What are Fabric Softeners ?

Everyone wants clean-smelling soft clothes – which do not irritate the skin, which will flow over the body without clinging to the skin, and announces to everyone with their sweet fragrance that you are wearing new clean clothes. Soft and fluffy towels are much better than those brittle ones dried out in the sun. Not to say anything about kids’ clothes and diapers – you want them super soft against the skin.

Liquid fabric softeners are added to the rinse cycle of fabric washing for all these advantages. 

fabric softener

Why are fabric softners added?

They are said to reduce static build-up and the resultant clinginess to skin and to make the fabric soft and fluffy and also absorbent. You just have to run your hands over the fabric to know the difference – it will feel much softer than without the softener.

Another thing that attracts many to use the softener is that all the detergent gets washed off – the fabric softener neutralizes the detergent and this helps in taking it all out. 

With some new-age fabric softeners, the fabrics wrinkle less. Ease of ironing is another claimed advantage. Some others claim resistance to staining. And some say their concoction is antimicrobial. And also that they do these all without losing the absorbency of the fabric.

And to top it all is the smell. They all have a special fragrance that lingers.

Dryer sheets serve the same purpose. Liquid Fabric softener is usually added to the final wash. A dryer sheet is added to the dryer. If you cannot be bothered with adding different things in the wash, there are washing powders with the fabric softener added to it. Two in one.

How does the fabric softener work?

The main ingredients of fabric softeners are conditioning agents, emulsion stabilizers, preservatives, fragrance and retainers to make the fragrance long lasting, and color. A fabric softener works by coating the fabric with lubricating chemicals – it is these chemicals that work all the magic you see. The ingredients bind themself onto the fabric fibers and form this soft layer over the surface. This what you feel. 

How to use the fabric softener

  • Most of the washing machines have a dispenser for this. Use it if yours has it. The softener will be added automatically at the time of the last rinse.
  • Do not put fabric softener along with the washing powder. Wait till the washing is over. It is used in the rinse cycle.
  • Do not pour the fabric softener directly on the fabric. Pour into the water in the rinsing cycle.
  • It is best used with nylon, polyester, and acrylic fabrics.
  • Do not use fabric softeners on Microfiber fabrics.
  • Remove any trace of fabric softener on the fabric if you mean to print or paint on it. It acts as a barrier.

Cons of using  fabric fastener

Fabric softener is said to be the new villain of the washing industry. It is after all chemicals that get added to the fabric. Some studies link the ingredients of fabric softeners to even cancer, hormone imbalances, and asthma.

You may develop allergies because of the fragrance and color added

One of the most deterring qualities is that it can have some harmful ingredients that are bad for the environment. When the rinse water gets out the environment is polluted with these toxic things. The air inside the house itself gets contaminated.

Reference : EWG.ORG

Not all fabric softeners are made the same. Some are more effective than others. When some fabric softeners are used some fabric can become less absorbent than they usually are.

Some dryer sheets/fabric conditioners may leave an oily residue or oily stain.

Alternatives to fabric softener

A dryer ball is a round bumpy ball that is added to the dryer – it will serve almost the same purpose as the fabric softener, with much less negative impact. It serves the same purpose of your hands fluffing up the layers of fabric inside the dryer. You can use wool dryer balls or plastic.

Many people use White vinegar as a softener on the wash. A cup or two of white vinegar added to the rinse cycle just the same way that fabric softener is added can make towels and such clothes soft as well as absorbent

If you want to freshen up your clothes with natural smells check out these posts: Tips to get your wardrobe smell fresh ; Make rose scented sachets.

Related posts: Detergents and cleaners for fabric. 

Updated on October 24, 2022 by Sarina Tariq


Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

2 thoughts on “What are Fabric Softeners ?”

  1. A washing repair man told me softners were the main cause of machines breaking earlier. The chemicals clog the machines and they burn out. He told me to not use them if I wanted my machine to last.

  2. Liquid fabric softeners also come in plastic containers, whereas dryer sheets come in cardboard boxes.
    I stopped using liquid softeners because of the plastic use.

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