wheat which is a key source of gluten.

Is Downy Fabric Softener toxic? 

Yes, Downy Softener can be toxic with repeated exposure. The main ingredient in Downy fabric softener is diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride which is a ‘quaternary ammonium compound’. These compounds are harmful. They can cause skin irritation, rashes, allergies, etc. 

It can also cause breathing difficulty and nasal congestion/irritation. There could also be some negative effects on organs. These include the kidneys and the reproductive system. 

Preservatives like MCI/MI can be responsible for causing asthma and other respiratory difficulties. Ethanol in the liquid can also be toxic to the central nervous system. It can result in dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness, etc. 

The fragrances added to the softener can worsen breathing problems. Some of the softeners do not have fragrances or added dyes etc. These may be less toxic. 

Does Downy Fabric Softener have formaldehyde? 

Yes. While Downy Fabric Softener does not have formaldehyde as an active ingredient, it does have ingredients that release small amounts of formaldehyde. 

For example, the quaternary ammonium compounds or ‘quats’ like DEEDMAC release formaldehyde in trace amounts.

This can cause skin irritation, redness, nausea or dizziness, etc. But the amount released is relatively small. It complies with industry regulations. Prolonged or concentrated exposure could cause health problems. Sustained use may result in reproductive and respiratory problems.  

Other than this, other ingredients used in Downy fabric softeners do not release formaldehyde. 

But do be aware that using softener dryer sheets can cause a release of formaldehyde. The chemicals in the sheets may react with surrounding air or any other material. This produces trace amounts of formaldehyde.

Does Downy Fabric Softener contain bleach? 

No. The Downy softener does not contain bleach. The three elements of a washing cycle i.e. detergent, bleach, and softener are usually separate. But while the detergent may contain bleach,  softeners and bleach are usually not used together. 

Their chemicals may interact because bleach is quite volatile. This can harm you. This includes burns or congestion. But, the Downy softener does not contain sodium hypochlorite (bleach). 

Downy softener is usually added in after the rinse cycle, to give a finishing touch to clothes. 

Does Downy Fabric Softener kill bed bugs? 

No. This is at best an urban myth. First off, using a softener liquid won’t do any good. If you are using the softener dryer sheets then bed bugs are repelled by it. The fragrance from the sheets does drive them away, but it doesn’t kill them.

It also may not be very effective for too long. Because once the smell wears off, bed bugs may come back. You can put them between your mattress or headboard as a temporary solution. But all they will do is to move to other parts of your home. 

So it is better that you vacuum or do a proper professional cleaning. Because fabric softener is not a fix for bed bugs. 

Is Downy Fabric Softener flammable? 

Yes. Downy Fabric Softener contains flammable ingredients. The main ingredient Diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride (DEEDMAC) is highly flammable. So is the ethanol used in the liquid.

Di-propylene glycol is not flammable, but it can combust at high temperatures. For example, during a fire outbreak, it could combust. So it is a fire hazard. 

This is not the only way Downy softener could cause fires. The softener coats the fibers of clothing like a lubricant. This is what makes it soft. But it also makes it more likely to catch on fire. 

It also makes the cloth fibers come apart a little bit, to make it more comfortable. But this property is also what makes it even more prone to catch on fire. This is especially the case for certain materials like flannel, wool, etc. 

Does Downy Fabric Softener cause acne? 

Yes, it could. Quaternary ammonium compounds like diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride (DEEDMAC) can cause skin irritation and clog pores. Clogged pores can further lead to or aggravate existing acne. Fragrances and colorants may also further irritate the skin through itchiness, redness, etc.

This is because fragrances contain numerous chemicals that are comedogenic. These worsen breakouts. The MCI/MI in the softener can also cause allergies or dermatitis (rashes, eczema, and inflammation). Such skin problems could result in more severe acne. 

Downy Free and Gentle should cause less skin irritation. This is because it does not use dyes/fragrances etc.

Does Downy Fabric Softener cause cancer? 

No. So far no conclusive study has shown that Downy softener is carcinogenic. Some of the chemicals may cause skin, eye, or nasal irritation. However, it does not contain chemicals that have been definitively linked to cancer.

But one cannot be completely sure. This is because some chemicals hide under other names. For example, fragrances may contain phthalates. These are not included in the ingredients list. But it could be part of fragrances. Phthalates have been known to cause cancer. 

Also, since some ingredients like DEEDMAC release formaldehyde, prolonged use could cause organ problems, which may be in the form of cancer. But again, there is no evidence to clearly support this. 

Only a few limited studies have been done. This does not prove anything with any finality. So far, Downy does not pose any carcinogenic risks from any other ingredient in it. 

Does Downy Fabric Softener expire?

The Downy softener has a shelf life of about 12 months before it starts to go bad. If unopened, then the shelf life might be longer. It might not go bad until about two or three years after purchase. 

It usually becomes very lumpy when it goes bad. The liquid thickens and the different elements tend to separate. This creates a greasy residue that could stain clothes. They may cause yellowing. Most of the scent is also lost by the time of the expiry date. 

It may lose its effectiveness. The clothes won’t be as soft anymore. So do not buy and store large containers of Downy softener. If yours has gone bad, you can mix in some water and remove the lumps. 

We hope this article has been useful in addressing your queries about Downy Fabric Softener. Perhaps the information here will help you take a load off on laundry day! 


Anand Srinivasan
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