You’re probably familiar with our homemade laundry detergent, so today let’s learn how to soften laundry (and save money) with natural homemade fabric softener and dryer sheets.
Also related is our tutorial on how to make wool dryer balls – they’re great for reducing drying time, softening clothes, and reducing static cling.
If you want to learn WHY we make our own – and why you should too – scroll down and prepare to have your mind blown by facts revealing how dangerous chemical perfumes in commercial cleaning products really are.
Vinegar Laundry Softener
Vinegar is my fabric softener of choice. Aside from being a natural softener, it also removes soap residue in the washing machine and reduces static in the dryer. You can add vinegar to a Downy ball and throw it in with your laundry, or pour vinegar directly into the fabric softener dispenser if your washing machine has one. I have even added 1-2 drops of my favorite essential oil to the vinegar in the softener dispenser. My mother caught me standing over the washing machine one day with a glass dropper in one hand and a bottle of lavender essential oil in the other, and commented that it looked as though I was running a science lab out of my laundry room. I feel like a scientist sometimes as I experiment with combinations of my favorite oils in the laundry. Sweet orange brightens and fights stains, lavender offers a calming effect, and peppermint can help fight tough odors on clothing.
You can pre-mix your fabric-softening vinegar by using the following recipe:
A simple solution:
Lavender-scented softener is one of my favorites, or a combination of sweet orange and lemon when I need a pick-me-up on laundry day! A third suggestion is to use peppermint for an invigorating minty scent.
Just shake well before each use and it’s ready for the rinse cycle. For small or average loads add ½ cup to the rinse cycle, or a little more for large loads. (UPDATE: A helpful reader with an HE washer advises that about ¼ cup works perfectly for full loads.)
Note: Once clothes are dry you will not notice the scent of this homemade fabric softener. Many readers have asked, “So why use them?” One benefit of including the essential oils is that many contain antibacterial properties and will help disinfect laundry. (Lavender, sweet orange, lemon, and peppermint [and many more!] are all antibacterial.) Essential oils like lemon and sweet orange have also been known to brighten laundry and fight stains. Feel free to leave out essential oils if you wish…vinegar is also antibacterial. I’m a sucker for essential oils in my laundry mainly because I enjoy the aromatherapy the oils provide during this mundane chore!
Homemade Dryer Sheets are easy too
Over the past few years, we have researched many alternatives to commercial dryer sheets. Why? Because there is evidence that toxic fragrance chemicals can be present in commercial dryer sheets that can be absorbed into your skin when you put your clothes on. This was enough to convince me that commercial dryer sheets might not be the best choice for my family, and the cost savings of do-it-yourself dryer sheets was an added bonus. You will love experimenting with different scents along the way, and will never have to put dryer sheets on your grocery list again! (Note: These dryer sheets will not soften laundry, and are mainly for added scent. Use vinegar in the rinse cycle of the wash and felted wool balls in the dryer to soften and decrease static.)
Cut cotton cloth into small squares. I use 5-inch squares of cotton t-shirts that I’m retiring. Add 3-5 drops of essential oil to your cloth and throw it in the dryer with your next load. These cotton dryer sheets can be used for 2 or 3 loads, each time adding 3 more drops of your favorite essential oil. Wash the cloth after a few uses and experiment with a new fragrance the next time! Some of my personal favorites are lavender, lemon, or grapefruit. (find pure essential oils here)
If you don’t have essential oils and would like to try some other safe alternatives, consider the following:
- Dampen hands with water and fluff laundry as it comes out of the dryer to reduce static cling.
- Line dry clothing to avoid static cling altogether.
- Hang dry clothing made from synthetic fibers. These items create more static in the dryer.
- Use felted wool dryer balls to fluff clothing, reduce drying time, and cut down on static. (Learn how to make your own or find them on etsy.com – get at least 6 to be used in each load for best results.)
- Although I’m unsure of the “natural” factor of aluminum foil in the dryer, this one works! A ball of aluminum foil in the dryer does wonders for decreasing static! It turns into a nice smooth ball and can be left in the dryer for many loads.
I probably spend too much time in my “science lab” now, experimenting and enjoying the laundry aromatherapy. I’m also enjoying the peace of mind knowing that I am not putting chemicals into my family’s laundry.
Facts About Chemical Perfumes
A recent study revealed that many of the top-selling commercially scented cleaning products – including: air fresheners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, disinfectants, dish detergents, all-purpose cleaners, soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorants, and shampoos – emit more than 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including some that are classified as toxic or hazardous by federal laws.
Even products advertised as “green,” “natural,” or “organic” emitted as many hazardous chemicals as standard ones.
From the study:
“Steinemann and colleagues found the average number of VOCs emitted was 17. Each product emitted 1–8 toxic or hazardous chemicals, and close to half (44%) generated at least 1 of 24 carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants, such as acetaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, or methylene chloride. These hazardous air pollutants have no safe exposure level, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Of the 133 VOCs detected, only ethanol was listed on any label (for 2 products), and only ethanol and 2-butoxyethanol were listed on any Material Safety Data Sheet (for 5 products and 1 product, respectively).
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates cleaning supplies, air fresheners, and laundry products, currently does not require manufacturers to disclose any ingredients on the label, including fragrances in these products. The same is true for fragrances in personal care items, which are overseen by the Food and Drug Administration. The Household Product Labeling Act, currently under review in the U.S. Senate, would require manufacturers to label consumer products with all ingredients, including fragrance mixtures. “Disclosing all ingredients could be a first step to understanding potential toxicity and health effects,” says Steinemann.
Make Products Yourself!
If all that data doesn’t convince you to begin making your own cleaning products, I don’t know what will.
Homemade fabric softener and dryer sheets contain only what you choose to put in them – that’s part of the beauty of making your own cleaners. Commercial dryer sheets coat your clothing with a thin film of artificial chemical perfumes. Sensitivity to these chemical perfumes decreases over time, but when you stop using them your senses return to normal and you won’t believe how noticeable and repulsive the artificial fragrance chemicals are.
Your clothes will take a few wash cycles to lose the coating from commercial detergents and softeners, but the sooner you get started the sooner your family will be free from harsh chemicals and perfumes.
Try the above solution next time you do laundry… we made the switch and will never go back!
Want to learn more? Find more recipes and information like this in our DIY Natural Household Cleaners book.
References and Resources