Tackling laundry is a dirty job most of us let pile up. You can make it easier on yourself by being as efficient as possible, adding fabric softener to your loads to help keep clothes softer and less staticky. By reducing friction between fibers, the best fabric softeners produce less static cling and can help prolong your clothing’s lifespan by protecting it from wear and tear. It can even prevent pilling on clothes.
Fabric softeners contain lubricating ingredients that help coat and soften fabric fibers and reduce static. They also help keep clothes smelling fresh and come in a few different forms: liquid, powder, dryer sheets and dryer balls.
The Best Fabric Softeners
Liquid fabric softener has been found to be effective at removing odors and softening clothes, as long as it’s not a product developed with detergent. It should be added at the beginning of the wash cycle so it’s automatically dispensed at the proper time. It is the priciest of all the options.
One more cost-effective option is dryer sheets, which can be added to your dry cycle. They’re also lightweight, which makes them easy to transport to the laundromat.
However, dryer balls are the cheapest because they are reusable and offer an allergy- and environmentally-friendly alternative that combat static and produce a slight softening effect. Dryer balls are typically made with wool or heat-resistant BPA-free plastic.
Those with sensitive skin will want to avoid fragranced fabric softeners or opt for dryer balls. For people who like having a slight scent to sheets, towels and garments, fabric softener can add an extra touch of scent. You could also add three to four drops of essential oils to dryer balls as well.
A study of fabric softeners by Consumer Reports found that not all types soften clothes in the same way. Liquids were found to be very good while dryer sheets were “so-so at best.”
Some people believe a common misperception that fabric softener will make your clothes cleaner, but that isn’t the case.
For liquids, be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging, measuring out the correct amount of liquid or powder and dispense it directly into your machine’s built-in container. You won’t need to dilute it; your machine will automatically add water to it before it mixes with the wash.
A word of caution: This isn’t a product meant for every piece of clothing you own. Fabric softener has been known to wear down the effectiveness of some water-resistant and flame-resistant materials. (Think: athleisure wear, gloves made with Gore-Tex or children’s pajamas.) Since most workout clothes are formulated with moisture-wicking materials, you may want to skip fabric softener while washing these types of clothes. The softening agents can break down wicking abilities by clogging the fabric’s pores.
Fabric softener is also said to reduce the absorbency of towels made of terry cloth or microfiber. If you’ve used fabric softener on a few cycles and notice your towels aren’t drying as well as they used to, add a cup of distilled white vinegar to your next load. Vinegar works to strip residue and eliminate odor, making towels feel soft and plush.
The best fabric softener will keep clothes feeling plush, reduce static and help keep items looking good use after use.