Just like with dryer sheets, conventional fabric softeners unfortunately include a lot of potentially toxic ingredients.

Even some of the “eco-friendly” or “safer” options aren’t great. Sorry. 😔

But, you don’t really need to use fabric softener… We’ve got some great alternatives for you that will not only decrease your toxin exposures but will save you some coin, too!

This guide contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase (though not all links are affiliate!). As always, we only make recommendations that are genuine.

As someone “blessed” with overly-sensitive skin, I’ve come to understand the power of simplicity. It didn’t take too long to realize that using fewer, milder ingredients is the secret to maintaining healthier, less irritated skin.

So when it comes to laundry detergent, home cleaning products, skincare, textiles, and even fabric softener alternatives, I tend to avoid synthetic chemicals.

And, frankly, I’m not alone in this.

In reality, some studies say that around 40% of adults have sensitive skin. That’s an increase of 55% in just two decades!

It’s not just about nasty skin irritants, either. Most of us are simply looking for products with less of an environmental impact when it comes to ingredients and packaging.

So the question arises: do I really need all these extra products? Laundry detergent, stain and spot removers, scent enhancers, fabric softeners, anti-static and anti-wrinkle products, dryer sheets, etc.

It’s too much!

Wouldn’t it be better to have a natural, eco-friendly, and minimalist laundry routine with just a few products that do the trick? No potentially toxic chemicals, no excessive packaging… and less money spent, too!

So, my goal with this guide is to help you minimize your laundry routine and cut out the excess.

Do you really need to use fabric softener? (Hint: probably not)

Fabric softeners don’t actually even soften your clothes! Instead, they coat the fibers of your clothes in quats and waxes, which make your clothes feel soft.

They do help reduce static electricity, but there are other, more natural & simple ways to reduce static (listed below).

The one exception to this might be folks with hard water. But again, they can use something like vinegar instead of fabric softener and it will get the job done just as effectively—but without the toxic chemicals or extra money!

Fabric softener might be bad for your washing machine and your clothes.

To make matters worse, fabric softeners may also be counterproductive by:

  • potentially damaging your washing machine by clogging things up and reducing function
  • leading to mold growth (as the softener ingredients coat the interior of your washing machine)
  • decreasing the durability and longevity of our clothes by coating them with the waxes, etc. as well

Fabric softeners can leave a thin coating of residue on fabrics. While this residue can contribute to the soft and smooth feel of clothes in the short term, it can build up over time, affecting the absorbency and breathability of the fabric fabric.

Some fabrics, particularly things like towels, rely on their natural absorbency to function effectively. Fabric softeners can reduce the absorbency of these fabrics, resulting in reduced overall efficiency and effectiveness.

It can also decrease the moisture-wicking properties of some fabrics as well, which can cause problems for things like activewear.

While fabric softeners can provide a softer feel, some argue that the chemicals in fabric softeners may cause fabrics to actually loose their “fluffiness” over time, lowering the quality of the garment and potentially the overall longevity.

Toxic chemicals commonly found in fabric softeners

Here are some of the most toxic chemicals found in fabric softeners so you know what to look out for:

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats): Quats, such as benzalkonium chloride or distearyldimonium chloride, are commonly used as antistatic agents in fabric softeners. They have been linked to skin and respiratory irritation and may also contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance.

Hidden Fragrance Ingredients: The fragrances in fabric softeners are typically composed of *mystery* chemicals, which can include endocrine-disrupting chemicals (such as the phthalates, mentioned below), carcinogens, and allergens. Not all fragrance chemicals are toxic, but choosing a “fragrance-free” fabric softener can be one easy way to decrease your exposure to certain chemicals.

Phthalates: In fabric softeners, phthalates are often used to make fragrances last longer on the fabric. They won’t be listed on the ingredient label because they will be hidden under the “fragrance loophole.” Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that have the potential to cause reproductive and developmental problems, as well as cancer.

Ethanolamine Compounds: These compounds, including diethanolamine (DEA), monoethanolamine (MEA), and triethanolamine (TEA), are used as pH adjusters in fabric softeners. They can react with other chemicals present in the environment to form potentially harmful substances like nitrosamines, which are associated with adverse health effects.

2 Best Non-Toxic Fabric Softeners (Kind of)

Skipping the fabric softener altogether is the best option, and my top recommendation is to choose one of the fabric softener alternatives below.

But if you definitely want to use a fabric softener, then some brands are better than others.

There are actually only a couple of pre-made non-toxic fabric softeners that I can (kind of) recommend at this time.

1. Truly Free Softening Rinse (Unscented)

What I like:

  • Truly Free’s unscented fabric softening rinse is formulated to tackle tough stains, loosen bunched-up clothing, and combat the effects of hard water.

  • It’s refillable, to cut down on plastic. (Not totally plastic-free though.)

