You probably think you're doing a good thing for your clothes when you reach for the fabric softener. And I don't blame you.
Decades upon decades of marketing have convinced millions of us that fabric softener is a vital element of the laundry process, and there's a whopping $10.8 billion market for the product.
But today, I've got a little secret for you: You really don't need to use conventional fabric softener.
Here are four reasons to ditch it in favor of an effective eco-friendly alternative:
1. Fabric softener is terrible for some of your clothes and towels.
Fabric softener essentially applies a thin, waxy coating to your laundry, which has to be water-resistant in order to survive the washing process. This waterproof coating makes your clothes feel softer but lessens their ability to properly absorb water and laundry detergent. This means your clothes won't respond as well to washing and will be more likely to lock in bad odors.
The chemical coating can also make your towels less absorbent over time and reduce the performance of sweat-resistant sportswear. Fabric softener is also harsh on cotton or bamboo clothing, which normally absorbs light perspiration on its own. As soon as fabric softener is introduced, that absorption is lost.
When used on clothing containing elastane and nylon (such as leggings, skinny jeans, and bras), fabric softener can leave a residue that dulls the item's finish and attracts odor-causing bacteria.
2. Some conventional brands aren't vegetarian or vegan (ick!).
Rather alarmingly, some fabric softeners aren't vegetarian- or vegan-friendly. One ingredient found in certain brands is dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride. In simpler terms: animal fat. This fat is extracted from suet — the fatty tissues around the kidneys of cattle and sheep. Suddenly that bottle sitting in your laundry room doesn't look quite as innocuous as it did at first.
3. It's not great for us or the environment.
Fabric softeners often contain a cocktail of nonrenewable petroleum-based chemicals, which are not easily biodegradable and can become highly toxic to aquatic life once they're washed down the drain.
A study by the University of Washington found that certain chemicals found in fabric softener are likely human carcinogens, developmental toxicants and allergens that can contribute to eczema.
4. It's bad for your washing machine and plumbing.
As many brands of fabric softener are petroleum-based and full of animal fat, they can clog up your washing machine (especially if it's a front-loading one) and pipes.
Fabric softener can also encourage the growth of mold in your machine. Due to its fat content, when fabric softener is exposed to air and moisture, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.
Eco-Friendly Fabric Softener Alternative
This eco-friendly alternative to fabric softener is much better for you, your clothes, and your environment. It's perfect for people with sensitive skin, and it contains just two simple and inexpensive ingredients:
- Glass bottle/jar
- White vinegar
- Essential Oil of your choice
Fill your bottle/jar with vinegar, and add around 30 drops of essential oil to your vinegar. Using this mixture in place of fabric softener will give your laundry a delicate and clean aroma without a hint of vinegar — I promise!
My favorite oils to use for fabric softener are lemon and sweet orange for a zingy citrus aroma, but feel free to substitute depending on your preferences. Alternatively, you can skip the oil for a scent-free softener.
Vinegar makes for a great natural fabric softener because it cuts through soapy residue and it won't interfere with the absorbency of your laundry, making your clothes and towels last longer and smell better. Not to mention, it won't leave deposits in your washing machine or plumbing. In fact, vinegar also cuts through grease so you'll actually clean your machine every time you do a load of laundry. Double win!