Search
Close this search box.

7 Eco-Friendly Fabric Softeners for Natural, Soft Laundry

Discover eco-friendly fabric softeners that prioritize your health, laundry, and the planet. From options best for sensitive skin to the most cost-effective and water-saving choices, our comprehensive guide has you covered.

This Article is 100% Organic: Written and Researched by Real Humans.

In the search for clean, soft, and eco-friendly laundry, traditional fabric softeners usually fall short. What’s available often contains a cocktail of chemicals that are bad for your health and terrible for the planet. The good news? There are a lot of natural fabric softener alternatives

If you’re looking for a greener way to get heavenly soft clothes, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll explore the world of eco-friendly fabric softeners that’ll prioritize your laundry, your health, and our planet. Say goodbye to toxic additives and hello-o-o to sustainable softness. 

We’ve got a quick overview of our favorite products for several categories down below. Keep reading for an in-depth look at our top 7 picks, as well as more information about what makes natural fabric softeners worth the money. 

You’ll also learn how you can tell if a fabric softener is safe and how we ranked our choices. 

Truth is: we’ll bring you up to par in the world of fabric softeners. 

Zestain is reader supported. Purchases made through our site links may result in an affiliate commission for us, without affecting your own costs. Find out more about our rigorous brand rating process.

Zestain's Top Picks

A Quick Look At The Best Non-Toxic Fabric Softeners

Are Conventional Fabric Softeners Toxic?

While conventional fabric softeners are great at giving clothes a soft feel and a strong smell, they raise a lot of concerns due to their potential toxicity and environmental impact. Here are some of the key reasons conventional fabric softeners are considered toxic:

  1. Harsh chemicals: conventional fabric softeners often contain a cocktail of synthetic chemicals, including quaternary ammonium compounds (also called quats), like diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride. That’s a mouthful, huh? Chemicals like this are known to cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation after prolonged exposure.
  2. Artificial fragrances: the strong smell people love conventional fabric softeners for is very problematic. These scents are often created using phthalates, which are linked to hormone disruption and other serious health concerns. These fragrances can also trigger allergies and irritation.
  3. Environmental impact: the chemicals in conventional fabric softeners aren’t biodegradable. When they’re rinsed out of your washer machine, they accumulate in waterways, doing serious harm to aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, the actual production of these compounds has a major impact on the planet.
  4. Skin sensitivities: the chemicals and fragrances in traditional fabric softeners can irritate skin and cause allergic reactions, like hives, in individuals who are prone to skin problems. This can also be a problem for babies and children, who have particularly sensitive skin.
  5. Fabric build-up: over time, the chemicals in fabric softeners build up on clothing, reducing their breathability and wicking properties. This buildup can make athletic wear less effective, causing difficult-to-eliminate odors. Chemical buildup can also reduce the effectiveness of flame-resistant clothing, which is extremely dangerous.
  6. Incompatibility with certain fabrics: conventional fabric softeners aren’t ideal for use on all fabrics. They tend to decrease how absorbent towels are, can damage wool, and reduce the fire-resistance of flame-resistant clothing.
  7. Air pollution: when your clothes are heated in the dryer, fabric softeners can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. These VOCs contribute to indoor air pollution and can trigger allergies and sensitivities.

With all of that information, you’re probably wondering how you can find a safe, natural fabric softener for your laundry routine. There are plenty of options available, including eco-friendly, natural, biodegradable, and hypoallergenic fabric softeners. These products are all designed to provide an alternative to the toxic chemicals in traditional fabric softeners.

Now it’s time to figure out what to avoid when you’re shopping for fabric softeners.

Ingredients to Avoid in Fabric Softeners

When looking for an all-natural fabric softener, it’s important to know what ingredients are dangerous. Knowledge is the key to success, right? Here are a few of the key ingredients used in conventional fabric softeners that you should try to avoid:

