woman and child using fabric softener in laundry room

6 Ways to Make Safe, Problem-Free, Homemade 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. These products contain lubricating ingredients that help coat and “soften” fibers in fabrics when added to your laundry load in the form of liquid, powder, or dryer sheets.

So why would anyone opt to go to the time and trouble of making homemade fabric softener when the commercial stuff is thought to work well?

woman and child using fabric softener in laundry room

Commercial store-bought fabric softeners present a potentially serious health problem for many people. What’s more, 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 buy the pricey softeners if you have an option—six to be exact—to not spend your money that way? You really can make your own fabric softeners for less just pennies a load and as a bonus, know exactly what’s in them.

DIY Fabric Softeners

Fabric Softener #1

The easiest homemade fabric softener is the consistent use of plain white vinegar in the final rinse.

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.

Why does this work? The very weak acidic nature of plain white 5% vinegar (that means it’s 95% water) mixed with gallons of rinse water in your washer (diluting it even further) is basically harmless, but it does help to coax the soap and detergent out of fabric. It’s the presence of soap and detergent in clothes and linens that failed to get rinsed away, which makes these items turn dingy gray, feeling stiff and scratchy over time.

Fabric Softener #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.

Here’s an example of measuring this by “parts” where 1 part = 1/4 cup.

  • 1 1/2 cups water (1/4 cup x 6)
  • 3/4 cup vinegar (1/4 cup x 3)
  • 1/2 cup hair conditioner (1/4 cup x 2)

You can make 1 part equal any measurement of your choice, then simply multiply accordingly.

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.

Fabric Softener #3

If you prefer dryer sheets you can make them yourself for next to nothing.

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 it into the dryer. When clothes are dry, simply place the sheet back in the jar for use later.

Fabric Softener #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.

To use, add 1/4 cup of your homemade “crystals” (more or less to your preference) to the washer, not the dryer, along with your detergent. The results will be fresh clean static-free laundry with a nice subtle scent.


Fabric Softener #5

Wool dryer balls are a one-time purchase or make them yourself.  They look like overgrown tennis balls, made of 100% wool yarn, that over time becomes “felted,” making them especially durable and not at all prone to unraveling. One set of quality wool dryer balls will last what seems like forever, softening thousands of loads of laundry—no batteries, refills, repairs, or reconditioning required. It’s one (purchase) and done!

How do they work? Imagine now a big load of wet bath towels going into the dryer. You hit “start” and that massive wad of wet fabric will flop around and stick together for quite a while until the layers become dry enough to separate and allow warm air to circulate. That slows the drying time, wasting time and energy.

Now imagine six wool dryer balls bouncing around (I use my entire set of six in every load), working their way between the layers of fabric, separating them so the warm air can circulate efficiently from the very start of the cycle.

I’ve tested drying times with and without wool dryer balls, and the results are quite amazing. Wool dryer balls cut at least 25% off the time to dry a load of laundry, saving time and energy. I have also found these balls stuck tightly in the long sleeve of a tee-shirt and the pocket of a pair of jeans. They work their way into tight spaces and that’s what makes them so awesome.

Because dryer balls also agitate against the fibers in clothes and linens, everything feels softer coming out of the dryer. And used properly (coming up), they also take care of static cling.

Fabric Softener #6

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 liquid 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. Patty M says:

    Great tips! I am looking forward to reading about taking care of the dryer balls! Mine are getting on in age.
    How do you add the crystals to a front loader?

  2. Susan Sharp says:

    I’ve made and use the fragrance softener using hair conditioner and the scent crystals. Easy and both work. So glad I found how to make the scent crystals. I was spending a lot on these.


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