Laundromat 101: Do I Need Both Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets?


To be precise, no, you do not need both fabric softener and dryer sheets to get soft, static-free clothing. Each works differently and can help or harm in different ways. You can make your own fabric softener from household staples instead of putting health at risk or risking damage to fabrics. First, take a look at these comparisons between dryer sheets and fabric softeners before deciding which is best for your needs.

Fabric Softener versus Dryer Sheets

Liquid fabric softener is designed to minimize pilling, fading and stretching while eliminating wrinkling and making clothes smell better and feel softer. But they can leave a residue that stains fabric and reduces a fabric’s ability to absorb or to wick away moisture.

Dryer sheets are designed to reduce the static cling and eliminate wrinkles. They can stain if you use too much or place them in the dryer before the clothes are loaded.

DIY Alternatives

According to National Geographic’s Green Guide, adding a quarter cup of either white vinegar or baking soda to the wash cycle will freshen and soften clothes, but vinegar seems to quell static cling a little better. It removes detergent residue build-up and is simple to use without staining. Pour it into either your machine’s fabric softener dispenser as is or a laundry ball and toss in with your laundry. Some recipes combine the two by dissolving a cup of baking soda into two cups of hot water, then slowly adding a cup of vinegar and scent crystals if desired.

Crumpling aluminum foil into three-inch balls and tossing into the dryer may complement vinegar as they do reduce static cling.

Another recipe combines six cups of water with three cups of vinegar and two cups of hair conditioner, preferably organic or natural blends. Store it in an old, clean liquid detergent bottle to add to the rinse cycle as usual. Natural ingredients are easier on the respiratory system, friendlier to fabrics than their chemical counterparts and kinder to local eco-systems.

Green Water Softening Best Practices for Do-it-yourself Laundry

Lessening the impact of harsh chemicals on our bodies and external environment is fueling the green movement to preserve both as much as possible. Air drying lightweight fabrics put much-needed moisture back into the air and save on heating a dryer to tumble them.

Efficient, ready-made fabric softeners and dryer sheets made from plant-based products are available from companies like Ecover’s and Seventh Generation. Canadian company Maddocks’ has a reuseable dryer sheet made from a chemical-free polynylon that kicks static cling out for about 500 loads!

Some laundry items that should never be exposed to fabric softeners because they damage their coatings are children’s clothing, towels, and athletic sportswear. They compromise if not render altogether ineffective the fire-retardant coating for children’s wear. Liquid softener is designed to permeate fibers to soften fabrics, but the same residue that coats the fibers of towels to soften also sacrifices their ability to absorb water. The opposite effect happens to fabrics used in athletic sportswear designed to wick away moisture and keep you cooler during a workout or game. Whichever you decide to use, dryer sheets and fabric softener can make your clothes feel soft and smell great, but you should choose the right form for the fabric and its function.

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