  1. Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (also known as “Quats”): Quats, such as diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride, are commonly used in traditional fabric softeners. They can lead to skin and respiratory irritation and are a source of environmental concern.
  2. Synthetic fragrances: Artificial fragrances often contain phthalates, which have been linked to hormone disruption and can trigger allergies and respiratory problems. Try to look out for products with natural or essential oil-based fragrances instead.
  3. Dyes: Fabric softeners aren’t actually blue. Shocking, we know. They usually contain synthetic dyes that can cause skin irritation and are dangerous for the environment. Try to stick with dye-free options.
  4. Sodium Alkyl Aryl Ether Sulfates: this compound is often used in scented fabric softeners. It can be rife with impurities that are classified as probable human carcinogens. Avoid products containing this compound at all costs!
  5. Linalool: This is another fragrance ingredient that can trigger skin irritation and may cause indoor air pollution when heated.
  6. Ethanolamines (MEA, DEA, TEA): these compounds can react to other chemicals, forming potentially harmful byproducts like nitrosamines (a potential carcinogen).
  7. Parabens: These are synthetic preservatives known to disrupt hormone function, which is a serious issue. These are some of the less common ingredients in fabric softeners, but it’s important to stay alert.
  8. Formaldehyde: Some fabric softeners contain preservatives that release formaldehyde, which is a skin irritant and associated with health issues. If you didn’t know, formaldehyde is also used to embalm bodies… so it’s definitely not ideal to have on your clothing.

While this seems like a huge list, avoiding these ingredients doesn’t have to be difficult. We’ve got a list of our top recommendations for products that avoid all of this and are environmentally conscious. 

We worked hard to find brands and products that meet all of our criteria and are sustainable, natural, and eco-conscious. At the bottom of this article, we dive into how we did so.

Full List of Non-Toxic Fabric Softeners

1
Attitude Hypoallergenic Fabric Softener
Product image by Attitude
Best for Sensitive Skin
Most Hypoallergenic
Best for Quick-Drying Fabrics
Best for Vegan Consumers

Attitude Hypoallergenic Fabric Softener

Highlights: All-natural, plant-derived, and EWG-verified household products, with a focus on baby-safe options.  Available in three unique scents.

Price: $

EWG Score: A+

If you’ve been a fan of Zestain for a while, you’ve probably seen us talk about Attitude. They’re a household name for anyone interested in natural and sustainable living because of the huge variety of products they offer. 

Their ingredients are all-natural and plant-derived, and they’ve got a bunch of certifications including EWG verifications on some products. For parents, Attitude also focuses on baby-safe products, which can be pretty rare. 

Attitude’s fabric softener has rave reviews and comes in three scents: pink grapefruit, wildflowers, and citrus zest. Reviewers say that the wildflower scent is the brand’s strongest (likening it to Tide), so keep that in mind when choosing which one you want. 

2
Dropps Fabric Softener Pods
Product image by Dropps
Best for Long-Lasting Freshness
Best for Natural Fragrances

Dropps Fabric Softener Pods

Highlights: Multiple certifications, including EPA’s Safer Choice. Offer convenient, mess-free applications, light fragrances, recyclable packaging, and subscription options.

Price: $

EWG Score: A+

Founded in 2005, Dropps is based out of Philadelphia and all of their products are made in the USA, earning them a top spot on our list. They’re certified through several organizations, including the EPA’s Safer Choice, are are on track for even more. 

Their ingredients are all plant-based, and they emphasize eco-friendly packaging, making them a well-rounded choice for anyone looking to make a sustainable swap. 

Dropps’ fabric softener pods are unique in their delivery, and they come in a variety of scents (including seasonal ones). Plus there’s no guesstimating how much fabric softener to add to each load: just pop a pod in and you’re done! 

Customers have nothing but rave reviews for Dropps, saying the fragrance is light but noticeable, the packing super easy to recycle, and the subscription options to die for. 

3
Seventh Generation Dryer Sheets
Product image by Seventh Generation
Most Cost-Effective
Best for Bulk Buying

Seventh Generation Dryer Sheets

Highlights: Made from plant-based ingredients and sustainable packaging, backed by multiple certifications. Available in strong, non-irritating scents.

Price: $

EWG Score: B+

Based out of Vermont, Seventh Generation was founded in 1988. This is one of the more well-recognized brands in the eco-conscious household products industry due to its wide availability and vast array of products. 

