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While we all love the softness and the removal of static cling, we differ when it comes to our favorite scents. And of course, we all have manufacturers that we like or don’t like. So, choosing the best fabric softener for your laundry is totally dependant on your needs and your preferences.
Fabric softeners go a long way to soften your clothes and bed linens. And while you may be concerned about the ingredients, the chemicals used also protect the color and longevity of your garments. Not to mention making everything smell so lovely.
Is Fabric Softener Safe?
However much you enjoy the perfume, some considerations should keep you from using fabric softeners. For example, if you have children or wear flameproof clothing in your profession, do not use commercially produced fabric softeners or dryer sheets when you launder those clothes.
Fabric softeners, both liquid and dryer sheets, deposit chemicals onto the fabric that will inhibit the beneficial flame retardant chemicals and consequently make the fabric more flammable.
Something else consumers need to be aware of is that if you use liquid fabric softeners in your washing machine, you need to clean your machine and the dispenser periodically. The chemicals that permeate your clothing and bedding also build up in your washing machine and dispensers. The same goes for dryer sheets and the lint filter in your dryer.
If you or members of your family have sensitive skin, you may want to re-think the use of commercially produced fabric softeners. Spending a third of your life up close and personal to chemically softened sheets could be asking for severe skin issues. Don’t even take a chance on your baby’s clothes and bedding.
Those concerns on their own should not keep you from using fabric softeners. They do provide benefits the majority of us can appreciate, and they do have a place in your laundry room.
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Just What is Fabric Softener?
Fabric softeners — what did we do before we had them, and what would we do without them? It wasn’t all that long ago that commercially manufactured fabric softeners weren’t available. Well, not that long ago to some of us but ancient history to others.
Way back in the 1960s, several marketers, including Proctor and Gamble, began selling liquid fabric softener compositions for home use. In the 1970s, manufacturers found a way to deliver softeners in a convenient dryer sheet format.
Dryer sheets solved the problem of having to add liquid softeners to the rinse cycle. Back in the day, washing machines couldn’t dispense softeners to the rinse cycle — a frustrating dilemma to everyone who wanted soft, clean smelling clothes.
How would you like to set a timer to remind you it’s time to add the fabric softener? I wouldn’t. Before I invested in my shiny new washing machine — which does everything but load and unload the laundry — I bought a Downy ball.
I would put my liquid fabric softener in that magic ball, toss it into my washer, and walk away. Then as if by magic, that ball would dispense that fabric softener at just the right time. Amazing. I can’t believe they still sell them, but they do.
What Do Fabric Softeners Do?
Today’s fabric softeners soften your clothes, remove wrinkles and static cling, and impart a pleasant scent. Also, they improve iron glide, for those of you who still use an iron. They also provide better color retention and enhanced stain protection.
The two most popular ways to buy commercially produced softeners are liquid and dryer sheets. But there are other eco-friendly options available, and some are sitting in your pantry.
Liquid fabric softeners
When you add a liquid fabric softener to the rinse cycle, it permeates the fabric fibers and deposits lubricating chemicals on the fabric. This leaves your clothes and bed linens softer, with no static cling, and a fresh fragrance. It may also keep clothes from stretching, fading, and accumulating fuzz.
Oil is a significant component of liquid softeners. Consequently, to prevent staining, liquid softeners should be added after the tub is full of water. Liquid softeners can also cause build up in your machine’s fabric dispenser, requiring frequent cleaning.
You could spend the rest of your life searching the plethora of brands for the best fabric softener available in the marketplace. But, ultimately, it boils down to your favorite brand and the scent, or no scent, that you’d like remaining on your clothes.
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Dryer sheet softeners are coated with stearic acid, which melts in the dryer and coats your laundry. That coating reduces static, increases the soft cottony feel, and imparts a pleasant fragrance.
There have been anecdotal reports of staining from dryer sheets. To avoid this problem, do not overfill the dryer and place the fabric sheet on top of the clothes. Do not put the dryer sheet in the dryer before putting adding your wet laundry.
Make sure you remove the filter from your dryer and wash it monthly with a gentle brush in hot soapy water. The chemicals released from the fabric sheets will also coat the filter and, in time, can cause it to clog, which could present a fire hazard.
