Thou shalt smell of lush, shimmer, fresh or spring!
Have you seen the commercials for Downy’s Unstopables In-Wash Scent Boosters? …A pretty young woman doing laundry in her brightly colored laundry room, boosting her boring laundry with scents that “just won’t stop!”
Why Use Unstopables?
For some reason every time I watch this commercial, all I can think is WHY? My mind curls up with the question: Why would anyone spend $6 to pour chemical fragrances into their washer and HOPE that it will stay in their clothes for up to 12 weeks? (AND, what the heck does “shimmer” smell like???)
For me as a label reader and “seeker of all things toxin-free,” out of concern for our health and that of the environment, three BIG things jump out at me and they are, not coincidentally, the three “ingredients” listed on the Unstopables bottle…
Problem Number One — Undisclosed Ingredients
When looking at the Unstopables label, they only list three ingredients: 1) Perfume dispersant, 2) Perfume, and 3) Dye.
The big problem with this is that the three ingredients listed, aren’t actually ingredients. They are categories of ingredients, meaning that based the information disclosed, we have no idea what is actually in the product or how it can affect our health, the health of the water supply or the environment as a whole.
And sadly, because the “fragrance industry” is mostly unregulated, the ingredients are likely undisclosed for a reason — to hide the toxins and VOCs (volatile organic compounds, chemicals that easily enter the air as gas or vapor) lurking inside, under the guise of “protecting proprietary information.”
There is no U.S. law requiring disclosure and it is left up to the companies themselves to provide “voluntary consumer safety standards.” Basically, if the company doesn’t feel there is a significant danger, they don’t have to warn you that there might be. (1)
Related Post: Please Stop, Your Fragrance is Killing Me!
No ingredients here.
Problem Number Two — “D” is for Dispersant
The Environmental Working Group (EWG.org) gives dispersants a big fat “D” rating for a few reasons, including the fact that by only listing “dispersant” we don’t have enough information to know if it contains toxins or not.
What we do know that dispersants often contain impurities like nitrosamines. These little impurities, according to Prop 65 of California, the National Toxicology Program, the EPA, and the EWG’s own Toxicology Program are known to cause cancer in humans.
In addition to being a known carcinogenic, nitrosamines are a huge threat to the water supply. The EWG reports that once dispersants are introduced to the water system they are “harmful to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.” (2)
Problem Number Three — Perfume is a BIG Problem & Dying from Dye
Listing perfume (aka fragrance) is also not helpful. What fragrance or more accurately, what combination of petrochemicals, are you using to create this particular fragrance?
The EWG had this to say, “These mystery mixtures can contain hundreds of untested chemicals, including toxic ingredients like phthalates and synthetic musks – both hormone disruptors. Fragrances are also among the top five allergens in the world.” (3)
The third and final ingredient listed on the Unstopables label is dye. Like it’s other companion ingredients, dye is a family of unknown chemicals which can contain cancer-causing contaminants. Thus, the dye can increase your risk to die! (3)
The Bottom Line on Unstopables
With all of this information, my question still stands: Why do our clothes (and bodies for that matter) have to smell like perfume or fragrance to be considered “fresh”? AND the even bigger question is why are we willing to risk using unknown and potentially cancer-causing ingredients to have it?
All three categories of “ingredients” listed on the Unstopables label are full unknown chemicals and VOCs. Based on the little information Proctor & Gamble is willing to share with consumers about the contents of Unstopables, in my opinion, it’s best to never start!
Green Alternatives for Fresh Laundry
If you really want “fresh” laundry, ditch the chemical-filled products and consider changing your laundry detergent to one that is either scent-neutral or is scented with organic essential oils, like Molly’s Suds or Tru Earth Detergent Sheets. They both are lightly scented with essential oils and Tru Earth has an unscented option as well.
You can read my full review of Molly’s Suds and Earth Breeze for details on why I love them:
Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder. Eco-friendly, Affordable and Safe Laundry Detergent
Laundry Detergent Sheets: Earth Breeze Vs. Tru Earth
Green & Eco-friendly Laundry Scent Boosters
If it’s important to you, you can boost the scent of your laundry without dangerous toxins by ditching dryer sheets and switching to wool dryer balls.
