Best Fabric Softeners

Updated July 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
26 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
99 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for Best fabric softeners

There’s nothing quite like the feel of a soft, clean T-shirt or towel just out of the dryer. But if your clothes and linens don’t feel quite as soft and fluffy as you’d like, it might be time to add fabric softener to your laundry routine.

Fabric softener is an add-in for the washing machine or dryer that coats your laundry with a lubricating film. This film gives the fabric a softer, fluffier feel once it’s clean and dry, but it has other benefits too. It can also help give your laundry a fresh scent, reduce static, and prevent wrinkles. Fabric softener is available in a few different formulas, and the formula determines when you add it to your laundry.

But with so many different fabric softener types and brands to choose from, picking the right one for your laundry room can be tough. In our buying guide, you’ll find all the help you need to choose the best fabric softener for your next load of laundry. We’ve also included some specific product recommendations to make your shopping as easy as possible.

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If you have sensitive skin, dryer sheets are a better option than liquid fabric softener.

Key considerations

Formula

Fabric softener is available in a few different formulas, and the formula determines at what point in the laundry process you use it.

Liquid fabric softener is the most common type. It’s added to the washing machine after the rinse cycle starts so it won’t be washed away. Many washers have one dispenser for detergent and a second for fabric softener, so you don’t have to remember to add it. You can also find fabric softener pods for use in washers without a dispenser. The pods slowly break down so the fabric softener is released during the rinse cycle.

Dryer sheets are another popular type of fabric softener. These sheets are made of a lightweight fabric that’s coated with softening ingredients. They’re added to the dryer with a load of wet laundry, and they help items dry more quickly in addition to softening them. Dryer sheets are also highly effective at reducing static.

Dryer balls, similar to dryer sheets, are added to a load of wet clothes in the dryer. Dryer balls usually include organic ingredients and are generally considered more eco-friendly.

Chemical vs. natural ingredients

The majority of fabric softeners use chemicals to provide their softening effect. Most have conditioning agents made of silicone or ammonia-based lubricating compounds. They also contain emulsifiers to help the fatty conditioning agents mix with the water during the rinse cycle. Phosphoric acid is often added to work as an antistatic agent, while ammonium salt is frequently used to soften the feel of the fabric. Many fabric softeners include artificial colors and fragrances, which can be an issue if you have sensitive skin.

Many people are uncomfortable using fabric softeners that have high concentrations of chemical ingredients because the ingredients can trigger allergic reactions and other skin issues. Chemical-laden formulas also aren’t eco-friendly because they can make their way into waterways. Liquid formulas present the most significant risk, so if you opt for a liquid fabric softener, choose one that contains natural, plant-based softening agents or nontoxic chemicals.

Water absorbency score

The coating that fabric softener leaves behind on fabric can reduce the fabric’s ability to hold water. This can be a particular issue with towels, which are designed to be absorbent. That’s why most fabric softeners provide a water absorbency score based on wicking test standards established by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

The water absorbency scale ranges from 1, for fabric softener formulas that greatly affect a fabric’s water absorbency, to 5 for formulas that have little effect on a fabric’s water absorbency. To keep your towels soft and absorbent, opt for a fabric softener formula with a water absorbency score of 3 or higher.

HE compatibility

If you opt for a liquid fabric softener, it’s essential to make sure that the formula you choose is compatible with your washer. High-efficiency (HE) washers require not only a special detergent formula but also a special HE fabric softener that washes away completely to ensure that there isn’t any excess film left on your clothing and linens. If you have an HE washer, make sure that any fabric softener formula is labeled as HE compatible before using it.

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Did You Know?
If you want a fabric softener that provides a long-lasting scent, liquid formulas are your best bet. Some even claim to deliver a fragrance that can last for weeks.
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Features

Other benefits

Scent: One of the reasons that many people like using a fabric softener is that it leaves your laundry with a fresh, pleasant scent. You can find formulas in a range of scents, including floral, fruit, and clean options, so there should be a fragrance that matches your preferences. However, keep in mind that most fabric softeners use chemical or artificial fragrances, which can irritate sensitive skin. If you have allergies or skin sensitivity issues, look for unscented formulas that are less likely to cause any irritation.

