Homemade Fabric Softener and DIY Dryer Sheets

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Homemade Fabric Softener Homemade Dryer Sheets

Homemade fabric softener and homemade dryer sheets have no strong chemical scents like store brands. Their light, natural smell is awesome!

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 homemade 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. You can purchase wool dryer balls here; we recommend buying 2 four-packs.

If you want to learn WHY we make our own, and why you should too, scroll down to find facts revealing how dangerous chemical perfumes in commercial cleaning products really are.

Homemade Fabric Softener

Vinegar is my homemade 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 sometimes add 1-2 drops of my favorite essential oil to the vinegar in the softener dispenser.

I like to 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:

Homemade Fabric Softener Homemade Dryer Sheets

Homemade Fabric Softener Recipe

5 from 1 vote

Homemade fabric softener and homemade dryer sheets have no strong chemical scents like store brands. Their light, natural smell is awesome!

Prep Time
2 minutes
Active Time
2 minutes
Total Time
4 minutes
Servings
1 gallon
Estimated Cost
$3

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Shake well before each use and add during the start of the rinse cycle.

Top-Loading Washers

  1. Use a ½ cup for small or average loads and ⅔ cup for large loads.

For HE Washers

  1. Use ¼ cup for small or average loads and ⅓ cup for large loads.

Notes

Once dry you will not smell the vinegar from this homemade fabric softener. We use the essential oils for their antibacterial properties and to help disinfect laundry. (Lavender, sweet orange, lemon, and peppermint 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 because vinegar is also antibacterial.

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Homemade Dryer Sheets Are Simple Too

Over the past few years, we have researched many alternatives to commercial dryer sheets. That’s 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. That convinced us commercial dryer sheets are not the best choice for our family. Also, the cost savings of homemade dryer sheets are 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!

Homemade Dryer Sheets

Cut some cotton cloth into small squares. I use 5-inch squares of old cotton t-shirts. Add 3-5 drops of essential oil to your cloth and throw it into the dryer with your laundry.

You can use these cotton dryer sheets 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. Some of my personal favorites are lavender, lemon, or grapefruit. (Find pure essential oils here.)

Note: These homemade dryer sheets do not soften laundry they are mainly for adding scent. To soften clothes use the homemade fabric softener recipe above. Another way to soften naturally is to use felted wool balls in the dryer, which also decreases static.

Other Ways to Reduce Static Cling

Want to learn how to get rid of static cling naturally? Here are some additional things you can do to:

  • 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 wool dryer balls 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 testing and enjoying the laundry aromatherapy. But I’m also enjoying the peace of mind knowing that I am not putting chemicals into my family’s laundry! That alone makes homemade fabric softener and homemade dryer sheets worth my time.

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.

Homemade Fabric Softener & Other Products

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 homemade 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.

In short, try the above solutions 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.

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References and Resources

Betsy Jabs

About Betsy Jabs

Betsy holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling, and for nearly a decade worked as an elementary counselor. In 2011 she left her counseling career to pursue healthy living. She loves using DIY Natural as a way to educate people to depend on themselves to nourish their bodies and live happier healthier lives. Connect with Betsy on Facebook, Twitter, and her +Betsy Jabs Google profile.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for us to support our website activities, we may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for our endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this website.

DISCLAIMER: Information on DIY Natural™ is not reviewed or endorsed by the FDA and is NOT intended to be substituted for the advice of your health care professional. If you rely solely upon this advice you do so at your own risk. Read full Disclaimer & Disclosure statements here.

Comments

  1. Laffayette says

    The aluminum foil ball works like magic. You have to try it just to be ‘dumbfounded’ like we were. Absolutely, zero static!

  2. Jennifer says

    Found a recipe to make homemade fabric wrinkle release comparable to the Downey product. Calls for 1 cup distilled water and 1 cup fabric softener. Would your homemade recipe for fabric softener work in this other homemade recipe?

