Fabric softener makes our clothes smell pretty, keeps the towels fluffy and prevents wrinkles and static build up – but at what cost?
The way that fabric softener works is it contains a lubricating ingredient that coats the fibres of your clothes, towels, sheets etc. It also adds a positive charge to oppose the negative charge created by static. This makes your clothes more slippery which reduces friction.
The problem is that the lubricant leaves a waxy coating on your clothes, which is not good for athletic wear, towels, waterproof clothing or anything that is meant to be fire retardant (ie children’s pyjamas). The coating stops absorbency in towels, prevents water wicking and breathability on sportswear (and can cause it to smell even after being washed!) and covers the waterproofing and fire retardant coatings on fabrics. The ability to wick away sweat and allow breathability is also important for undergarments and bed linen – so while the softener might smell good and soften the fibres, it isn’t good for your clothes!
When the softener builds up on your garments over time, it can also create stains, which are difficult to get rid of. And you can imagine, if its building up on your clothes it will be building up in your machine too! Which means that even when you wash without it, you’ll be getting residue in every wash.
Studies have found that liquid fabric softeners can make garments more flammable, which is not great, especially when you’re talking kids pyjamas.
One of the ingredients in many fabric softeners is QAC’s – or Quaternary Ammonium Compounds. These help reduce the static but are known to cause skin irritation and respiratory difficulties. QAC’s are also toxic to sea life and aquatic organisms like fish and algae – and there has been an increase in antibiotic resistance in micro organisms due to the increase of use of QAC’s in household products.
This might sound like lots of science – but it’s important to understand what fabric softeners do, and why they do it. This way we can see why they aren’t good for our clothes, our bodies or the environment. But what is the alternative?
Air drying your clothes when possible reduces static (and saves money and electricity), there’s less wear and tear, less fading and shrinkage from heat and I find they always smell wonderful coming off the line (and you can use a linen spray to spray them before bringing them in if you want to make them smell fresher). They will definitely be a bit crunchier than clothes coming out of the dryer or without fabric softener.
If you do want to use a dryer, try woollen dryer balls. they soften your clothes, reduce drying time and also help with static. You can add essential oils to the dryer balls too if you want.
Let me know your thoughts – are you someone who uses fabric softener and will you try something different? Or have you already ditched the softener?