They’re focused on plant-based ingredients with eco-friendly packaging, all provided at a reasonable price point, making their products super accessible. They’re also certified through several different organizations, including USDA Biobased, EPA’s Safer Choice, and Leaping Bunny

Their dryer sheets have great reviews and are super affordable. It’s available in available scents, including unscented options. Reviews say the lavender scent is strong and long-lasting without causing irritation to those with sensitive skin and allergies. While Seventh Generation did have a liquid fabric softener, they recently discontinued production on it. 

4
Ecover Fabric Softener
Product image by Ecover
Most Versatile
Most Readily Biodegradable

Ecover Fabric Softener

Highlights: Plant-based, biodegradable ingredients and cruelty-free, sustainable packaging. Ideal for those with health concerns or sensitivities to strong odors.

Price: $$

EWG Score: B+

Ecover’s a well-known brand specializing in eco-friendly and sustainable household products. Originating from Belgium, this brand has been a leader in the industry since 1979. 

They focus on plant-based, biodegradable ingredients that are free from harsh chemicals. Their products are cruelty-free and Leaping Bunny certified, and they emphasize eco-friendly packaging through recyclable and plant-based containers. 

Their fabric softener comes in a variety of scents and is super affordable, putting it at the top of our list. Reviews say this product is perfect for anyone who has health issues but is still looking for a boost to their laundry. The scents are subtle, so it’s a perfect choice for anyone sensitive to strong smells. 

5
Biokleen Dryer Sheets
Product image by Biokleen
Most Water-Saving

Biokleen Dryer Sheets

Highlights: Green Seal-certified. Includes a fragrance-free option, ideal for individuals with sensitive noses.

Price: $$

EWG Score: Not rated

Founded in 1989 with the goal of creating effective, safe cleaning and household products, Biokleen is a family-owned, leading brand in household and cleaning products. They’re certified through Green Seal, so they have the stamps to back up their claims. 

While not a liquid fabric softener, this safe and natural choice makes laundry even easier. Available in a variety of scents, including a fragrance-free option, you’re bound to find the right fit for your laundry routine. Reviews say the smell is excellent but subtle, making these dryer sheets perfect for those with a sensitive nose. 

6
Frey Dryer Sheets
Product image by Frey
Best for Lint and Pet Hair Removal

Frey Dryer Sheets

Highlights: Plant-based ingredients and eco-friendly packaging. Offer four scent options and a 30-day money-back guarantee, praised for their effectiveness in lint and pet hair removal.

Price: $

EWG Score: Not rated

A relative newcomer to the sustainability scene, Frey was founded in 2017 and is based out of San Francisco. Their products are formulated using plant-based ingredients and no harmful chemicals like sulfates and parabens. They put a strong emphasis on eco-friendly packaging through recyclable and sustainable packaging and shipping materials. They also offer a subscription service for anyone looking to streamline their laundry supplies! 

Their dryer sheets come in four different scents, including a fragrance-free option, and are great for removing lint and pet hair from your laundry. Frey also backs their product with a 30-day money-back guarantee, just in case you’re wary of trying out a new brand. 

7
Clean People Dryer Sheets
Product image by Clean People
Best for Eco-Conscious Initiatives

Clean People Dryer Sheets

Highlights: Tree-planting initiative for every pack of detergent sheets sold. Scented and unscented options. Customer-friendly return and shipping policies.

Price: $

EWG Score: B+

We reached out to Clean People for more information about their company and products, as they’re a relative newcomer to the scene. They’re US and Canada-based, with all of their manufacturing stateside and a warehouse located in Wisconsin. For every pack of detergent sheets they sell, they plant a tree, which is something to feel great about. 

Their products, almost all of which are focused on laundry, also have rave reviews. Customers rave about the scented and unscented options, as well as the company’s return and shipping policies. 

