Natural Alternatives to Fabric Softener

alternatives to fabric softener

Fabric softener has been a cornerstone of laundry routines for decades. It’s been sold to us as a necessity for keeping our laundry soft, wrinkle-free, and smelling fresh.

But do you really need fabric softener? What if this innocent laundry staple is actually hurting our health and the planet…?

Read on to find some eco-friendly and natural alternatives to fabric softener. And learn why you should make the switch.

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Hold up, why is fabric softener bad?

According to the Environmental Working Group, fabric softener is made with chemicals like quats and phthalates that are linked to several health impacts, including asthma, cancer, and developmental issues. It can also exacerbate skin issues, allergies, or other health conditions in some individuals because of the fragrances and chemicals that fill the product.

But the harm doesn’t end there. Fabric softeners are packaged in plastic jugs that often go unrecycled, contributing to our growing plastic pollution problem.

You may be surprised to learn that fabric softeners also aren’t doing your clothes any favours. In fact, they could be hurting them.

Traditional fabric softeners can often interfere with the moisture-wicking abilities of some materials, and will sometimes build up on the outside of your clothes.

When this build-up happens, it can prevent detergent from properly cleaning your clothes, meaning stains and odors are more likely to persist.

They can also leave residue on your washing machine that may build up over time, interfering with the washer’s effectiveness.

Eco-Friendly Fabric Softener Alternatives

Right about now, you may be asking yourself what to use instead of fabric softener. Luckily, there are a lot of alternatives to fabric softeners on the market that are eco-friendly, cost-friendly, and won’t leave you worrying about your health (or the integrity of your clothes).

DROPPS ECO FRIENDLY FABRIC SOFTENER

Dropps makes a safe, natural fabric softener that comes in completely recyclable and compostable packaging, so you can avoid both the health and environmental impacts of traditional fabric softeners.

You just throw the pod of product in with your laundry and wash as normal. Dropps will give you the scent and softening effect that you expect out of traditional fabric softener.

Buy Dropps from Amazon or EarthHero

DIY FABRIC SOFTENER

Making fabric softener is one of the easiest DIY hacks out there. It only requires two or three ingredients that you probably have laying around the house already.

Making DIY cleaning products is a great way to go zero waste on a budget

You can use vinegar or baking soda alone as a substitute for fabric softener (see below), or add in glycerin for an added softening boost.

Try adding 2 cups of vinegar to 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of vegetable glycerin for a great DIY fabric softener that won’t hurt the environment.

To use your homemade fabric softener, add ½ cup into your machine’s dispenser as it reaches the final rinse cycle.

SOAP NUTS ARE A NATURAL FABRIC SOFTENER

While soap nuts are often used as an eco-friendly laundry detergent, they can also double as an alternative to fabric softener.

A small amount of the chemical saponin is released as the soap nuts are used, and this chemical acts as a natural fabric softener. That means you can use one product instead of two to wash and soften your clothes.

To use soap nuts, place 4 to 5 in a cotton bag (that usually comes when you purchase the soap nuts) and throw it in with your laundry. Wash as normal, and remove the soap nuts when the load is done. Each nut can be reused around 10 times, making them a very economical choice too.

Buy soap nuts on Amazon or from Earth Hero

SOFTENING LAUNDRY DETERGENT

A lot of laundry detergents will have softening qualities built into the formula, so you don’t have to use a separate fabric softener at all.

Just look for zero waste laundry detergents that say they soften clothes or keep them wrinkle-free.

Meliora makes a softening laundry detergent thanks to the additions of baking soda and coconut oil, and it also has a beautiful lavender scent.

Jialiving makes an unscented laundry detergent with natural fabric softener properties that’s perfect for babies or those with sensitive skin.

Buy Meliora natural laundry detergent from EarthHero or Jialiving unscented laundry detergent from Etsy.

BAKING SODA AS A FABRIC SOFTENER ALTERNATIVE

Baking soda can be used as a simple, one ingredient natural alternative to fabric softener. Just pop half a cup into your laundry’s rinse cycle.

This is one of the most cost-friendly alternatives to fabric softener available, and it also makes a good option for those with sensitive skin.

Not to mention most baking soda is often sold in compostable cardboard packaging, making it a win for the environment too.

How to have a more eco-friendly laundry routine

VINEGAR AS A ZERO WASTE FABRIC SOFTENER

Vinegar is one of the most popular natural alternatives to fabric softener there is because if its simplicity and cost-effectiveness.

Just add ½ cup of white vinegar to the washing machine right before the final rinse cycle. You can add it to the built-in fabric softener dispenser (if your machine has one), or pop it in a fabric softener dispenser ball.

Your clothes will be left as soft as they would if you used traditional fabric softener. And don’t worry, the vinegar scent doesn’t linger, but you can always add essential oils for extra freshness.


How to soften clothes without fabric softener

Maybe you’re now wondering “do I need fabric softener at all?”. The answer is no, you don’t! There are other ways to soften your clothes without having to switch up your routine or add anything to your wash cycle.

WOOL DRYER BALLS TO SOFTEN CLOTHES NATURALLY

Buy wool dryer balls, like these, and pop three of four of them into your drying cycle (if you use a drying machine that is – line drying is a more environmentally friendly choice!).

Using these balls can lead to the same results that using traditional fabric softener would. It will make your clothes soft, wrinkle-free and static-free, and can leave them smelling fresh if you add essential oils to the balls before using.

They’re also long-lasting and reusable, so you’ll save money and cut down on your waste, making them a perfect zero waste fabric softener substitute.

Buy your dryer balls from EarthHero or Amazon.

BAMBOO DRYER BALLS

Bamboo dryer balls act the same as wool dryer balls, except they’re a great vegan-friendly option as they’re made of 100% bamboo.

Bamboo is also one of the most sustainable materials out there, arguably more so than wool, so you can’t go wrong with this fabric softener alternative. Use just as you would wool dryer balls for desired results.

Buy bamboo dryer balls from Etsy.

OR JUST DITCH IT ALTOGETHER

While some people are religious fabric softener users, there are many people around the world who never use it.

And many report that they don’t notice a huge difference in how their clothes look and feel as a result.

Sustainable living tips - stop using a dryer.

So try going without and see if you notice any difference. If not, maybe you can just simplify your zero waste laundry routine altogether!


Whether you use fabric softener daily or you’ve never used it a day in your life, using these techniques can help you achieve soft, fresh, wrinkle-free laundry every time you wash a load.

The best part? You won’t have to sacrifice your health, the environment, or your wallet to achieve it.

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