  • It’s made from minimal ingredients and no fragrance allergens.

There’s also a “Signature Scent” option, which is infused with essential oils and plant-based fragrance oils, including orange, lavender, clove, and more. These oils aren’t a problem for most people, but those with allergies or very sensitive skin might want to go with the Unscented version instead.

I don’t really recommend the Signature Scent option because it includes lauryl trimethyl ammonium chloride, which is not ideal, especially for folks with allergies, asthma, or skin sensitivities.

Use code THEFILTERY for 30% off your order.

2. 9 Elements

9 Elements used to have fabric softener that was pretty good, but it looks like they’ve discontinued it.

But, their regular laundry detergent is still a good option for folks with hard water. The vinegar in it (which is kind of their star ingredient) works to “purify” fabrics by eliminating trapped hard water metals and odors that can make them appear faded and feel stiff. (It does not leave behind any trace of vinegar odor though.)

As mentioned, the ingredient list here isn’t perfect (for example, it contains ethoxylated ingredients, which isn’t ideal), but it’s still better than most other fabric softeners on the market.

Plus, it’s available in stores like Target.

6 Eco-Friendly & Non-Toxic Fabric Softener Alternatives

Alright, now let’s talk about some other alternatives you can use to soften fabrics and reduce static without buying a bunch of extra products.

One quick disclaimer before we get started, though. When using the fabric softener alternatives below (especially for the first time), make sure you do a quick search to make sure it’s okay to use that specific ingredient with your washing machine and/or the specific type(s) of fabric you’re washing. For example, baking soda should not cause any harm to most types of washing machines when used in moderation, but overdoing it could cause buildup.

1. Vinegar

This pantry staple isn’t just for cooking! White vinegar is a remarkable (and cheap!) natural fabric softener.

Simply add half a cup of vinegar to your rinse cycle and let it work its magic.

Vinegar helps break down residue, reduce static, and leave your clothes feeling soft and cuddly. Don’t worry about the vinegar smell—it dissipates during drying, leaving your laundry odor-free.

If you want to pre-make some of your own DIY fabric softener, you can also just add some vinegar into a jar with your favorite essential oils, keep it next to the washing machine, and then shake it up & add it to the wash when you’re ready.

2. Baking Soda

Known for its versatility, baking soda can also be used as a homemade fabric softener. Add half a cup of baking soda to your laundry load during the wash cycle. It helps neutralize odors, soften fabrics, and reduce static cling. Plus, it acts as a natural deodorizer, leaving your clothes smelling fresh and clean.

3. Dryer Balls

non toxic dryer sheet alternatives on The Filtery.com

Dryer balls naturally soften fabrics, reduce wrinkles, and minimize static cling. As they tumble around, they help improve airflow and shorten drying time. They’re reusable, chemical-free, and gentle on the environment.

Here are a few places to buy wool dryer balls:

4. Aluminum Foil

Aluminum foil can help soften your clothes and reduce static. Simply roll up a sheet of aluminum foil into a ball and toss it into the dryer with your laundry. It helps create gentle friction that softens fabrics and prevents static cling. This hack is a handy trick when you’re in a pinch and looking for natural fabric softener alternatives that can do the trick.

5. Hair Conditioner

If you have a bottle of hair conditioner that you no longer use, give it a new purpose as a non-toxic fabric softener. Mix a small amount of hair conditioner with water to dilute it. Then, add this DIY fabric softener to your rinse cycle or use it in a spray bottle as a fabric mist. The conditioner’s emollient properties will leave your clothes feeling luxuriously soft and smelling good, too.

6. Epsom Salt

Epsom salt, known for its relaxation benefits, can also enhance your laundry routine. Add half a cup of Epsom salt to your wash cycle along with your detergent. The salt helps soften water, which in turn softens your fabrics. It’s a natural and inexpensive way to achieve that desired plushness in your clothes.

You can even combine multiple of these ideas if you want to! For example, you might use some vinegar during the rinse cycle and then dryer balls in the dryer to combine their effects.

I hope you found this guide helpful! These natural ingredients and simple hacks offer a safer, gentler, and more sustainable way to achieve softness and freshness in your laundry. So go ahead and give these natural and organic fabric softener alternatives a try, and let us know which alternatives are your favorite!

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About Konstantina

Konstantina Antoniadou is a sustainability writer with an ongoing curiosity to explore new innovative technologies and report on trends in โ€œgreenโ€ industries. With almost ten years of expertise in media and publishing and undying love for upbeat and energetic storytelling, Konstantina is at the forefront of the creatively charged fashion, beauty, and non-toxic home verticals. When sheโ€™s not crafting ethical shopping guides, sheโ€™s either trying to perfect her roller skate dance moves, thrifting, or binging series for the hundredth time.

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