Not only are these awesome dryer balls soft and fluffy, they are also reusable and can be used in combination with essential oils for an extra punch of scent. My husband prefers his clothes with additional scent, so we use organic dryer ball oil mixes by Poofy Organics or organic orange essential oil, but any scent you like will work.
Related Post: What are Laundry Dryer Balls and Do They Work?
So next time you see an Unstopables commercial, say a little prayer for the pretty young woman and you have my permission to throw a dryer ball (boosted essential oils, of course) at the TV.
Quick Links to My Favorite Laundry Scent Options:
Tru Earth Laundry Detergent Sheets
Molly’s Suds Laundry Detergent
Sheep Soft Wool Dryer Balls, Set of 6
Poofy Organics Dryer Ball Oil Sprays
Poofy Organics Orange Essential Oil
- EWG Rating on Unstoppables
Professor Anne C. Steinemann, “Fragranced Consumer Products and Undisclosed Ingredients”
- EWG Report on Dispersants
California EPA, “NDMA and Other Nitrosamines”
National Toxicology Program, “Report on Carcinogens, Fourteenth Edition”
EPA, “Method 607: Nitrosamines”
EWG, Report on Nitrosamines
- EWG, “Could be hard to avoid these 7 cleaning ingredients, but you should try”
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jack ha says
It seems these do not dissolve completely and over time it appears they build up crud which then blocks the pump that removes water from the washer. I had a pump start smoking and set off a smoke detector. When I pulled the drain and look at it, it seemed filled with these little hard pieces that looked like the pellets melded together with other stuff.
Wow, sorry to hear it! One more reason to avoid them!
Have you heard of Downy Light? What is your opinion on it and do you believe the labels when they say “free of…”? Any feedback you have would be great! Thank you!!
Christian Green Living says
I don’t have any experience with Downy Light, but after looking at their label ingredients I doubt that they are much better than regular laundry scent boosters.
They may be free of heavy perfumes, dyes, and parabens but they don’t really tell us what is in them either. The label only lists 2 ingredients: Polyethylene Glycol (derived from petroleum) and fragrance. And, sadly fragrance can include any number of undisclosed chemicals. If scented laundry is important to you, I would suggest that you try dryer balls scented with essential oils.
Clogged my front loader and caused water to overflow from the bottom of the machine.
My laundry room is on the second floor and caused major damage to the ceiling below.
Wish I had read your post before hand about other damage it causes.
How horrible for you Ana! It seems scent boosters do more than just environmental damage. Thanks for sharing, so maybe someone else will read your message and not even try them!
I was looking into this type of thing. The only place I can but it I. Australia is at Costco.
I’m glad I saw this as I was believing that they would not clog the machine like softener does (I don’t use softener for this reason). So I guess I’ll try essential oils instead. I just want my washing to smell nice as I don’t actually wear purfum very often.
Thank you for saving my life and my planet. Whew. Bullet dodged.
Diane Brown says
I hate these things. Too many people impose their’rights’ to use chemicals to ‘smell good’ when all anybody has to do is keep their hygiene up. People should stop and think about the medical impact it has on others. Reactions to these chemicals and perfumes range from brain fog / memory issues, breathing and anxiety. Stop and think what you are doing to those around you. I wish there was a class action suit against the manufacturers.
sandra laidlaw says
I feel the same way! I just went to take out the garbage in supposed fresh air! Some one had a very powerful dryer sheet pumping out scent. I could hardly breath by the time I got back in the house! People do not think of others.
Ian Dinger says
Well it looks like the MSDS for at least one of the Downy scent boosters actually lists the ingredients:
From the PDF:
Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde
Pleasant stuff indeed…
Aside from all of that, I don’t understand why anyone would want to perfume their laundry. Keep your laundry clean and you won’t have to perfume it!!
I couldn’t agree more Angela. 🙂
Soon as they came out with these unstoppables, I purposely avoided using them. I knew that they can’t be healthy, especially something that goes into your clothes and the scent lasts so long. These crazy new laundry ideas should be outlawed and it’s too bad there isn’t much regulation for this. Bad for the people and the environment. Thanks for the article, people need to be more aware.
