Fabric softeners can either be in liquid forms or dryer sheets. We use them because they make our clothes feel soft and supple. Plus, they’re fragrant and can reduce static cling. The ingredients in making this chemical, however, come with its own downsides.
Fabric softeners often contain undisclosed harmful ingredients that can lead to allergic reactions. It can be an eye or skin irritant and it’s also flammable so it shouldn’t be used when laundering terry cloth, fleece and flannel.
For these reasons, many homeowners are looking for the best alternatives to fabric softeners that can offer the same benefits but without the harmful effects.
Table of Contents
If you’re wondering “what can I use instead of fabric softener?” read on.
1. Wool Dryer Balls
What is it?
These are balls of wool that are added to your dryer to help reduce static and provide you with fresher and softer clothes that are dry in less time.
- One of the most natural products on this list
- Can take time off of how long it takes your laundry in the dryer.
- Depending on the specific product you purchase, some can last for up to 1,000 loads of laundry.
- Be careful using them if someone in your house has a wool allergy. They tend to shed as they go through more drying cycles and this could trigger an allergic reaction.
- Some of the homemade styles are fairly large and can end up making a lot of noise in the dryer.
You can expect to pay around three dollars per dryer ball. This is even cheaper than some of the other methods because of how long this method lasts.
2. Baking Soda
What is it?
Baking soda is a simple baking ingredient that you can find at your local grocery store. Some dollar stores even carry it, making it the much easier to purchase. This is a versatile product that can help with everything from laundry to cleaning. It also has medicinal uses.
- The easy access to this makes it a great option to use with your laundry.
- Many people use baking soda as something to absorb odors from, so this can help you get rid of lingering smells in your clothes.
- You only need a small amount, just a couple tablespoons at most per load that are added to the washer during the rinse cycle.
- Unless you transfer it to another container after you open it, the baking soda can get messy and is easily spilled.
- Many people don’t want the added hassle of timing when the rinse cycle is for their machine in order to add this at the correct time.
Baking soda is easy to find and typically costs less than a dollar at most stores. If you choose to purchase it in bulk so that you can use it for other things, then you should expect to pay approximately a dollar or two per pound.
What is it?
Vinegar is one of the most well-known products to use for your laundry and cleaning in general. Ia t’s great product that is natural and gets rid of build up and residues with ease. It can be added directly to the rinse cycle of your washer, or if your machine has a cup to add it automatically, then you can use that too.
- This is a time proven method to work for your cleaning needs
- Very low price, many places carry it for just a dollar or two per gallon. You only need about two tablespoons per load, so a gallon can last a long time depending on your laundry needs.
- The initial smell can be a little strong and may linger. This disappears completely on your clothes.
- Trying to purchase this item online in bulk can lead to double the price, instead of the usual cheaper unit price. Try stocking up on it locally to save yourself some money.
Many places carry this, making it easy to find. You can get smaller bottles for a dollar or less, or you can pay around two dollars for a gallon.
4. Epsom Salt with Baking Soda
What is it?
Both of these products are fine to use on their own. Combining them enhances the effects. The salts are great for softness. The baking soda helps soften clothes and take care of any lingering unpleasant smell.
- Each product is great on its own and even better when they are combined.
- A great low-cost option
- Quick and easy to make.
- There seems to be a debate about using Epsom salts for your machines. On the one hand, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that shows just how well they work. On the other hand, science class tells us that this is something that is going to cause damaging effects to our water and machines.
The salts are going to be a few dollars per bag, and the baking soda can generally be found for under a dollar per container. I would expect somewhere around five dollars per batch that you make.
5. Essential Oils
What is it?
This recipe takes advantage of the cleaning and softening power of vinegar and adds in some essential oils for a scented product. Add about three teaspoons of oil to two cups of vinegar for best results and spray around ten to fifteen times in the dryer before starting the cycle.
- Produces a very natural product
- The price of the main ingredient, vinegar, is incredibly cheap. This makes this one of the better fabric softener alternatives.
- The essential oils can be expensive, and they are likely to be “used up” during the drying cycle. This means you will only have a faint scent at best on your clothes.
- If you spray too much on, there’s a chance your clothes could come out smelling of vinegar.
If you don’t already have essential oils on hand, I would expect your first batch of softener to be about five to seven dollars. Once you have an established supply of oils this price will go down.
