Use These Fabric Softener Substitutes

Ditch toxic fabric softener and use these fabric softener substitutes instead. Your body, your budget, and the environment will thank you when you switch to eco-friendly laundry products.

Quick links:

Why ditch fabric softener?

Wool dryer balls


Baking soda

Organic essential oils

Soap nuts

Vegetable glycerin

Hair conditioner

What to use for static

What to use for smell

These fabric softener alternatives are much better for your wallet and the environment. You aren’t giving up soft, fluffy laundry—just messy, expensive fabric softeners with harsh chemicals!

What is Fabric Softener?

Fabric softener is a laundry product that usually contains synthetic chemicals and fragrances. Fabric softeners work by coating the fabric fibers with a thin layer of chemicals that help reduce friction and stiffness, resulting in softer and more comfortable garments.

While it makes clothes feel softer and reduces static cling, fabric softener has drawbacks. It's worth exploring alternative options for achieving soft, fresh-smelling laundry without relying on traditional fabric softeners.

  • The chemicals in fabric softeners can leave a residue on clothes.
  • Fabric softeners can irritate sensitive skin.
  • Artificial fragrances used in fabric softeners may trigger allergies or sensitivities in some individuals. Considering these factors, it's worth exploring alternative options for achieving soft, fresh-smelling laundry without relying on traditional fabric softeners.

How Do Fabric Softeners Work?

Fabric softeners are similar to hair conditioners. They include chemicals that lubricate textile fibers, resulting in a smoother, wrinkle-free finish. Most fabric softeners also have a signature perfume that makes laundry smell exceptionally fresh—but this freshness comes at a high price.

Why Shouldn’t You Use Fabric Softener?

The chemicals in dryer sheets and fabric softeners are among the most harmful of all the household items we use on a daily basis.

They're also bad for the environment, can damage the integrity of your clothes, make them more flammable, clog your washer and dryer, and are utterly unnecessary.

Here are the reasons to ditch the fabric softeners.

  • Fabric softeners can leave a residue on clothing, affecting their absorbency and breathability.
  • The harmful chemicals in fabric softeners can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
  • Fabric softeners may contain harmful ingredients such as phthalates, which are associated with health concerns.
  • Fabric softeners can reduce the absorbency of towels and cloth diapers, making them less effective.
  • The artificial fragrances in fabric softeners can be overpowering and may trigger respiratory issues for some people.
  • Fabric softeners can build up in washing machines and clog the filters, potentially leading to malfunctions or reduced efficiency.
  • Fabric softener is detrimental to the environment. The manufacture of fabric softener contributes to environmental pollution. Disposal of fabric softener containers also adds to landfills or ends up in oceans. Toxic chemicals from fabric softener go out in greywater to contaminate the environment.
  • Using fabric softeners can be expensive over time, as they require regular purchases and add to the cost of doing laundry.

Natural Alternatives to Fabric Softeners

Are you ready to find the best natural, eco friendly alternatives to replace chemical fabric softeners? Perfect! Here are the best substitutes that really work.

Wool Dryer Balls

6-Pack "Smiling Sheep" Hand-Felted Wool Dryer Balls

Our wool dryer balls are the best alternative to fabric softeners. Not only do they soften fabric, they shorten drying times and do some other amazing things for your laundry.

Here are a few of the benefits of wool dryer balls for your laundry.

  • Wool dryer balls help soften fabrics when used in the dryer. The balls constantly agitate the fibers in clothes and linens, leaving soft fabric.
  • Wool dryer balls absorb moisture from clothing and shorten drying time by up to 25% with a reduced heat setting.
  • Wool dryer balls reduce damage to clothes through lower temperature settings and shorter drying times.
  • They cut down on static.
  • They reduce clothing wrinkles.
  • They are perfect for people with allergies, asthma, and sensitive skin.
  • They grab pet hair from clothes.
  • Wool dryer balls are chemical-free, fragrance-free, and don’t damage your clothes or increase their flammability.
  • You can scent wool dryer balls with essential oils for naturally-fragrant laundry.


For softer clothes, either add 1/4 cup of vinegar to the wash cycle or dampen a washcloth with vinegar and place it in the dryer. 

Both white and apple cider vinegar work. The vinegar smell dissipates, and your clothes won’t smell like they’ve been rinsed in pickle brine.

Baking Soda

Another natural cleaning product you can use is baking soda. It works as a natural softener and helps remove odors from dirty clothes. Because it adjusts the water’s pH levels, it reduces bacteria and eliminates funky smells.

Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of baking soda to your load of laundry before you add the laundry detergent. Wash at the settings you normally would.