I agree, Jocelyn we do need more regulation. The secret fragrances are full of chemicals. Here’s another article I wrote about the topic. It’s a book review of “The Case Against Fragrance.” It talks more about the chemicals hiding in perfumes and these little guys: https://darlenegoesgreen.com/please-stop-your-fragrance-is-killing-me/
Having a son who plays sports and sweats a lot, I tried them. I am allergic to formaldehyde and had one of my towels get in with my sons athletic clothes. Huge mistake. While it smelled good, the allergic reaction was quite severe. I sure wish they had to list all of the ingredients to prevent my wasted money. Ugh…
Sorry to hear it – hidden ingredients can cause serious reactions!
Barbara Bracco says
I am guilty of buying these unstopables beads Botanical Mist – Downy infusions. For over a year my throat has been closing up – at one time I almost visited the ER. I thought I was sick. I had a ENT doctor put a camera down my throat, another doctor put me on steroids.
Recently I used them and hung my nightgown up to dry. That evening I put the nightgown on and went to bed. Almost immediately I had a heavy post nasel drip and my throat started to feel like it was swollen and it was hard to swallow. I thought about it, and said maybe it is the scent. I took it off and changed. The symptoms immediately started to stop. I looked up ingredients on their website and they don’t disclose them as you have said. It is terrible, that a product can cause such a severe reaction and I don’t know what I need to stay away from to prevent it.
Mo Drake says
Came into contact with these products at a public laundromat after using a dryer after another customer who liked “fragrant” clothes. Both my husband and I are suffering from a massive case of allergic contact dermatitis with hives from coming into contact with our “clean” clothes. Even after rewashing everything, in a totally different location, in 2 brand new machines, we are both still covered in patches of hives, and it can take weeks for the skin to completely heal. We are miserable and exhausted because of this incident. Perfume does not equal clean! Clean is clean, and your clothes don’t need to smell like anything!
So sorry to hear it, but thanks for sharing your story & warning. Take care!
I have a friend who uses this garbage and whenever he comes over I get a headache, have to wash the blankets on my couches (that are for my dogs, but I’m glad are on there when he comes), and my poor dogs smell like it anyway because it goes right through the blankets to the furniture, then permeates through the new blankets I’ve put on the couches! How do I tell him he can’t wear those clothes at my house without offending him? I can’t believe that people don’t consider the toxicity of something that takes 10 washes to get the smell out!!
Can you PLEASE ak him which he uses, because I would LOVE to try that!!! I cant stand rainy days because when my dog goes out the house will smell like musty dog and I keep blankets on my furniture as well, but would LOVE to use stronger smells. I’ve tried a lot of these as well as fabric softener, and dryer sheets but even after it’s not overwhelming and the only way you can really smell is is if I’m outside in the rain, and even then its slightly.
I have to use a lot for the scent to linger on ,y winter/summer clothes…so if he has tricks that smell that strong PLEASE ask him what all he uses!!!! I would LOVE to try it on jackets and blankets and curtains I only wash once a year!!
Helen Fryers says
Try not to use a tumble dryer to keep down my carbon footprint, so dry on the line from April- October and inside on a rack for the rest of the year, so just wondered if you have any suggestions for something to add to a washer. Can you just put a few drops of essential oil in the conditioner compartment? (I don’t bother with conditioner either.)
Hi Helen, Yes, my son and husband prefer more scent and I add a few drops of essential oils in the soap compartment. It adds a little extra scent without overwhelming everything. I don’t think it would hurt anything to add it to the conditioner compartment instead since only water is added to it. Let us know how it works for you?
I am an organic chemist and also a novice perfumer. I’d like to note that most of the bad wrap that fragrance ingredients receive is not it seems to be. However, there is a risk of an allergic reaction to any substance, natural or synthetic and caution should be taken when using/applying any fragrance. This includes essential oils. Another thing to note is that the majority of all fragrance compounds are merely copies of compounds found in essential oils or extracts from fragrant plants. It’s absurd to think putting concentrated or diluted essential oils on your skin is by any means safer. There are, in fact, many many more chemical compounds that a plant produces and the size of that list is much larger than those of even the most complex perfumes. So please use the same precautions when using natural oils. Natural does not mean safer and also many of the natural compounds found in plants are very understudied barely understood. That being said, Lyral, a compound that is in the MSDS report has some slightly credible evidence as a hormone suppressor so I would agree that the safe and wise decision would be to stay away. Just remember that natural is by no means safer and if you suffer from allergies to fragrances/plants it is very wise to avoid any and all fragrances, man made or natural.
