laundry vignette

6 Ways to Make Safe, Problem-Free, Homemade Fabric Softener, Dryer Sheets

Fabric softeners are designed to reduce the amount of static in synthetic fibers and make laundry come out feeling soft and smell 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?

laundry vignette

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.

Six Homemade Fabric Softeners

1. White Vinegar Straight Up

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.

The easiest way to do this, is to pour the vinegar into the reservoir for liquid softener. Typically, this is designed to be released into that rinse cycle. If your washer is a top-loader that doesn’t lock you out until the load is complete, you can lift the lid during that rinse cycle and pour the vinegar right into the machine. However, newer model top loaders as well as all front loaders aren’t about to let you make that kind of interruption. Some newer top loaders have a pause button, that allows you to stop and add.

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.

2. Liquid Fabric Softener

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 cheap 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.

3. Homemade Dryer Sheets

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.

Whenever using essential oil in the dryer, do not set the heat to Hot. Dry on Medium for the best results. Actually, medium heat is a good idea across the board when using a clothes dryer. Hot heat is hard on fabric and will cause them to wear out sooner, and colors to fade.

4. Scented Softener “Crystals”

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, toss about 1/4 cup of your homemade “crystals” (more or less to your preference) into the washer drum before you start the wash and before you drop in your clothes. Launder as usual. This does not replace your regular detergent. Do not put this into the washer’s liquid dispenser or the dryer. The results will be laundry with a nice subtle scent.


5. Wool Dry Balls

Wool dryer balls are a one-time purchase or you can 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. But you don’t have to buy these. You can make wool dryer balls yourself.

I’ve tested drying times with and without wool dryer balls, and the results are quite amazing. Wool dryer balls—either store-bought or homemade—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 they also take care of static cling.

6. Liquid Fabric Softener Hack

Here’s a great way that you can continue to use your favorite commercial softener product if no one in the family is showing signs of allergy, while at the same time 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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17 replies
  1. Brenda says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I just made the #2 fabric softener and it is so wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing all these wonderful ideas!!!

  2. Kelly O says:

    Hi. I have used several of these great ideas. I have one question – does the conditioner recipe really need the water? I have just used the vinegar (to reap detergent removal benefits) and conditioner (for scent and softness).

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Yes … here’s why. Conditioner is thick. Diluting with water will keep it moving freely in the rinse cycle

  3. Sue Massey says:

    I just started using the Downy softener balls for the vinegar. They work perfectly. I found them at Walmart for under $3.00. You can also order from Amazon for just under $10.00. I made the stop at Walmart and saved $7.00!

      • Jana says:

        I use vinegar in my downy ball in every load and it works beautifully! I also keep a mason jar full of vinegar and citrus peels to add a nice clean citrus fragrance to the laundry, sometimes i add fresh herbs as well (they only scent the vinegar, they don’t go in the downy ball!). I also use my dryer balls in the dryer and everything works great!

  4. Sheri B. says:

    Hi Mary,

    Your your homemade “crystals” we need to add it to the wash cycle or rinse cycle?
    I have never used them. I always use 1/2 cup of white vinegar and Downey in my rinse cycle.
    I feel ( and this is only my thinking) that Downey has lessen the scent of their Downy since they made the crystals. (To get people to buy them.) So, I put in more then what they have on the inside of the lid and my clothes smell real good. I just wish I can re create the smell of the Mountain Spring.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      To use, toss about 1/4 cup of your homemade “crystals” (more or less to your preference) into the washer drum before you start the wash and before you drop in your clothes. Launder as usual. This does not replace your regular detergent. Do not put this into the washer’s liquid dispenser or the dryer. The results will be laundry with a nice subtle scent. Hope that helps!

  5. Sallie M says:

    Several years ago, after repeated service calls due to my dryer not getting laundry dry, my serviceman told me that the fabric softener was leaving residue on the dryer sensors preventing the dryer from working properly. That’s when I started using the wool dryer balls. Haven’t had a problem since then.

  6. 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?

  7. 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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