woman and child using fabric softener in laundry room

5 Ways to Make Safe, Problem-Free Fabric Softener

Fabric softeners are designed to reduce the amount of static in synthetic fibers and make laundry come out feeling soft and smelling great. So why would anyone opt to go to the time and trouble of making homemade fabric softener when the commercial stuff works well? Because commercial store-bought fabric softeners are a problem, not a solution. Consider these three reasons:

woman and child using fabric softener in laundry room

1. Allergies

While I’m blessed to have a healthy family, all of us are sensitive, if not allergic, to fabric softeners, which is common. Commercial fabric softeners are composed of various chemicals, some of which can be major irritants on the skin and body.

If you or your kids develop a skin irritation like a red rash or bumps, itching, pain, tenderness or a localized skin rash, prepare for the dermatologist’s first question: Do you use fabric softener? According to this Mayo Clinic study, the offending ingredients in fabric softeners include quaternium, cobalt chloride, and formaldehyde, which can cause skin irritation, and rash or hives (small swollen welts) to form on the skin.

The fragrance or “fumes” from fabric softeners can irritate some people, leading to tiredness, difficulty breathing, anxiety, dizziness, headaches, faintness, and memory problems.

2. Negative effect

Dryer sheets smell great but they’re bad for your clothes and dryer. Those woven sheets of fiber are coated with stearic and fatty acids, fragrance, and a cocktail of various chemicals. The result is a film from these sheets that coats your dryer’s interior and filtering system. This same film coats towels and linens. Load after load results in towels that become increasingly less absorbent. The wicking capabilities of activewear like socks underwear.

3. Cost of fabric softener

Commercial fabric softeners aren’t cheap. Depending on the brand and your measuring methods, both liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets can cost north of $.30 per dryer load. If you do as much laundry as I do, that adds up quickly.

But why pay for the stuff, if you have an option—five options, to be exact—to not spend your money that way? You can make your own fabric softeners for less than a penny a load and as a bonus, know exactly what’s in them.

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DIY fabric Softener

Option 1

The easiest homemade fabric softener is plain white vinegar. Add 1/2 to 1 cup (depending on load size) white vinegar to the last rinse in the washer. Vinegar is cheap and nontoxic; effective and antimicrobial. It naturally softens because vinegar helps to remove every last bit of detergent from your clothes. Vinegar aids in static reduction during drying. If your washer has a liquid softener dispenser you can fill it with white vinegar and you’ll be good to go.

Option 2

If a subtle, clean fragrance is what you want, this recipe is for you: Combine six parts water, three parts plain white vinegar, and two parts any hair conditioner in a container with a sealable lid. A cheap bottle of hair conditioner from the dollar store works great to soften and also fragrance your laundry. Use this in the final rinse or fill the softener dispenser in your washer, as you would with any commercial liquid softener.

Option 3

If you prefer dryer sheets you can make those at home, too. Take an old t-shirt or cotton baby blanket and cut it into a few small squares. Place them in a sealable container like a Mason jar or a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.

In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup white vinegar and 8 drops of your favorite essential oil, which can be purchased from your local health food, drug store, or online. A bottle of oil will last a long time. Pour enough of this liquid over the cloths in the container to saturate them. Close the container. To use, simply remove a sheet from the container, squeezing any excess liquid back into the jar, and toss into the dryer. When clothes are dry, simply place the sheet back in the jar for use later.

Option 4

To make DIY in-wash “softener crystals” that mimic commercial scent boosters like Purex Crystals or Unstoppables to soften clothes and leave a wonderful subtle clean fresh fragrance that lasts for weeks, you need two ingredients: Epsom salt and essential oil.

Get a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Start with one cup of Epsom salts and about 10 drops essential oil (lavender, lemon, eucalyptus are all nice, or create your own signature blend). Give it a good shake or stir well. Apply the lid and you’re good to go. Note: Epsom salt is not the same as table salt—not even close! They are two completely different natural compounds. Available in any drug store, supermarket, or online.

To use, add 1/4 cup of your homemade “crystals” (more or less to your preference) to the washer, not the dryer; this option goes into the wash load along with your detergent. The results of making your own laundry softener will be softer and static-free laundry with a nice subtle scent.

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Option 5

Here’s a great way that you can continue to use your favorite commercial softener product if no one is showing signs of allergy, while drastically cutting the cost:

Mix 1 part fabric softener with 3 parts distilled water (for example 1/3 cup fabric softener and 1 cup water) and pour it into a spray bottle. Spray the inside of your dryer before tossing your clothes in the dryer. This will make that bottle of softener seem to last forever. Just that small amount will soften and fragrance an entire load of laundry.


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4 replies
  1. Claudia McMurray says:

    Consumer reports says that using vinegar in your washer can cause the gaskets and hoses to deteriorate and you should not use it. Your comment?

    • Sarah says:

      Vinegar doesn’t really help static cling, but it’s way better than using those chemicals. My mom breaks out in hives when she’s near people who have used dryer sheets. so many people have these allergies. Makes you wonder what is in the stuff we’re putting on our clothing. A little bit of static cling doesn’t bother me in the grand scheme of things.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kathy,
      I use aluminum foil rolled in a ball to stop static. I throw the aluminum foil ball in the dryer along with damp wool balls.


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