Thank you for your comments, Frank. I’m sure my readers will appreciate them! Have you ever tried these scent boosters? The scent is so overwhelming, I cough when I walk down the fabric softener aisle of the store. I realize that I am very sensitive to fragrances, so as you suggested, I avoid almost all fragrances chemical and strong EOs. Thankfully, the diluted scent on my clothing from EOs on dryer balls doesn’t bother me at all.
Mona Towle says
I am writing on behalf of my parents, they are green to the 100th degree. They even sleep on a fancy organic mattress that is 100% green!. They recently moved into a senior living facility and they have to share the washer and dryer. They only use dye free organic laundry soaps. If not they break out and my mom gets a severe headache from obnoxious smells. Plus my dad has lung disease and goes into a coughing fit when there are strong perfumes/smells. Needless to say everyone in the building uses these powerful laundry detergents plus the scent boosters on top of it!! They have tried doing baking soda vinegar washes prior to washing their clothes but they still stink! Forcing them to wash their clothes again, which by the way they have to pay for! ( Coin operated machines). Help!! How do they get this smell out of the washer prior to them putting their clothes in. Help Anybody!
Seriously, it seems like the majority of that is psychosomatic. Especially after using vinegar and baking soda and then washing their clothes and having issues is a bit over the top.
If it’s that big of deal, you can go buy a washing machine that is on wheels and is movable and hooks up to a kitchen sink faucet where they could wash their clothes in it and keep it in their apartment and dry their clothes elsewhere.
Or maybe have them use one washer and put an “out of order” sign on it and hope no one uses it or catches on for a while, lol.
But it could be them just working themselves up more about having to share community machine vs having their own, or whatever then a real thing, but maybe a movable washer might help calm their nerves
Please do not judge so quickly. Respectfully, you are mistaken. There are toxic chemicals added so that the synthetic fragrance remains in the fabric. You can use vinegar and baking soda until the cows come home and you will still smell the strong scent. So, yes, I believe these people 100%. We must understand a bit of chemistry, how chemicals are used to disperse fragrance and keep it “glued” to the fabric. Over time if used in your own washer, the scent will become less powerful, but not less toxic. Nor any less debilitating if folks have become desensitized to it through long term exposure.
I personally love them. It’s nice to use them on clothes that will be put up in the winter/summer stores away for next season because you get them out and they smell amazing after a few months put away. When I do laundry I use these and fabric softener, and dryer sheets. My neighbors always ask what I use (I switch it up) because they love opening their windows to have them perfumery smell in their house to make it smell good. I also LOVE to use them on my blankets and sheets because it’s nice to snuggle down into nice smelling sheets/blankets/pillow cases. I also use “pillow sprays” from bath and body works and other places on my sheets and pillows as well. I have animals and after going through an extra rinse and the dryer, the scent is light but still there, but not as strong, but way better then just regular soap and fabric softener and dryer sheets.
To each their own. I also wear perfume (and keep my hygiene up). Some of us like to smell good.
I see this was a few years ago. Those prices are absolutely amazing. Now they are like 12 and 13 dollars for 1 big bottle of them, and they go quick even if you use just half a capful.
I cant imagine people whom dont like to smell good or keep their home smelling good and cozy.
These products contain synthetic fragrance made up of chemicals. These can be carcinogenic and/or neurotoxic. Our cat had seizures when the neighbors were doing laundry. Our windows were defective allowing the vented exhaust to enter our unit. I suffered nerve damage and the cat had neurotoxic responses in the form of seizures. I also suffered cognitive issues, brain inflammation and behavioral changes due to neurotoxicicity. So, yes, they can be dangerous and use at your own risk. Over time through inhalation and absorption through skin you can suffer horrible health damage. Not worth the scent!
