Should you use fabric softener?

March 28th, 2013

Clothes Dryers Laundry Washing Machines

To use fabric softener or not to use fabric softener, that is the question!

But first things first:

What is fabric softener?

In case you have never done a load of laundry in your life, fabric softener is stuff you add to the wash to make your towels fluffy and you jimjams cuddly. It also contains a perfumed scent that many find pleasing.

Fabric softener is comprised of oil or silicone-based compounds that coat fabric to make it feel ‘soft’. However some brands use the by-products of animal fats – vegetarians beware!

Reasons to use fabric softener:

•    It helps to reduce static electricity in your clothing
•    Your clothes will come out smelling like your grandma’s house (considered by some to be a good thing)
•    It makes your clothes softer and fluffier, and reduces fabric stiffness
•    Arguably, it makes shirts easier to iron
•    Some also believe it makes clothes brighter

Reasons NOT to use fabric softener:

•    The perfumes used in fabric softener can irritate the skin (especially for kids)
•    Perfumes are also bad for people with eczema or asthma
•    Fabric softener reduces the absorbency of towels
•    It has a tendency to build up inside your washing machine, which is bad for the mechanics of the washer
•    It’s especially bad for front loading machines, as it can destroy the rubber door seal
•    Fabric softener can damage certain types of fabric, including synthetic clothing (such as high-performance sports gear), linen, and silk
•    It can also make fabrics less flame retardant – which is why it’s not recommended for use with children’s sleepwear

Fabric softener alternatives

As you can see, there are several disadvantages to using fabric softener. So, what are the alternatives?

Dryer sheets

Available from Woolworths, dryer sheets (pictured right) are gauze-like pieces of tissue paper you can pop into the dryer to reduce static electricity. They also add a pleasant fragrance and help to soften your clothes.

The American brand Bounce claims that dryer sheets can be used for other things, such as repelling mosquitoes, freshening the air, and collecting cat hair. The validity of these claims has been tested (with mixed results) – but personally, I think dryer sheets are best used for their intended purpose – i.e. in the dryer.

Some would argue that if you line-dry your clothes, static stops being a problem. Although I appreciate that if you live in an apartment, this isn’t always an option.

Anti-static sprays

Available from Target, anti-static sprays prevent your clothes from clinging. Some brands also include a fragrance to keep you smelling nice. (Alternatively you could stop rolling around in dumpsters on your way to work, but hey, let’s not go crazy).

Perfect for use with business shirts and rayon skirts, anti-static sprays can be applied directly to your clothes while you’re wearing them, or to your load of laundry when it comes out of the dryer.

Laundry detergent with fabric softener

Laundry detergent has come a long way since your grandma was a young lass. Certainly, if you’re using Sunlight Soap and a scrubbing board to get your clothes clean, then they’re going to end up a little on the stiff side. But modern washing detergents have been specially designed to leave your clothes soft. Which makes the addition of a separate fabric softener a little redundant.

(I personally have never used fabric softener, and have never had an issue with overly stiff clothing. Hint: if your towels are coming out of the dryer all stiff and scratchy, maybe it’s time for new towels!)

Dryer balls

No, we’re not being rude. Dryer balls (pictured right) are nifty little things you can chuck into the dryer to reduce static and lint.

Available from the internet, dryer balls last for ages, and are a smart alternative to using fabric softener, anti-static sprays, or dryer sheets.

Using vinegar as a fabric softener

It might sound weird, but apparently it works! Next time you wash a load, try adding ½ cup white vinegar mixed with ½ cup water to the fabric softener dispenser drawer. Not only will this help to keep your washing machine clean (yes, washing machines get dirty too!), but it will help to keep your clothes soft – without the need for chemicals.

Reportedly, it also helps to reduce skin irritations whilst giving your clothes a fresh, clean smell.

Use less laundry detergent

If your clothes are coming out of the machine all stiff and scratchy, it could be because you’re using too much laundry detergent.

Most Australians use way too much detergent – you could probably get away with using as little as a quarter of a cup. An excess of detergent is bad for your clothes (it makes them stiff, as well as causing skin irritations), and it can build up inside your machine and cause damage. It also wastes water, as your machine will need to perform several rinse cycles to get rid of the suds.

Experiment with the dosage to see what works for you. Heavily soiled loads will always require a little more detergent than usual, but most loads are not terribly dirty and don’t require as much as you think.

Use lower spin speeds

Many front load washing machines on the market offer incredibly powerful spin speeds in excess of 1000 RPM. However, by forcibly wringing water from your clothes, you run the risk of stiffness.

Although it will take longer for your towels to dry if you spin them at 600-800 RPM, they will end up softer and fluffier.

Now that you know more about fabric softener than you ever imagined possible, you’re free to go about your day!

I hope you have a good one. For your dedication and patience, here is a nice photo of the internet’s favourite cat, Grumpy:

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Louise is a writer with a passion for appliances, especially those that involve food. She is particularly fond of ovens because they enable her to make cake. Apart from baking Louise also enjoys listening to alternative music, dying her hair various unnatural colours and writing poetry that has been described (by her Nan) as 'quite nice'. On her appliance wish list is a Hello Kitty toaster and 'Hero' the barking dog-shaped hot dog maker. She lives in Sydney. Google+

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