Alternative eco-friendly choices
For those concerned with the environmental impact of using commercially produced softeners, fret not. You do have alternative eco-friendly choices.
Balls aren’t just for chasing
No, they aren’t, some are for tossing into your dryer. Although, admittedly, I have had to chase some of mine around after their attempted escape from my dryer.
The function of dryer balls is to create separation between layers of laundry, which allows the hot air to circulate and dry the load faster. As the balls bounce, they gently agitate the fabrics, and that contributes to the softening and helps reduce wrinkling.
This agitation is especially helpful when laundering sheets and blankets. The only challenge is finding all the balls hidden in your sheets and blankets after they are dried.
Dryer balls come in a variety of sizes and materials, from adorable Fair Trade, hand made wool penguins to spiky colored plastic balls and just about everything in between.
One significant advantage of dryer balls is that they’re reusable, and many of them allow for the addition of essential oils. This means that you can scent your clothes with your favorite aromas.
Many people, opting to save a few dollars, throw a clean tennis shoe in the dryer, hoping for the same result. But I have to ask you if you want your laundry smelling like a tennis shoe, even a clean one? If you’re like me, you’ll probably pass on that.
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From the pantry
Does your pantry have apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, Epsom salt, baking soda, aluminum foil, or essential oils? If you have any of those, you have the makings of a natural, chemical-free, effective fabric softener.
Need a dryer sheet? Take a washcloth and lightly dampen it with vinegar, white or apple cider, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil (or not), and toss it into your dryer. The vinegar will prevent static cling and make your clothes softer. Fortunately, this won’t make your clothes smell like a salad. We promise.
Crumple up some aluminum foil and make a three-inch ball. You’ll want to make three or four of them. Toss them into the dryer with your clothes and viola — no static cling and your clothes will dry quicker.
Aluminum foil balls will last for months but will not scent your clothes or make them softer. For the softness, add vinegar to your rinse cycle.
Thanks to the world wide web, you can easily find a lot of do-it-yourself recipes for homemade, eco- and wallet-friendly fabric softeners.
The Best Fabric Softener … Except When It’s Not
It may come as a surprise, but there are times when you should not use a fabric softener. The coatings they leave on fabric can affect the functionality of certain fabrics.
Fabric softeners can reduce the absorbency of towels and microfiber materials. I admit that using fabric softener when laundering towels will reward you with a unique wonderfulness as you remove that beautiful soft, great smelling towel from the dryer. But you won’t appreciate that wonderfulness when you get out of the shower and that beautiful towel won’t do its job.
In the same vein, don’t use fabric softener when laundering specialty fabrics like wicking sportswear. They won’t wick if you do.
Also, using fabric softeners on synthetic fabrics like polyester or anything containing elastane and nylon (skinny jeans or leggings) will lessen their useful life.
How We Reviewed
This best fabric softener review is an independent analysis of different fabric softeners available to today’s consumer. We researched and compared scientific data available, the benefits as well as concerns, and professional and consumer reviews.
We have no business or financial ties to any of the companies we mention.
The goal of this list of the best fabric softener is to provide you with sufficient unbiased information so that you can make a confident, informed, and easier decision on your next purchase.
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Our Picks for Best Fabric Softener
Here are our picks for the best liquid softener, best eco-friendly, and our honorable mention best fabric softener for all three of our softener categories: liquid, dryer sheet, and alternative softeners.
- Conditions to help prevent stretching, fading, and fuzz
- Leaves long-lasting freshness
- Softens fabrics
Our best liquid fabric softener
It was not difficult to pick Downy Ultra April Fresh as the best fabric softener in the liquid category. It isn’t just our number one pick; this softener consistently shows up on just about everyone’s “best fabric softener” list.
This Downy softener protects fabrics from stretching, fading, and fights fuzz. Its most-liked feature is its long-lasting Febreze-fresh floral scent.
However, you will want to pay attention to Proctor and Gamble’s safety warning on flammability.
Amazon customers rated this product an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars. An impressive 82 percent of reviewers rated this product 5.0 out of 5 stars.
- Liquid fabric softener adds freshness while reducing static from...
- Fabric softener made without parabens, phthalates, or animal-derived...
