Fabric softeners are designed to reduce the amount of static in synthetic fibers and make laundry come out feeling soft and smelling great. These products contain lubricating ingredients that help coat and “soften” fibers in fabrics when added to your laundry load in the form of liquid, powder, or dryer sheets.
So why would anyone go to the time and trouble of making homemade fabric softener when the commercial stuff will do the job?
Commercial fabric softeners can present a potentially serious health problem for many people. What’s more, commercial fabric softeners aren’t cheap. Depending on the brand and your measuring methods, both liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets can cost north of 30 cents per dryer load. If you do as much laundry as I do, that adds up quickly.
The easiest homemade fabric softener is the consistent use of plain white vinegar in the final rinse.
Add 1/2 to 1 cup (depending on load size) white vinegar to the last rinse in the washer. Vinegar is cheap, nontoxic, effective, and antimicrobial. It naturally softens because vinegar helps to remove every last bit of detergent from your clothes.
Pour the vinegar into the reservoir for liquid softener. Typically, this is designed to be released into that rinse cycle. If your washer is a top-loader that doesn’t lock you out until the load is complete, you can lift the lid during that rinse cycle and pour the vinegar right into the machine. However, newer top loaders as well as all front loaders aren’t going to let you make that kind of interruption.
Why does this work? The very weak acidic nature of plain white 5 percent vinegar (that means it’s 95 percent water) mixed with gallons of rinse water in your washer (diluting it even further) is basically harmless, but it does help to coax the soap and detergent out of fabric. It’s the presence of soap and detergent in clothes and linens that fails to get rinsed away that makes these items turn dingy gray, feeling stiff and scratchy over time.
If a subtle, clean fragrance is what you want, this recipe is for you:
Combine 6 parts water, 3 parts plain white vinegar, and 2 parts any hair conditioner in a container with a sealable lid.
Here’s an example of measuring this by “parts” where 1 part = 1/4 cup:
- 1 1/2 cups water (1/4 cup x 6)
- 3/4 cup vinegar (1/4 cup x 3)
- 1/2 cup hair conditioner (1/4 cup x 2)
You can make 1 part equal any measurement of your choice, then simply multiply accordingly.
A cheap bottle of hair conditioner from the dollar store works great to soften and also fragrance your laundry. Use this in the final rinse or fill the softener dispenser in your washer, as you would with any commercial liquid softener.
If you prefer dryer sheets, you can make them yourself for next to nothing. Take an old T-shirt or cotton baby blanket and cut it into a few small squares. Place them in a sealable container, like a Mason jar or a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup white vinegar and 8 drops of your favorite essential oil, which can be purchased from your local health food or drug store, or online. A bottle of oil will last a long time. Pour this liquid over the cloths in the container to saturate them. Close the container. To use, remove a sheet from the container, squeezing any excess liquid back into the jar, and toss it into the dryer. When clothes are dry, place the sheet back in the jar for use later.
Whenever using essential oil in the dryer, don’t set the heat to “Hot.” Dry on “Medium” for best results. Actually, medium heat is a good idea across the board when using a dryer. Hot heat is hard on fabric and will cause clothes to wear out sooner and colors to fade.
Here’s a great way to continue using your favorite commercial softener product if no one in the family is showing signs of allergy, while at the same time drastically cutting the cost.
Mix 1 part liquid fabric softener with 3 parts distilled water (for example, 1/3 cup fabric softener and 1 cup water) and pour it into a spray bottle. Spray the inside of your dryer before tossing your clothes in. This will make that bottle of softener seem to last forever. Just that small amount will soften and fragrance an entire load of laundry.