  3. angie says

    To be honest–you don’t really need to use a softener. Clothes are stiff and staticy because of the soap that’s not rinsed out.

    I’ve learned this from handwashing and using a scrub board to wash. I can do a much longer rinse, and when the soap is rinsed out well, even jeans are not stiff on the line.

    Instead of adding more to your laundry—rinse out the soap!! 🙂

    • Michelle says

      You are so right! Most people just don’t get this concept. I have found that vinegar is what rinses out the left over soap residue on clothes. I have used this method for years and have never had anyone tell me that I smell like vinegar, have you. I have also been one to hang out entire loads from diapers to sheets to towels to blue jeans with out them being stiff. I just love this site and all of the comments that pass through it. More is not always better, right?

  4. Kathy says

    I have a top load he washer and use the diy laundry soap 2 coffee scoops for a full load and the white vinegar for a fabric softner 1/4 c is enough.

      • Laura says

        Speaking of HE washers, I have a front loading HE washer and would like to try the powdered homemade laundry detergent but am wondering if I should put it in the drawer for detergent (I’ve only used liquid in it before) or if I should toss it in the drum with the clothes?

  5. Aileen says

    Someone might have already mentioned this, but I use tea tree oil in my washer. I have a front loader and it begins to smell and makes all the clothes smell as well. Since doing this, the washer no longer smells and the clothes always just smell fresh (no real aroma…just fresh). I use straight up vinegar as fabric softener and it works fantastic.

    • Betsy JabsBetsy Jabs says

      What a great solution for the stinky front-loader issue! Since tea tree has antibacterial and antifungal properties, I’m sure it’s keeping away the mold, mildew, and other gunk that contributes to washer odors. Thanks for sharing Aileen!

    • L says

      How much do you use in your washer?Do you use it only in an empty wash or have you used it while washing clothes as well? If you do the latter, do your clothes smell like tea tree oil afterward? I don’t like the smell of tea tree oil, I find it too musty smelling like some cloth can get, but certainly would like to try it out with some clothes that got horribly musty (but not visibly at least) clothes that were in our wet basement…IF it kills off the real culprit. I prefer to avoid bleach and this sounds like it could be a good alternative.

  6. Tara says

    I really hate static and this is the only reason I use fabric softener. Aluminum foil didn’t work for me at all. Vinegar works only if I leave the synthetics out of the dryer. Still looking for a natural alternative that works well!

    • Betsy JabsBetsy Jabs says

      Have you tried this combination: vinegar in the rinse cycle of the wash, wool dryer balls (about 6 of them), AND a ball of aluminum foil in the dryer? I change my foil ball out every few loads in the cooler months because it seems to stop working after a while.

      • Tara says

        I have tried all three together. Still have the static issue. I really wanted to be impressed with the aluminum but it just didn’t work for me.

        • Michelle says

          You may just be over drying your clothes. Just as our hair gets staticy when it is dry out so do our clothes if they are over-dried. Do you use the auto drying senor or time drying? I have found that when my children (all older at this point) use the time dry option it way over dries out the fabric, which in turn, no matter how much softener or fabric sheets they use, results in static cling and lifeless looking garments. I have the tendency to dry my clothe to “damp dry” and then hang them up. I do not have a static problem with this method. I do use the vinegar in my rinse cycle, and occasionally use the aluminum balls but not always. Hope this is of some help to you.

  7. Lisa Quenon says

    Hi. I use white vinegar in the rinse cycle (when I remember) and sometimes a few lavender drops. 2 tennis balls in the dryer is all I’ve ever used. Usually works just fine. (I do not care for perfumes, etc., trigger migraines.)

    • Betsy JabsBetsy Jabs says

      I’m wary of tennis balls in the dryer because they have a foul smell even when not heated. And underneath that pretty green felt is rubber. Not sure what that heated rubber is giving off…maybe nothing, but I wonder.