- A biodegradable formula fabric softener, safe for use in high...
- Snuggle Plus SuperFresh features the Snuggly softness you love, plus...
- Snuggle PLUS SuperFresh is the first-ever fabric conditioner & dryer...
- For a top loader washing machine, add Snuggle brand liquid fabric...
Our best eco-friendly liquid fabric softener
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day liquid fabric softener captured our eco-friendly liquid best fabric softener spot. It is made without parabens, phthalates, or animal-derived ingredients.
This honeysuckle-scented fabric softener makes clothes smell fresh and feel fluffy and soft. It also reduces static cling and makes ironing easier.
Amazon customers rated this product an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars. Almost 70 percent of reviewers rated this product 5.0 out of 5 stars.
Our best fabric softener liquid: honorable mention
Coming in a close second on our best liquid fabric softener list is Snuggle Plus Super Fresh. The odor eliminating technology is praised by those with pets for its ability to remove pet urine odor.
Amazon customers rated this product an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. A full 84 percent of users rated this product 5.0 out of 5 stars.
- Classic Bounce outdoor fresh scent
- Helps Reduce Wrinkles
- Controls static cling in fabrics
Our best dryer sheet
The best dryer sheet award resoundingly goes to Bounce Outdoor Fresh. Bounce continues to lead the pack when it comes to fabric dryer sheets.
Bounce Outdoor Fresh reduces wrinkles, controls static cling — and attention pet owners — helps repel lint and hair. It is also color safe and will make your sheets so incredibly soft that you won’t want to get out of bed.
There was no surprise that Amazon customers rated this product an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars. An impressive 86 percent of reviewers rated this product 5.0 out of 5 stars.
No products found.
Our best eco-friendly dryer sheet
Home & Planet dryer sheets top our eco-friendly dryer sheet list.
These dermatologist-tested, vegan, and cruelty-free dryer sheets are formulated without parabens and dyes.
Amazon customers rated this product an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. More than half — 55 percent — of reviewers rated this product 5.0 out of 5 stars.
Our best dryer sheet: honorable mention
Downy Infusions Lavender Serenity gets our honorable mention for dryer sheets.
Its exotic floral scent is a favorite among reviewers, who also appreciate the scent being long-lasting.
Amazon customers rated this product an average of 4.2 out of 5 stars. Almost 80 percent of reviewers rated this product 5.0 out of 5 stars.
- As Seen In: Yahoo Lifestyle, Real Simple Magazine, Good Housekeeping,...
- Eco-Friendly: Our dryer wool balls last for a thousand plus loads....
- Shortens Dry Time: Use of a wool dryer ball saves time, money, and...
Our best choice of alternative fabric softener
Hands down, our alternative best fabric softener are the New Zealand Wool Dryer Balls by Smart Sheep.
Slightly larger than a tennis ball, these handmade, eco-friendly balls save energy while softening your laundry naturally. These wool balls are the choice for people with sensitive skin and those with babies.
Put a drop or two of your favorite essential oil on these balls to give your laundry a unique, personalized scent.
Amazon customers rated this product an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars. A good number — 78 percent — of reviewers rated this product 5.0 out of 5 stars.
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Our best alternative fabric softener: honorable mention
Our honorable mention for best alternative softener goes to whatever do-it-yourself softener you make. Sprinkle some baking soda in your washer and put that vinegar in your washer’s fabric dispenser or your Downy ball. Make aluminum foil balls and toss them into your dryer.
Help the planet while softening your clothes and eliminating static cling with items from your pantry.
The Dryer Tune is About to Play
As I hear the wool balls bouncing around in my dryer, let me take a few minutes to sum this all up.
Fabric softeners, like just about everything else in life, have their good points and not-so-good points. We, as consumers, need to pick the right product for the right job.
My laundry room has liquid fabric softener, a box of dryer sheets, and my much-loved wool balls. I’ve even been known to use two different softener types on the same load of laundry, especially when I do sheets.
If you haven’t tried one of our “best,” give them a try and let us know what you think. And if you venture into the area of do-it-yourself fabric softeners, let us know in the comments below what you made and how it worked.
Last update on 2023-09-22 at 15:25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API