Pat Strickland says
I was recently hospitalized with an asthma attack. One particular nurse came in to my room and her “fragrance” was overwhelming and breath taking. When I commented this she told me she used “Downy Beads” in her laundry so she would feel safe. And that she had to do all she could to feel “safe”. After I politely told her she was making my asthma worse, she never returned to my room again for the 4 days I was there. I can appreciate everyone wanting to stay safe and especially in a hospital, PLEASE PLEASE REMEMBER TO SHARE THE AIR!! Those with asthma and allergies like to breathe and we can’t help it if your scent is overwhelming to us! PLEASE PAY ATTENTION AND DONT WEAR STRONG SCENTS WHEN GOING OUT IN PUBLIC!!
I have a friend who uses this stuff. It’s terrible. He recently dropped off some food for me and the food smelled like the scent he uses. His home has soaked up the scent to the point where, if I go visit and sit on the sofa, I bring the scent home with me on my clothes and in my hair. Last time it took three washings to remove the odor from my clothing. I always politely decline when he offers to send food home with me because all his plastic containers have soaked up the scent and even the zipper bags in his pantry reek of it. It’s too much! I seriously think it numbs the nose of anyone who uses it and they can’t smell how strong it is.
I just want to point out that people who are using baking soda and vinegar together in the wash are not doing anything but wasting their money. Baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid. When used together they just neutralize each other. Use one or the other, but not both together.
Susan Curri says
Thank you so much for this article. These scents absolutely need to be BANNED. It saddens me that people are so foolish as to use stuff like this. I had to stop going to someone’s house because she used that crap so much that her house reeked like it and so did I when I got home and it made me feel sick. If there isn’t already a petition to ban this cancer causing trash I would be happy to start one. Stay tuned.
LISA COPELAND says
YES to getting this s**t banned. We have a laundromat at the other end of the block and can’t open our windows any more because other peoples’ idea of ‘fresh’ is killing us.
What can we do, people? I will happily join any attempt at getting this stuff removed from public life.
This is kind of interesting: I met a chemical engineer who said that a lot of the newer high-tech fabrics used in sports clothing tend to hold on to body odor, therefore the laundry soap makers decided to go to these industrial scent products. Talk about the tail wagging the dog!
Another area of horror: scented candles, omg . . .
Joni Heil says
I recently over-poured some Downy beads into my washer. So, I dug out the excess and put it into a plastic measuring cup – to use in a future wash. When I emptied the measuring cup, I saw that the plastic was eroded. The bottom which had been covered with the beads was cloudy and pebbled. I couldn’t wash it out. The beads appeared to have melted some of the plastic. That’s when I decided to stop using them – and I looked up this site to see that was a good decision.
From the very first time I saw the commercial, I thought “if my clothes stink, it’s probably bacteria and I don’t want to just cover it up.” Why would anyone want to just cover it up and keep wearing the clothes?
Thank you for your service and information.
I knew instinctively that this stuff was destructive to the water, soil, air, and all forms of life the very first time i saw it advertised on tv. I hate these corporations, as much as it infuriates me, my fellow humans lack the intellect to know this stuff is poison and that they are giving money to demons to indulge in fake scents. This is another reason why i will never bring my children into this world, humanity is so worthlessly, hopelessly stupid.
I contacted Downey over these Scent Beads. They are very vague about giving a straight answer. I asked if I used a perfumed detergent (Lavender) do I still need the beads. They gave me instructions on how to use the beads. I like the relaxing scent of Lavender, in my home. I bought the beads and tried them. I thought they weren’t working. I call Downey back, they tell me to put them in the washer before the clothes. Still, no direct answer to my original question. I tried them again then called for a refund. They sent me a $5.00 debit card THAT DOESN’T WORK. I told them I paid more that $5 on that bottle and more from previous purchases, and that I was insulted by their attitude over this product. I wish I read this column before I bought the first batch. I immediately switched to a green detergent and use essential oils for my scent. I won’t use P&G products any longer. Thanks for the information.
Carol Shaw says
I add essential oil to white distilled vinegar. Give the bottle a shake before adding to the softener dispenser. Laundry smells fresh and the vinegar serves as a fabric softener and anti static, cleans your machine too!