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Natural Alternatives to Harmful Fabric Softeners

Chandramita Bora Jun 18, 2019
The commercial fabric softeners contain several harmful chemicals, which can cause a wide range of health problems. However, you can replace these fabric softeners with some natural and inexpensive products, like vinegar, baking soda, and plastic and wool dryer balls.

Did You Know?

Commercial fabric softeners can make your towels less absorbent. But, vinegar can increase the water-absorbing capacity of your towels.
Fabric softeners make our clothes soft, fluffy and fresh-smelling. But, many of these commercial fabric softeners contain chemicals like benzyl acetate, limonene, chloroform, linalool and pentane, that are believed to be associated with numerous health problems, including cancer. These chemicals stay on your fabric and then get released into the environment.
To mask the odor of these chemicals, a large amount of artificial fragrances are added to the fabric softeners. But what chemicals are used to create such fragrances are not known. However, you can reduce your exposure to these chemicals without compromising on the softness of your fabric by using a few natural fabric softeners.

Natural Fabric Softeners for Your Clothes


White vinegar is probably one of the most versatile products to be found in any household. It is cheap, easily available, and non-toxic. It can soften your fabric, help remove soap residues from clothes, and reduce static cling.
Vinegar is acidic, while the detergent powder or soap that we use are alkaline. This is the reason why vinegar softens the clothes by neutralizing the soap residues. Additionally, vinegar can disinfect your clothes due to its antimicrobial properties. However, do not use vinegar and bleach together, as both the products can react and release toxic gases.
How to Use: To use white vinegar as a fabric softener, add 1/4 cup of vinegar to the water that you will use for rinsing your clothes. You can also add vinegar to a downy ball, that releases the softener during the rinse cycle.
Also, you can take some vinegar in a spray bottle and sprinkle it on your wet clothes before putting them in the dryer. If you are worried about the smell of vinegar, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to it.

Baking Soda

Like vinegar, this common household product can also be used for a number of purposes. It is an excellent substitute for the chemical-laden harmful commercial fabric softeners.
Baking soda is known for its ability to soften hard water, which in turn helps keep your fabric soft. Additionally, it can deodorize your clothes.

How to Use: Just add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the water in your washer. Let it dissolve completely before putting your clothes in the washing machine.

Dryer Balls

Dryer balls not only soften the fabric but can also reduce the drying time and static cling and wrinkles.
Dryer balls are basically plastic or rubber balls with spikes on their surface. These balls soften your clothes mechanically by rubbing against them. They move between the clothes and thus, help keep the laundry items separate in the dryer. They also retain and transfer heat to the clothes, which reduces drying time and wrinkles.
How to Use: This is perhaps the easiest way to soften your fabric. Put the balls in the dryer along with the laundry to get soft and fluffy clothes. But, the spiky dryer balls can sometimes damage delicate fabric and create small holes in them. As far as static cling is concerned, these balls help reduce it but may not be as effective as the dryer sheets.

Homemade Wool Dryer Balls

The homemade wool dryer balls have several advantages over those chemical-laden commercial fabric softeners.
Wool dryer balls contain no chemicals, are inexpensive and make your clothes super soft and fluffy. The balls tumble and separate the clothes in the dryer, allowing more hot air to be circulated. This in turn fluffs the laundry and reduces the drying time significantly. Besides, you can add essential oils to them and make your clothes smell fresh and clean.
To make wool dryer balls, first take one end of the yarn and wrap it around your middle and index finger around 10 to 15 times. Now, remove it from the fingers and wrap the yarn around the center 5 times, after which you can wrap it in any direction. But, be sure to keep the yarn tight and make the ball round.
Once you get the right shape and size (ideally the size of a tennis ball) for your wool dryer ball, cut the yarn and insert it to the side of the ball. In this way, make four or five balls. Then cut off one leg of a pantyhose and put the balls inside it. Now tie a knot above each ball to keep them in place.
How to Use: First, wash your wool dryer balls in the hottest setting of your machine so that the yarn felts. Check if the yarn has felted enough. Then put the balls in the dryer and dry them at the highest heat setting of your washing machine.
If the balls have dried completely, remove them from the pantyhose. Now, you can use these balls by putting them in the dryer along with your laundry.

Tennis Balls

Tennis balls can also be used to substitute fabric softeners. They can reduce static cling, besides softening your fabric.
As tennis balls are made of rubber, the heat of the dryer can cause them to release some chemicals, which can leave a smell on your clothes. Many people also express their concern that the chemicals released from tennis balls can be toxic, and hence they are not a safe alternative to commercial fabric softeners.
How to Use: Tennis balls can be used in the same way as plastic dryer balls. You can simply toss them in the dryer of your washing machine along with the laundry.


Borax is an excellent cleaner that can kill dust mites, fungus, and mold, besides removing odor from your clothes. Further, it can soften hard water, and hence can be used as a fabric softener as well. However, be sure to use it in moderation, as excessive use of this cleaning agent can cause skin irritation.
How to Use: If you are planning to use borax for softening water, use it in the wash cycle. For most top loading washing machines, you can add 1/2 cup of borax per load. To use it as a fabric softener, add 1/4 cup of borax in the water to be used for rinsing your clothes.
Apart from these, you can also try natural fabric softeners that are available in most health food stores. Even natural or organic hair conditioners can be used as an alternative to harmful fabric conditioners. You can also keep your fabric soft by drying them at low heat setting and reducing the drying time.
In general, synthetic fabric is more prone to static cling and requires fabric softeners to keep them soft and flossy, as compared to natural fibers, like cotton, hemp, linen, and wool.