6. Softener Crystals
What is it?
This is a remake of the fabric softener crystals that you usually see in stores. They end up costing around six dollars for a list of chemicals that you can easily bypass. This recipe uses four cups of epsom salts and essential oils for a healthier way of scenting your product. You could also use it without scent if you prefer. Otherwise start at around thirty drops and adjust depending on your preference.
- Contains ingredients that are easy to mix together
- Highly customizable, especially for people with allergies or sensitive skin
- The heat from the dryer could potentially destroy the possibility of a lingering scent after the clothes are dry.
- There’s some debate about whether this product actually works. Plenty of people report success with the recipe, but others delve into the chemistry of it all and claim it won’t help
- Some essential oils can be fairly costly, making the product less of a favorite
Softener Crystals probably cost more than the others on the list, mostly due to the oils. A single bottle can cost anywhere from $3-4 and upwards. The salts are easy enough to source for only a couple dollars. I would guess you could expect somewhere in the range of ten dollars to make your first batch.
7. Hair Conditioner
What is it?
This is a recipe from One Good Thing by Jillee who is known in the industry for making some great homemade products that look great to boot. Hair conditioner is mixed with vinegar to create a mixture that keeps your clothes looking and smelling perfect. Use six cups of water, three cups of vinegar, and two cups of conditioner. Mix the ingredients and store in a glass jar.
- The ingredients in this mix are easy to find and cheaply priced.
- By using hair conditioner, you are able to customize the scent more than what you could if you bought regular fabric softener.
- The process to make this is quick and easy
- You have to stir the ingredients gently. Shaking it will cause foaming and an extra mess to clean up.
- This specific recipe doesn’t sit well with people looking for alternatives to fabric softener with less chemicals. Some people feel like it is not a natural method like they would prefer.
The water is going to be free and using straight tap water is fine for this product. Vinegar usually retails for about $2 per gallon, and there are many conditioner varieties available for around a dollar or two per bottle. One bottle should be enough to make a full batch. Overall, you’re looking at about $3-4 total.
8. Tennis Ball
What is it?
A tennis ball, commonly in bright green color, is made of a hollow rubber core covered with wool. Similar to the dryer balls, it can reduce the static on clothes and fabric, making your laundry softer and smoother.
- All-natural, no chemicals involved in washing your clothes.
- Depending on its durability, it can last for several washes.
- Can help laundry load dry quicker than usual.
- Machines that are not heavy-duty may be damaged due to its weight and impact.
- Tennis balls are more expensive
The cost of a tennis ball depends on its brand. The cheapest ones can cost $1.50 – $2 on local markets while branded tennis balls can range from $10 – $20. Dunlop Fort Tournament offers a high-quality tennis ball for $17.
9. Aluminum Foil
What is it?
An aluminum foil is a thin, silvery metal sheet usually used at home as a food package in the kitchen. It can also be used for cosmetics and insulation purposes. Aluminum foil, when scrunched and rounded into either a smooth or round ball, can be a replacement for dryer balls as it can also reduce the static of your laundry load.
- It doesn’t cost too much and is usually sold at a cheap price.
- Readily available in your kitchen.
- Lightweight, less harmful for your laundry machine.
- Easy to find in groceries and markets.
- Unscented, although this is an advantage to some, more people prefer to have flora scented clothes.
- Aluminum foil balls may cause some low-hum noise during laundry.
This product is usually sold in rolls at around $4 – $10 per tube. It is available whether on grocery or convenience stores. and sometimes, you can even find it in hardware stores, just make sure to choose the proper type that you need.
What is it?
Vegetable glycerin, also known as glycerol, is an odorless liquid with a glossy finish. It usually comes from plant oils such as palm, coconut, and soy. With its mild formula, glycerol is usually added on homemade bath soaps and lotions as it helps smoothen sensitive types of skin. Vegetable glycerin is also a budget-friendly alternative to fabric softeners. Just mix it with water in a 1:2 proportion and you’re good to go.
- Budget-friendly but effective.
- All-natural and safe for the skin.
- Effectively softens fabric without damaging it.
- Odorless, this is a disadvantage to those who want their clothes scented.
You can buy vegetable glycerin in drug stores and convenience stores. Some online shops like Amazon also offer bottled glycerols in different sizes. A small bottle of vegetable glycerin can cost not greater that one dollar but big bottles can range from $15 – $30.