When to Skip the Fabric Softener...And What to Try Instead

Posted on December 29, 2017 by Lyndsee Campbell

Fabric softener

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets are great at making clothes and linens feel soft and fluffy, reducing static cling and making them smell great. You may be tempted to douse every load of laundry (or toss a few extra sheets in the dryer)…but before you wash another load, read this. There are certain types of clothing and fabrics that should absolutely NEVER touch these products. Like, NEVER EVER! Let’s break them down and give you some effective alternatives.

1. Athletic or Performance Wear

Sports bra

Most workout clothes are designed to wick moisture away from your body, dry quickly and keep you cool as you are exercising. The coating that fabric softeners and dryers sheets leave behind, lock sweat into the fabric and keep it from drying. This often leads to permanent odor from the bacteria locked in the fabric. Yuck! Instead, Wash with similar items in a cold, gentle cycle and air dry.

2. Microfiber Cloths

Microfiber towel

The tiny fibers that make microfiber attract and lock in dust, dirt, and moisture. While microfiber is relatively durable, it becomes pretty useless once the fibers absorb the waxy residue fabric softener and dryer sheets leave behind. It’s tempting to use these products with microfiber to keep them from building static cling in the dryer, as they often tend to do. Resist the temptation! Instead, toss a ball of aluminum foil in the dryer with microfiber items to release the static charge.

3. Towels

Stack of towels

The long, thick fibers of towels are designed to absorb moisture and air dry quickly. The residue from fabric softeners traps moisture in the fibers, keeping it from drying fully. This could definitely be why the towels in your bathroom seem to have a constant musty smell. Instead, add vinegar to the rinse cycle and speed up drying time by adding wool balls to the dryer. Your towels will be super absorbers and dry more quickly after each use.

4. Children’s Sleepwear


Most infant and child sleepwear is designed to be fire resistant for safety reasons. Lipids and wax from fabric softener residue can cause the fabric to lose its fire-resistance quality-and even make it highly flammable. Instead of using fabric softener or a dryer sheet, add vinegar to the rinse cycle in the washer. It will soften the fabric and reduce static cling. For those extra static clingy PJs (you know the ones), do the vinegar rinse in the washer AND add a foil ball to the dryer cycle for good measure.

5. Swimwear


Swimwear is typically made of Polyurethane (Lycra, Spandex or Elastane), Polyester, Nylon or blended synthetic fibers. By design, these fabrics absorb very little water, and therefore dry very quickly. Fabric softener residue attracts moisture and will keep the suit from drying, leading to a musty odor, and possibly mold growth. Instead, hand wash with gentle detergent, squeeze excess water out (don’t wring), then lay flat to dry.

6. Lingerie


Since lingerie is worn close and often rubs against the skin throughout the day, it’s best not to add the extra potential for irritation with fabric softener. Much like with similar fabrics, softeners trap sweat, body oils, and odors, giving these items a lingering stink. Instead, hand wash lingerie and delicates that come in close contact with skin with a gentle detergent and air dry.

Need a hand with the laundry?  Let Laundry Care do the dirty work for you!  Click here to sign-up. 

Strip it Down!

Uh-oh!! Is it too late if I already used fabric softener on one (or all) of these items?
Don’t throw them out just yet! Most items CAN be saved with a “stripping” process. To do this, run items thru a hot cycle with 1 teaspoon of concentrated dish soap, such as Dawn. DO NOT ADD LAUNDRY DETERGENT. Then, run the same load thru another hot cycle with 1 cup of white vinegar. AGAIN, DO NOT ADD ANY DETERGENT. That should remove any residue build-up on your clothing.

For hand wash only (or hand wash recommended) items, soak overnight in hot water with 1 tsp dawn dish soap. Then, rinse and soak overnight again in hot water with 1-2 cups of white vinegar. Last, rinse thoroughly and air dry.


Soften and reduce static cling with these gentle, fabric-friendly options:

Vinegar Rinse
Add ½ cup distilled white vinegar into your washer’s softener dispenser (or use a Downy ball). The smell will disappear in the dryer.

Wool Dryer Balls
You can find wool dryer balls on Amazon for about the same price as a couple of bottles of fabric softener except these will last A LOT longer. Toss 5-6 into the dryer to soften a load of clothes. They’ll also help larger loads dry more quickly and evenly.

Foil Dryer Ball
Grab the Aluminum foil from the cabinet, pull a 12”-18” sheet and crush it into a ball. Toss one into the dryer to reduce static. The ball will shrink and tighten as it’s used. Replace once the edges begin to crack or pull apart.

Take Away

It’s easy to see how fabric softening products have gained popularity…who doesn’t want soft, fresh smelling laundry, RIGHT? Well…sometimes fabrics feel how they are designed to feel. If you prefer more soft and supple clothes and linens, stick to natural fiber fabrics. Splurge on higher quality fabrics and you’ll still save money by skipping store-bought softeners- PLUS your clothes will last longer! You can also soften and reduce static with safe, eco-friendly alternatives.

How do you avoid fabric softeners and keep your clothes/ linens to your preferred softness? We’d love to hear your tried and true tips & tricks!