      • Sarah says

        Tennis balls have recently been shown to have high levels of lead. They are not recommended for dogs, so I would be very caution about heating them with your clothes.

        • Angie Ringler says

          I am always suggesting to people to use of dead tennis balls in place of buying dryer balls. This news does not make me happy, in fact its very sad 🙁
          Can you provide me a link or article where you read this info. I do not want to use heated lead!!! Thank you.

        • Angie Ringler says

          I have been searching to find the tennis ball and lead link….this is what I find….”A particularly startling finding was that almost 50% of tennis balls sold for dogs had lead in them, and that tennis balls designed for dogs had far higher lead content that “normal” tennis balls. Surprisingly, sports tennis balls had no lead at all. Considering how many people buy tennis balls for their dogs and how many dogs like them, this is a very big concern, and one that had me raising my eyebrows when I read it. Found at
          http://avetsguidetolife.blogspot.com/2009/10/lead-in-tennis-balls-and-other-pet.html

  8. Gregg C. says

    Tried your recipe for toothpase and it really works great. I think I may do some tweeking on it, probably to increase the peppermint and cut back on the salt a bit. But it works great just the way it is! Thanks!!

  9. Monica Layhew says

    I saw a receipe for fabric softner using baking soda.
    Is this not a good combination? Was wondering why you don’t use it?

    • Jodie says

      Hi Monica – I’ve used baking soda in my fabric conditioner before (with vinegar and lavender essential oil) My only issue is that it doesn’t dissolve so you end up with a bottle full of vinegar with a couple of inches of baking soda at the bottom. Of course you can shake it up each time you use it but it fizzes up so much that it gets very messy. I’d love to hear others’ ideas on it!

  10. Jodie says

    I’ve been making my own cleaning products for some time and one of my biggest challenges has been the lack of scent in washed clothes.
    I am disappointed to read that there’s a reason why essential oils scent doesn’t stay in clothes, but relieved at the same time that I haven’t been doing anything wrong in my recipes! Guess ill just have to live with it. You’ll never ever ever catch me using chemical cleaning products in my house, especially fabric softener!

  11. L says

    “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.”

    This is so true! I wish I could explain this to others…how they stink. It can be detergents, soaps, fabric softeners, shampoos, deodorant, perfumes, hair products, candles, incense, etc… and it can also get into gifts and such that have been in their home as well, causing it to linger elsewhere when it is passed on. Unless you can wash the item in the wash repeatedly, it continues to off-gas indefinitely. Even then, sometimes it stays.

    We have been chemical fragrance free in our home for many years now. Nobody really knows how stinky they really are when they come here. At times it can be nauseating and headache causing depending on the choice of scents or combination. Considering how newborns are so new, I sometimes wonder how overwhelming this is for them if we notice it so much ourselves as adults.

    Now my biggest problem is finding a solution to get rid of cigar smoke in items given to us, briefly sat on during a visit here, things that had smoky things even briefly just touch them, etc. Perfumes only hide the issue (and we noticed the smoke smell a bit less when we were not avoiding scents…now when we visit there, bad breathing haunts us for 3 weeks), and we find that these things stink years after the exposure and it still stings our throats and stuffs us up. It is worse than cigarette smoke for clinginess. We have also found that it has damaged our sense of smell to a certain degree, since we can no longer claim a sharp sense of smell anymore. I have tried washing soda, borax, vinegar, airing out in the sun, orange-based cleaners, repeated washings, newspaper wrapped, TSP, oxyclean (yes, even tried scented things…ick…made it worse), etc., all with no effect. I know that soaking an item in milk takes care of a musty odor, but I don’t have enough to try this out and considering that furniture is involved, it is not possible. We are considering making a glass window box to try to cook the odors out outside, just like the vehicles tend to do (that appears to get it out of the vehicles, anyway), but we haven’t constructed one yet.

    Does anyone have a tried and true solution, or will we just have to refuse gifts and throw things away (we already have to do this with gifted food) if our glass “house” does not work?

