Here's the ultimate guide to fabric softener, including how to use it in your washing machine properly, how it effects clothes, what types of clothes you should never use it on, plus a round up of reviews of the most common brands, scents and varieties. There are two main ways you can use softener, in your washing machine or in your dryer (or both). In the washing machine the softeners are either liquid, or recently they came out with crystal or mineral based ones too. Everything you ever wanted to know about fabric softener, plus stuff you didn't even know you needed to know, including how to use it in your washing machine properly, how it effects clothes, what types of clothes you should never use it on, plus a round up of reviews of the most common brands, scents and varieties.
In the dryer typically the softener comes in the form of dryer sheets, but they have also recently come out with a dryer bar. Currently, as far as I am aware, there is only a couple of crystal or mineral based fabric softeners available, and it is used completely different than liquid based softeners. Because liquid softener is much more common, I will first explain how to use these products properly, in your machine. How To Use Liquid Fabric Softener In Your Washing Machine Liquid softeners are typically oil based, and coat your clothing and other fabrics to make them feel soft to the touch, and also generally to impart a nice scent. If you get a natural softener the oils are plant-based, whereas with more traditional brands the oils may be synthetic or fossil-fuel based.
Below I will discuss what effect this coating may have on certain fabrics, but first, there is a right way and wrong way to use these liquid softeners in your washing machine. To be effective stamdard softeners must come into contact with your clothes after they have already been washed with your laundry detergent, during the final rinse cycle. There are several ways to use the liquid version in your machine, and which one you should do depends on what type of washing machine you own. If you own a standard top loading machine (not high efficiency) then you can add the softener in one of three ways, again depending on the specific attributes of your machine.
If your standard washing machine has a fabric softener dispenser you can add it to that. The dispenser is designed to release the softener at the appropriate time during the final rinse cycle. However, if your standard washing machine does not have a dispenser you have two options for putting in the liquid softener. First, you can use a softener ball, the most common of which is the Downy ball. You pour the softener in this ball at the beginning of the load, and toss it in with the clothing and detergent, and it is designed to release the softener during the final rinse cycle. Second, if you don't want to use a ball, then you can just manually add the softener to the washing machine when it gets to the final rinse. This can be tricky if your washer doesn't give you a signal, such as a beep, of when that cycle begins. I myself often lose track of time and just end up missing the cycle. Further, if you add it manually you need to be very careful when you do it not to pour it directly onto the clothing, because this can cause softener stains on the fabric from the oil and grease in the product. The best way to avoid this is to dilute the correct amount of softener in about a quart of water before adding it to the rinse water. If you have an HE washing machine it is actually less confusing about adding the softener, because all HE machines (at least that I am aware of) have a dispenser that releases the softener at the right time. You cannot add it manually because of the design of the machines, and neither can you use a ball.
Please note that your fabric softener dispenser is likely to get clogged and sticky with dried fabric softener over time, and should be periodically cleaned to keep it working well. I've written instructions as part of cleaning a washing machine on how to clean these dispensers too. As I stated previously, liquid softeners are oil-based, and coat the clothing with a wax like substance which makes them feel softer, and also reduces static cling. In general, these products also contain fragrance, which is often a major marketing and selling point for them, because many people love for their clothes to have a nice scent. (However, a number of hypoallergenic versions are also now coming onto the market as demand has increased for this scent and/or dye free alternative.) The way liquid softeners work, however, does impact how they effect certain clothing. Here are some of the major things to consider when using these products:
1. Improper application can result in stains on your clothing. As mentioned above briefly, since the products are oil based if they come into direct contact with clothing, like you drip or pour them on wet clothing, you can get fabric softener stains. Often these stains often look blue-gray in color (like the color of the softener itself) and look greasy. You can follow some simple steps to remove these stains from your clothing, but frankly, it can be a pain to treat the stains and rewash everything when this occurs. Fabric softener may make fabrics feel softer, but it can also harm certain fabrics, or make them not do the job they're designed to do.
2. It reduces the absorbency of towels and other fabrics. Because these products coat the clothing with an oil or wax like substance it has been shown that this reduces the absorbency of the fabric. This can be a problem for things like dish cloths and towels, which are designed to absorb water and other liquid spills or splashes. You will need to decide if the tradeoff of soft scented towels is worth the loss of some absorbency.
3. It reduces the flame-resistance of children's sleepwear and other garments treated with flame retardants. United States federal law mandates that children's sleepwear be treated with flame retardants, and all liquid fabric softener manufacturers admit that this type of clothing should not be washed with the product because it reduces the flame retarants effectiveness. Again, you will need to decide if this tradeoff of separating out this clothing for a different wash, or losing the effectiveness of the flame retardants is OK with you.
4. It reduces the ability of athletic wear to wick away moisture from your body. There are all kinds of new types of fabric available for athletic wear, touted to be quick drying and to keep you cool even in heavy exercise. Again, with the coating of oil from the products these new fabrics often cannot do this job as effectively if washed in the liquid softener. Again, this is just something you need to consider before washing these clothes with this type of product.
Another Type Of Fabric Softener For The Washing Machine: Crystals Or Minerals
As far as I'm aware there is currently two companies manufacturing a fabric softener for use in the washing machine that is not of the liquid variety. That is Purex and Dropps. Instead, both of them have created a new product, crystal softener, to be used in the wash. You can read more about Purex softener crystals here, and Dropps pacs here, and the key differences between crystal and liquid softener. There is such a variety of softeners on the market, such as liquid and crystals, and also so many scents to choose from that people often feel overwhelmed. To help with this I've created the section of the site, below, where you can read reviews of various products used in your washer to soften your clothes, and also skip down to share your own review to investigate new products, or decide which one is right for you and your family's laundry.