For most of us, using fabric softeners is a regular part of our weekly laundry ritual. It can soften clothing, eliminate static, and add a fresh scent. Some fabric softeners also extend the life of clothing by coating the individual fibers with protective chemicals.
There are three basic types of fabric softeners: liquid, dryer sheets, and dryer balls. Most of us don’t think twice about the differences between them, but each type has advantages and disadvantages, and each works best for specific laundry items.
Liquid fabric softener is best at removing odors and softening clothes; it also reduces stretching, fading, and fuzzing. On the other hand, it is the most expensive of the three types. It is made from silicone oils, which can make towels less absorbent. Dryer sheets are more convenient and less costly than liquid softeners; however, they tend to leave more lint and fuzz on clothing. Dryer balls are the least expensive and most eco-friendly option, but they don’t freshen or add scent to laundry.
1. Liquid Fabric Softener
Liquids are the most popular type of fabric softeners. Unlike dryer sheets and dryer balls, a liquid fabric softener is used during the washing cycle. If you have an older model washing machine, you must add the fabric softener during the final rinse; however, newer machines have special compartments that allow you to add the softener at the beginning of the wash cycle. In recent years, specialized liquid fabric softeners have been developed to meet various buyers’ needs. We detail each of these varieties below.
All-in-one liquid detergent + fabric softener allows users to pour both detergent and softener into the washer simultaneously, without the need to keep two bulky bottles on hand. It includes less fabric softener in each load than separate detergent and softener, so your laundry may not get quite as soft. You can buy all-in-one products that work in high-efficiency washers, scented or unscented, suitable for sensitive skin, and eco-friendly.
HE Washer Compatible
Some liquid fabric softeners can be used in high-efficiency (HE) front-loading washers. HE fabric softener is much less expensive than traditional softeners: one teaspoon softens an entire load of clothing, so a bottle of HE fabric softener lasts much longer than a bottle of traditional softener. HE softener is available in scented, unscented, sensitive skin-friendly, and eco-friendly options.
Most liquid fabric softener has a mild scent that lets clothes come out of the dryer smelling fresh and clean. However, recently manufacturers have begun developing products “infused” with soothing aromas like lavender and vanilla, or energizing citrus smells, or natural coconut and aloe.
The aroma of these scented fabric softeners lasts for days or weeks on your laundry. Due to their high concentrations of fragrances and dyes, these softeners are not eco-friendly and should not be used by people with sensitive skin.
Some people prefer unscented fabric softeners because they have sensitive skin or prefer to avoid the chemicals in scented products. Unscented fabric softeners are as effective as scented varieties at softening and protecting clothes and reducing wrinkles and static. Some premium brands are relatively expensive, but most cost about the same as traditional liquid fabric softeners.
Other liquid fabric softeners are developed specifically for people who have sensitive skin. These products are free of dyes, fragrances, phthalates, and other potentially irritating chemicals. Hypoallergenic liquid fabric softener reduces the irritating effect of laundry detergent on sensitive skin. These products are almost always unscented, colorless, and often thinner than other liquid fabric softeners.
If you are committed to protecting the environment but still want your laundry static-free, wrinkle-free, and smelling great, try using an eco-friendly liquid fabric softener. Besides being free of dyes, fragrances, phthalates, and other harmful chemicals, eco-friendly fabric softeners are made from plant-based materials rather than animal or fossil fuel products. They also typically come in recyclable, low-plastic-content containers. Eco-friendly products are every bit as effective as traditional fabric softeners and slightly more expensive.
As a natural alternative to liquid fabric softeners, you can use distilled white vinegar. Its acetic acid softens clothing, brightens colors, and does not reduce the absorbency of towels like the oils in liquid fabric softeners. Vinegar is also free of dyes and chemicals, so it’s great for people with sensitive skin. The dryer’s heat gets rid of any vinegar odor on the laundry, so it comes out of the dryer smelling fresh and clean.
2. Dryer Sheet Fabric Softener
Dryer sheets are thin rectangles of woven fibers coated with stearic acids, fragrances, and other chemicals. They are highly convenient to use: peel off the top sheet and toss it in the dryer with your laundry. Dryer sheets are the best option for reducing static in clothing. They are less expensive than liquid fabric softeners, but they don’t soften clothes as well. The chemicals on dryer sheets build up in your lint filter over time, reducing the filter’s efficiency.
Most dryer sheets are made with a mild fresh scent. Recently, manufacturers have begun producing dryer sheets infused with long-lasting, powerful scents. These sheets leave your laundry smelling great for days or weeks after washing, and they have become quite popular. However, the aroma comes at a cost: scent-infused dryer sheets contain more fragrances and chemical irritants. Thus, these sheets are not eco-friendly or good for people with sensitive skin.
Unscented dryer sheets are made without the extra fragrances included in scented sheets. Although most unscented dryer sheets are also hypoallergenic (made without the chemicals that irritate sensitive skin), some of them are only fragrance-free. So, if you need a hypoallergenic fabric softener, check the label carefully before you buy it. Unscented dryer sheets are as effective as any others at softening, reducing static and wrinkles, and repelling hair and lint; they just won’t add any aroma to your laundry.
Dryer sheets made for people with sensitive skin are rapidly rising in popularity. These sheets have no perfumes, dyes, phthalates, or other irritants, making them healthier and more eco-friendly than scented or traditional dryer sheets. Although sensitive-skin formulas have, in the past, been hard to find and cost substantially more than other types of dryer sheets, they are now readily available, at a cost similar to that of traditional dryer sheets.
Eco-friendly dryer sheets go farther than just avoiding dyes, fragrances, and other harsh chemicals. They are made from plants rather than animal products or fossil fuels. Manufacturers of eco-friendly dryer sheets also use sustainable business practices, ethical product sourcing, and biodegradable packaging. These dryer sheets are as effective as others, although they may cost a little more.
3. Dryer Balls
Unlike liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets, dryer balls function simply by bouncing around inside the dryer with your laundry — their bouncing motion lifts and separates the individual pieces of laundry. This eliminates static and has the added benefit of reducing drying time, especially for heavier materials like towels.
Containing no chemical additives, made from pure sheep’s wool, and reusable for hundreds of loads of laundry, dryer balls are the ultimate eco-friendly and inexpensive drying solution.
Softening your laundry and reducing wrinkles and static is easy when you know what type of fabric softener to use. Depending on your preferences, you can use liquid softeners, dryer sheets, or dryer balls. You can also choose from various specialized products for sensitive skin, eco-friendliness, or extra scent. Selecting the fabric softener that works best for you will keep you and your family happy with laundry day results!
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