Fabric softener sales plummet, thanks to uninterested Millennials

Downy fabric softener
CC BY 2.0 Daniel Oines -- Downy is Proctor & Gamble's leading brand of fabric softener, sales of which have fallen 26% in last ten years.

Proctor & Gamble blames it on Millennials not knowing how to do laundry, but it's more likely that they don't feel like paying to infuse their clothes with nasty chemicals.

Proctor & Gamble is blaming Millennials for plummeting sales of fabric softener. The liquid product, which became popular in the 1960s, has been declining in popularity over the past decade. There are a number of reasons for this.

Detergents have gotten better, as have washing machines, resulting in clean clothes that don't feel so stiff, rough, or scratchy. Fabrics have improved and become heartier, able to withstand multiple washings without needing additives; and more young people wear athletic clothes, which comes with warnings not to use softeners because it can impede the fabric's ability to absorb and wick away moisture.

Finally, and arguably most importantly, Millennials are far more concerned about chemicals in the products they buy than their parents ever were. To anyone who reads ingredient lists, fabric softener is a big no-no, full of chemicals that coat fabrics with a light layer of lubrication to give the impression of softness. According to the Organic Authority, these are some of the toxic chemicals found in commercial fabric softeners:

  • Alpha Terpineol: can cause central nervous damage and respiratory problems
  • Camphor: causes central nervous disorders, is easily absorbed through skin
  • Chloroform: a carcinogenic neurotoxin preferred by Ted Bundy
  • Benzyl Acetate: linked to pancreatic cancer
  • Benyl Alcohol: respiratory tract irritant
  • Ethanol: on the EPA’s 'hazardous waste' list, can cause central nervous system disorders
  • Ethyl Acetate: a narcotic on the EPA’s 'hazardous waste' list
  • Limonene: a known carcinogen that irritates eyes and skin
  • Linalool: causes central nervous system disorders and depresses heart activity

There are numerous reports of allergic reactions to fabric softeners, in the form of asthma and rashes. Many of the ingredients are linked to reproductive problems, difficulty breathing, and cancer.

Proctor & Gamble is frantically trying to improve sales by churning out new ad campaigns targeting Millennials, specifically because they are the ones "just beginning to form their laundry habits, either because they are living on their own for the first time, buying a first washing machine or having children" (via the Wall Street Journal). But it looks like a losing battle to me.

Millennials are not only more health-conscious, but also more budget-aware than previous generations of shoppers. The Internet is full of DIY recipes for making one's clothes soft in far cheaper, greener ways. For example: Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to your washer during the rinse cycle. Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash cycle. Buy or make some 100% wool dryer balls and infuse them with essential oils that will give clothes a great scent without the chemicals.

Perhaps if P&G rebranded its fabric softener as an all-natural, plastic-free, reusable, line-friendly, fair-trade, dolphin-safe, organic, microbead-free, sunshine-activated, essential oil-infused mood enhancing liquid, then maybe there'd be an uptick in business. But otherwise, it looks like P&G will be hung out to dry by disinterested Millennials who have much better things to spend their money on.

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