Warning: Do not use baking soda and vinegar together during the wash cycle! Otherwise, you’ll have a chemical reaction in your washing machine.

Organic Essential Oils

If you love scented laundry, spritz our Essential Oil Anti-Static Scenting Spray on wool dryer balls and place them in your dryer. Your laundry will smell awesome! Our spray comes in orange, lemon, and lavender.

You can also make your own essential oil blends to use on wool dryer balls.

Soap Nuts

Soap nuts contain natural saponins that make your clothes soft. To use, place 4-5 soap nuts in a cotton bag and place the bag in the washer with your laundry.

Epsom Salt

Do you have Epsom salts on hand? If so, grab them and a little baking soda to create the perfect fabric softener.

  1. In a jar, combine 2 cups of Epsom salts with ½ cup of baking soda.
  2. Add 25-30 drops of essential oils or oil combinations.
  3. Shake to mix.
  4. Add 3 tablespoons of your mix to each medium laundry load.

Vegetable Glycerin

To use vegetable glycerin as a fabric softener, combine 1 gallon of water and 1/2 cup glycerin (add essential oils if desired) and add 1/2 cup to the rinse cycle, fabric softener dispenser, or fabric softener ball.

Hair Conditioner as Fabric Softener

Hair conditioner is a budget-friendly alternative to fabric softeners when mixed with white vinegar and water. To create this DIY fabric softener, follow these steps: 

  • Combine six cups of water and two cups of conditioner. Stir until completely smooth. 
  • Pour the mix into a storage container.
  • To use, add the mixture to your washer in the same place you would normally put liquid fabric softener.

This isn't our favorite fabric softener substitute since most hair conditioners have harsh chemicals and fragrances and are not great for the environment.

What to Use Instead of Fabric Softeners for Static?

There are a number of products you can use to avoid laundry static. Here are some of them:

  1. Wool dryer balls minimize static by absorbing humidity at the beginning of the drying cycle and releasing it at the end.
  2. Crumpled-up aluminum foil balls eliminate static by pulling electrons from the fabrics. The foil balls discharge static electricity, preventing it from building up on clothes and causing static cling.
  3. Adding half a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washing machine can help reduce static. Vinegar helps to remove detergent residue and mineral buildup on fabrics, resulting in less static electricity.
  4. Lightly spritzing a clean cloth with hairspray and tossing it in the dryer with your clothes can minimize static. The hairspray acts as a temporary anti-static agent, reducing static cling in the fabric.
  5. Using a humidifier in your home can add moisture to the air, which helps combat static in your laundry. Dry air promotes static electricity, so maintaining optimal humidity levels can reduce static buildup.
  6. Overdrying clothes can increase static, so it's important to avoid drying your laundry for longer than necessary. Be mindful of the recommended drying times for different fabric types and remove clothes promptly once they are dry.

What Can I Use Instead of Fabric Softeners for Smell?

Let’s dive into alternatives that offer a natural way to keep your laundry smelling wonderful without the use of traditional fabric softeners. Enjoy the delightful scents and the added benefits of using chemical-free and eco friendly alternatives for fabric softeners in your laundry routine.

  1. Essential oils: add a few drops of your favorite essential oils to a fabric softener dispenser or a piece of cloth and toss it in the dryer. Or spritz our scenting spray on your wool dryer balls before putting them in the dryer. 
  2. Scented vinegar: infuse white vinegar with herbs or citrus peels by soaking them together for a few weeks. Use this fragrant vinegar as a rinse for your laundry.
  3. Homemade sachets: create small fabric pouches filled with dried lavender, rose petals, or other fragrant herbs. Place them in your drawers or closet to impart a lovely scent to your clothes.
  4. Reusable dryer sheets: make your own dryer sheets by soaking cloth squares in a mixture of water, vinegar, and essential oils. These can be reused multiple times and are eco-friendly alternatives to fabric softeners.
  5. Scented laundry detergent: look for natural laundry detergents that use plant-based fragrances. These can provide a gentle and refreshing scent to your laundry.
  6. Air-dry with fresh air: take advantage of sunny days and air-dry your clothes naturally. They will absorb the fresh scent of the outdoors, leaving them smelling clean and revitalized.

Fabric Softener Alternative FAQ

Can I use substitutes for fabric softeners in my laundry?