Static reduction: Another benefit of using a fabric softener is that it reduces static in your dried laundry. However, you have to choose the right formula to effectively reduce static. In general, dryer sheets are better at fighting static than liquid fabric softeners. The sheets use positive ions to counter the negative ions that your laundry picks up during drying, neutralizing the static.

Wrinkle reduction: Many fabric softeners also help fight wrinkles, so you don’t have to iron your clothes after they come out of the dryer. The fabric softener loosens the fabric’s fibers to prevent them from clumping, which prevents creases from developing or getting locked in place by the dryer’s heat. In some cases, you might still have to iron clothing after using a wrinkle-reducing fabric softener, but you’ll have a much easier time smoothing out the wrinkles because your iron will glide more easily over the fabric.

Color-safe

Depending on the oils they contain, some fabric softeners can leave spots or stains behind on fabric. To make sure that a formula doesn’t affect colors or whites, look for a color-safe fabric softener to maintain the brightness of all colors.

Quantity

When buying fabric softener, you need to know the number of loads of laundry the bottle or box will do. With a liquid formula, the manufacturer usually provides the number of loads on the label. If you purchase dryer sheets, you typically need one per load, so you can tell the number of loads from the number of sheets listed on the label.

Caution2
Caution
Fabric softener can reduce the fire-retardant quality of fabric, so avoid using it on children’s pajamas and sleepwear. 
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Accessories

Laundry detergent: Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Laundry Detergent
To keep your clothes, linens, and other items as clean and soft as possible, you need a quality detergent to go with your fabric softener. We love this one from Mrs. Meyer’s because it doesn’t contain any chlorine, phthalates, parabens, or artificial colors and is HE compatible.

Fabric softener prices

Fabric softener varies in price based on the formula, quality of the ingredients, and the number of loads the container can handle. Most cost between $2 and $20.

Inexpensive: The most affordable fabric softeners are liquid formulas that contain mostly chemical ingredients. These typically come in containers large enough to do at least 50 loads. You’ll pay between $2 and $7 for these fabric softeners.

Mid-range: These fabric softeners are typically higher-quality liquid formulas, fabric softener pods, or dryer sheets or balls. They usually contain a combination of chemical and natural ingredients and come in containers large enough for up to 240 loads. You’ll generally spend between $6 and $16 for these fabric softeners.

Expensive: The most expensive fabric softeners are usually high-quality liquid formulas, fabric softener pods, or dryer sheets or balls. They contain a greater concentration of natural ingredients, so they’re more eco-friendly and better suited to sensitive skin. They typically come in containers large enough for up to 250 loads. You’ll generally pay between $14 and $20 for these fabric softeners.

Dyk3 
Did You Know?
Dryer balls are usually made of wool, but you can find some options made of rubber or plastic.
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Tips

  • Always follow the instructions on the packaging. Using too much fabric softener in a load can leave a heavy film on your clothing.
  • Don’t let fabric softener come in direct contact with dry laundry. It can cause staining or spotting.
  • Don’t add fabric softener every time you wash towels. That way, you can make sure that your towels are soft but can still absorb water. Instead, use fabric softener every other time to prevent a thick film from developing and affecting the towels’ ability to hold water.
  • Don’t use fabric softener on baby clothing. The ingredients in fabric softener can irritate a baby’s delicate skin.
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Fabric softener pods, dryer sheets, or dryer balls are the best option if you go to a laundromat to do your laundry because they’re easier to carry than a heavy bottle of liquid softener.

FAQ

Q. Why should I use fabric softener?

A. The main reason most people use fabric softener is to make their laundry feel soft to the touch and less stiff, but it can also help cut down on static electricity, give your laundry a pleasant scent, and make it easier to iron out wrinkles.

Q. Will fabric softener damage my washing machine or dryer?

A. Just as they leave a film behind on fabric, fabric softener ingredients can also cling to the inside of your washing machine and even the hoses attached to the washer. To remove it, periodically run a cycle without laundry using a commercial cleaning product or vinegar.

Dryer sheets and balls can also leave a film behind in the dryer’s filter. Clean the filter with soapy water every so often to keep the dryer working properly.

Q. Can I use fabric softener on all materials?

A. There are some materials that you shouldn’t use fabric softener on. In particular, avoid using it on water-resistant materials or moisture-wicking fabrics, such as those used for workout gear. Microfiber and terry cloth also don’t respond well to fabric softener.

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