    • Cheryl Eustice says

      Have you tried baking soda?Try soaking clothes overnight in baking soda,follow with the vinegar rinse should help too.I agree about fragrance,the more you use,the less sense of smell you have.Even unscented has a fragrance,they use just enough to cover the chemical smells ! I have many air allergies,allergic to everything.I was told to use no fragrance.I was suprised to find my sense of smell coming back.My husband and I just about run by the laundry section in stores.We can’t stand the smell.Even my Asthma starts kicking in.I even used make-up with no fragrance.I told my husband,” No wonder why my Grandfather called it war paint”. It does smell just like paint! I thought he was talking about the battle of the sexes.My daughter-in-law won’t give up frabic softner.I too worry about my new grandson.Fragrance must be so over powering for him.I know her clothes give me a headache.Did you know with all natural fabrics,there is no need for fabric softner? Fabric softners came on the market shortly after polyester (plastic) fabrics did.I still feel young but I am old enough to remember a time before fabric softners,pre-soaks,plastic garbage bags,paper towels,sandwhiches wrapped in wax paper and,my grandmother used spoolies to set her hair.
      A tip I once read from a reader’s digest book.Use a couple of tennis balls to fluff up laundry in the dryer and remove static cling.Another tip-Don’t use fabric softner with your bath towels,it coats them and they won’t absorb as much .

      I have used vinegar in my laundry for many years now, I never had a problem with my clothes smelling like vinegar when dry.Vinegar even cleans the air from smoke.Does anyone iron anymore?Years ago I asked myself why am I softening clothes and turn around to try to get them crisp again with starch? I am shocked to see all the laundry boosters and what not coming on the market to do a load of laundry.Many of the free and clear laundry detergent I can no longer use.I break out in a rash.I never had any trouble with using oils.
      One last tip-the old fashioned brown soap in the laundry section is the best for removing grass stains.My boys played baseball when they were young.I just rub it in the fabric ,throw in the washer and all of it came out.I use Kirk’s hard water soap for cleaning many things.It is the only thing that cleans my wallpaer.

    • Cheryl Eustice says

      Try rubbing in baking soda,let it sit overnight and vaccum off the next day.Since furniture is muti-layered the only solution may be to have it redone or replaced.I follow the baking soda treatment with a cloth wrung out in vinegar.I wouldn’t let it sit in the sun too long.The sun can fade your fabric on the furniture.

    • Kath says

      A few years ago our local hospital, (which has a scent-free policy) had an article talking about the dangers of scented products. They pointed out that people’s olfactory organs are actually affected by many scents, and as a result they end up using more and more in order to smell the scent! I know this is true because decades ago when I was a teenager my friend and I discovered a perfume we loved (I cringe to think of it now!) and after a couple of weeks using it, I’d put it on, smell it for a while, then wonder why I needed to put more on in order to smell it! 🙁

  12. Amanda says

    Does this prevent static cling? That’s the #1reason i even use fabric softener. If it works, would love to try this.

    Thanks!

  13. phelan says

    I hope this doesnt sound dumb, but if you put the oils on the sheet of fabric as a dryer sheet, are the oils considered flammable? Also, I have used vinegar as a fabric softener and what I do is just put it in a downy ball and throw it in the washer instead of waiting for the rinse cycle and it works perfect for me. Never any vinegar smell even when the clothes are wet!

    • Betsy JabsBetsy Jabs says

      Not dumb at all…in fact I believe we discussed this a little somewhere in the comments above. There is such a small amount of oil (only a few drops) on each homemade dryer sheet that I’m personally not concerned about this. We have been using this method for several years now without a problem. However, essential oils are technically flammable, so you’ll want to use good judgement when using them with heat.

    • Angie Ringler says

      Make sure to buy essential oils and not just fragrance oils which are usually made with synthetic ingredients. Best to keep away from your skin. Try to use medical grade or thereuputic grade essential oils around your home and body.

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