There are several alternatives you can use instead of fabric softeners to achieve soft and fresh-smelling laundry:

  1. Add half a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle or fabric softener dispenser. It helps to soften fabrics and reduce static cling.
  2. Add a quarter cup of baking soda to the wash cycle. It helps to soften clothes and neutralize odors.
  3. Toss a few Smart Sheep wool dryer balls into the dryer with your wet clothes. They help to soften fabrics, reduce wrinkles, and decrease drying time.
  4. Adding a few drops of organic essential oils, such as lavender or eucalyptus, to your laundry can provide a pleasant and natural scent without the use of artificial fragrances.
  5. Soap nuts are natural berries that contain saponin, a natural cleaning agent. They can be used as a laundry detergent alternative and help soften clothes.
  6. Mixing a small amount of vegetable glycerin with water and using it as a final rinse can help soften clothes and reduce static cling.
  7. Diluting hair conditioner with water and using it as a fabric softener alternative can help make your clothes feel softer and more comfortable.

What is the same as a fabric softener?

Fabric conditioner and fabric softener are essentially the same thing. They are products used in laundry to soften fabrics, reduce static cling, and make clothes feel more comfortable. These terms are often used interchangeably, referring to the same type of product designed to enhance the texture and feel of fabrics.

Can you go without fabric softener?

You do not need to use fabric softener in your wash. Fabric softeners do not contribute to the washing and cleaning of your clothes, so if you leave them out, you won't have to worry about stain removal or lingering odors.

Does vinegar act like a fabric softener?

Vinegar has the ability to soften fabrics without the use of harsh chemicals commonly found in commercial fabric softeners. Vinegar also prevents static, which means that lint and pet hair are less likely to cling to your clothing.

Why avoid fabric softeners?

Avoiding fabric softeners can be beneficial for several reasons:

  1. Chemical residue: fabric softeners often contain synthetic chemicals that can leave a residue on your clothes, which may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals.
  2. Environmental impact: fabric softeners can contain ingredients that are harmful to the environment, such as non-biodegradable chemicals and pollutants that can be released during the manufacturing and disposal processes.
  3. Reduced absorbency: fabric softeners can coat fabrics and reduce their absorbency, which can be a concern for items like towels, athletic wear, or cloth diapers that rely on absorbency for their functionality.
  4. Build-up on fabrics: over time, fabric softeners can build up on clothing, towels, and other fabrics, making them less breathable and reducing their performance.
  5. Synthetic fragrance: many fabric softeners contain artificial fragrances, which can be overpowering and may cause allergic reactions or sensitivities in some individuals.

What are the benefits of using bamboo dryer balls in the dryer?

Bamboo dryer balls help reduce drying time, soften fabrics, and decrease static cling. Wool dryer balls are even more effective.

Can I use wool dryer balls if I have a wool allergy?

If you have a wool allergy, you can still use wool dryer balls. However, it's important to opt for hypoallergenic or organic wool dryer balls to minimize any potential allergic reactions.

How can I keep my laundry smelling fresh without fabric softener?

To keep your laundry smelling fresh without fabric softener, you can try adding a few drops of essential oils to your dryer balls before tossing them in with your wet clothes. This will impart a pleasant scent without using synthetic fragrances.

Is it necessary to use fabric softener for all types of fabrics?

Fabric softener is not necessary for all types of fabrics. Natural fibers like cotton and linen generally do not require fabric softeners, as they tend to become softer with each wash. However, synthetic fabrics may benefit from the use of fabric softener alternatives to reduce static and improve softness. 

There are several natural fabric softener alternatives you can use to soften your clothes. Options include using wool dryer balls, adding vinegar to the final rinse cycle, or placing a dry towel in the dryer with your wet laundry. These alternatives help reduce static and make your clothes feel softer.

Are there any DIY recipes for fabric softeners that are zero waste?

Yes, there are DIY recipes for fabric softeners that promote zero-waste practices. These recipes often involve simple ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, or essential oils combined with water. By making your own fabric softener, you can reduce plastic waste and have more control over the ingredients used in your laundry routine.

Is fabric softener bad for the environment?

Traditional fabric softeners can contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment, such as synthetic fragrances and surfactants that may not biodegrade easily. Using eco-friendly alternatives like wool dryer balls or natural DIY fabric softeners can help minimize the environmental impact of fabric softening while still achieving soft and fresh-smelling laundry.

Are fabric softener crystals an eco friendly alternative to synthetic fabric softeners?

Fabric softener crystals are a type of solid fabric softener that dissolves in water during the rinse cycle. They are often touted as a friendly alternative to traditional liquid fabric softeners as they reduce waste by eliminating the need for plastic packaging. It's important to note that some fabric softener crystals may still contain synthetic ingredients, so it's essential to choose eco-friendly and biodegradable options.

Further Reading

Wool Dryer Balls vs Dryer Sheets

Natural Dryer Sheet Alternatives

Tennis Balls vs Dryer Balls

How Many Dryer Balls Do You Need?

Best Wool Dryer Balls

Do Wool Dryer Balls Work?