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Fabric softener buying guide

Find out if fabric softener is worth adding to your laundry routine.

You can add a fabric softener to your washing machine during the laundry cycle to help make your clothes feel softer and fresher. Some fabric softeners also help to prevent fading, pilling and stretching.

But using these products is optional and isn’t right for everyone. Compare a few of the leading brands and see if adding a fabric softener to your rinse cycle could be worth it.

Compare fabric softeners

NameAvg. price
Bounce Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets$6.96Sheets240 sheetsNoBuy now
Downy April Fresh Liquid Fabric Conditioner$8.47Liquid103 fl. oz.NoBuy now
Bounce Free and Gentle$9.19Sheets240 sheetsYesBuy now
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Fabric Softener$21.59LiquidTwo 32-oz bottlesPlant-based ingredientsBuy now
Seventh Generation Natural Fabric Softener$19.15LiquidTwo 32-oz bottlesYesBuy now
Snuggle Laundry Scent Boosters$11.36Scent pacs115 pacsNoBuy now
Downy Unstopables in-Wash Scent Booster Beads$11.37Scent beads20.1 ozNoBuy now
Data obtained April 2019. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.

What is fabric softener?

Fabric softener is a conditioner used to soften the fabric and decrease friction when washing clothes. By applying a thin, waxy coating to your laundry, it helps to keep clothes in their original shape and limits color fading. It also helps to reduce fuzz and pilling.

Generally, fabric softeners are made of oil or silicon-based compounds that coat the fabric, making it feel softer. Some brands may use animal fat by-products.

Fabric softener vs. laundry detergent

While fabric softener softens clothes, laundry detergent does the heavy-duty work, helping to get rid of dirt, sweat, food particles, hair and more.

Why should I consider — or ditch — fabric softener?


  • Softens clothes. The main benefit of using fabric softener is that it makes your clothing feel soft to the touch.
  • Reduces static. Fabric softener can help reduce static electricity in your clothing.
  • Fragrance. Most fabric softeners include perfumed scents. But if you’re sensitive to perfume, fragrance-free formulas are also available.
  • Reduces fabric stiffness. If you dry your clothes on a clothesline and find that some items feel stiff when they dry, fabric softener could help.
  • Easier ironing. Fabric softener can help to straighten out the fibers in your clothing and make them easier to iron, or in some cases, eliminate the need for ironing entirely.


  • Less fire-resistance. Fabric softener can make clothing more flammable. Most manufacturers do not recommend using fabric softener on children’s sleepwear.
  • Residue build-up. Fabric softeners can contribute to residue deposits, which can trap moisture in elastane and nylon clothing and slowly clog up the inside of your washing machine. To minimize residue when using fabric softener, run an occasional hot water cycle.
  • Skin irritants. Perfumes used may irritate skin, especially for children and those with eczema or asthma.
  • Fabric damage. Fabric softener can damage certain fabric types, including linen, silk, bamboo and synthetic, sweat-resistant clothing found in sports gear.
  • May contain animal products. Some brands of fabric softener use animal fat and are not vegan-friendly.
  • Environmental risks. Many fabric softeners contain non-renewable petroleum-based chemicals that are not easily biodegradable and can be toxic to marine life.

Which fabric softener is best for me?

fabric softene

When looking for a fabric softener, keep these tips in mind:

  • Look for brands with a good water absorbency score. Otherwise, your towels might not be as effective.
  • If you or anyone in your household has sensitive skin, look for brands that are hypoallergenic or low-irritant to avoid aggravating eczema, rashes or allergies.
  • If you have children, don’t use fabric softener on their sleepwear to avoid reducing their fire resistance.
Most fabric softeners come in various scents, so consider your personal scent preference or opt for a fragrance-free version if you prefer.

Fabric softener alternatives

If you’d rather go without fabric softener, you can try these low-cost alternatives instead:

Distilled white vinegar

  • Eco-friendly and affordable
  • Helps to neutralize odors and whiten clothing
  • Cleans away dirt and other deposits in your washing machine

How to use it: Add half a cup or one cup during the rinse cycle. For a pleasant scent, you can add essential oils to the vinegar.

Note: Do not mix vinegar with bleach, ammonia products or other household chemicals. Do not use vinegar with certain fabrics, such as silk and acetate.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

  • Helps to soften your clothing
  • Eco-friendly and affordable
  • Deodorizes clothing

How to use it: If you use liquid detergent, add a quarter to half cup of baking soda when you load your clothing into the washer. If you use powder, add the baking soda while the washing machine is rinsing your clothing.

Dryer sheets

  • Softens fabric
  • Decreases static cling
  • Adds a pleasant fragrance to clothing

How to use it: Add dryer sheets to the dryer with your wet laundry.

Dryer balls

  • Inexpensive
  • Reusable and eco-friendly
  • Lifts and separates your laundry, helping air in the dryer to flow more efficiently

How to use it: Add dryer balls directly into the dryer with wet laundry.

Tips to reduce clothing stiffness and save money on laundry

  • Use less laundry detergent. If your laundry is coming out stiff and scratchy, you may be using too much laundry detergent. Excess detergent can also cause skin irritation, damage your machine and can waste water, as your machine needs to perform several rinse cycles to get rid of the suds.
  • Use lower spin speeds. Many front-loading machines offer very powerful spin speeds greater than 1000 rpm. Forcefully wringing water from your clothing could make them stiffer. When drying towels, spin them at 600–800 rpm to make them softer and fluffier.
  • Line dry. You can line dry your laundry to avoid static getting onto your clothing. If you live in an apartment without space to hang your clothes, check out our laundry hacks for small spaces to get some creative ideas.

Bottom line

Fabric softeners come along with a variety of benefits and drawbacks, but many people find that they work nicely to soften clothing and help to minimize color fading and pilling. If you’re looking for the right product to add to your laundry routine, compare some of the top brands to find something that suits your needs.

How did we choose these products?

We compared some of the most popular fabric softeners currently available, factoring in the price, size and effectiveness. We also conducted our own online research, taking into consideration third-party product reviews.

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