Comparing Eco-Friendly Fabric Softeners

ProductPriceHighlightsEWG ScoreOur Pick For
Attitude
Attitude Hypoallergenic Fabric Softener
$All-natural, plant-derived, with a focus on baby-safe options. Available in three unique scents.A+Best for Sensitive Skin, Most Hypoallergenic, Best for Quick-Drying Fabrics, Best for Vegan Consumers
Tox Life Vegan Dish Block 1
Dropps Fabric Softener Pods
$Convenient, mess-free applications, light fragrances, recyclable packaging.A+Best for Long-Lasting Freshness, Best for Natural Fragrances
Seventh Generation Dryer Sheets
Seventh Generation Dryer Sheets
$Plant-based ingredients, sustainable packaging, available in strong, non-irritating scent.B+Most Cost-Effective, Best for Bulk Buying
Ecover Fabric Softener
Ecover Fabric Softener
$$Biodegradable ingredients and cruelty-free, sustainable packaging.B+Most Versatile, Most Readily Biodegradable
Biokleen Dryer Sheets
Biokleen Dryer Sheets
$$Green Seal-certified, fragrance-free option, ideal for individuals with sensitive noses.Not ratedMost Water-Saving
Frey Dryer Sheets
Frey Dryer Sheets
$Plant-based ingredients, eco-friendly packaging, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.Not ratedBest for Lint and Pet Hair Removal
Clean People Dryer Sheets
Clean People Dryer Sheets
$Tree-planting initiative for every pack of detergent sheets sold, Unscented option.B+Best for Eco-Conscious Initiatives

How Do Eco-Friendly Fabric Softeners Work?

Eco-friendly fabric softeners offer a sustainable (and safe) alternative to conventional fabric softeners, ensuring you get super soft and cozy clothes without having to rely on harsh chemicals. All-natural fabric softeners work similarly to conventional ones, just without the gross stuff. Here’s how:

  1. Natural ingredients: eco-friendly fabric softeners use plant-based and biodegradable ingredients, often from renewable resources. 
  2. Neutralizing ions: Just like conventional fabric softeners, non-toxic fabric softeners contain positively charged ions, called cationic surfactants, that interact with the negatively charged ions caused by the friction of washing and drying. This process is what reduces static cling. 
  3. Reduced friction: the positively charged ions in eco-friendly fabric softeners also reduce friction between the fabric fibers. The result is smoother, softer fabrics, giving them that cozy feeling we all love. 

While the difference in technology isn’t major, the quality and content of all-natural fabric softeners is what makes them a preferable alternative to traditional fabric softeners. All of the qualities that make fabric softener such a popular product can be achieved using natural, biodegradable, and plant-based ingredients. Boost your laundry with a fabric softener you can feel good about! 

In our experience, fabric softeners are great for people who live in particularly dry regions, which tend to have a lot of static cling, and for synthetic fabrics, which tend to develop a lot of friction while they’re in the dryer. 

How We Choose the Best Environmentally Friendly Fabric Softeners

Our ranking and research process is pretty straightforward: we look for reputable and proven brands that offer novel approaches to toxic products, like laundry detergent and fabric softener. 

Some of the companies we’ve featured are well-known and have been leaders in the eco-friendly industry for decades, like Attitude. Others are fairly new but have a devoted following and a proven track record, like Dropps and Clean People.

Once we’ve identified brands and products that meet out standards for cleanliness and sustainability, we check their ingredients against EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning Database. This is a free-to-use website (and app) that evaluates the ingredients for consumer products. While not all of the products we featured here can be found in EWG’s database, we included products from brands that have positive EWG evaluations for their other products. 

Finally, we looked at customer reviews! We know that not all products, no matter what a brand’s intentions are, work as well as we’d hope. That’s why we read through hundreds of reviews to get a feel for how actual people use and think about a product. If a product meets all of our other criteria but falls short here, we know it’s just not in the cards (or the towels). 

Final Thoughts on Sustainable Fabric Softeners

Finding an all-natural and eco-friendly fabric softener shouldn’t be any more difficult than tossing a load of laundry in the washer. Fortunately, there are tons of companies focused on developing safe products with ecologically-focused initiatives, so you can protect your family, your clothes, and the planet with one purchase. 

Finding hypoallergenic products is easier than ever, as brands are increasingly focused on offering low- and no-scent options for household items. Like we talked about here, fragrance can sometimes be the biggest contributor to the toxic chemicals in fabric softeners… so, if you’re ever in doubt, opt for fabric softeners that use either no scent or a natural alternative like essential oils. 

You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do when it comes to making laundry a fun chore and having a safe product that makes your clothes fluffy, soft, and sweet-smelling is definitely a benefit. Indulging in the right natural fabric softener can turn a dreaded chore into something you enjoy, just like the commercials.

Christina Boren

Christina Boren

Christina is an Alaskan-based sustainability and environmentalism writer. She’s spent nearly a decade working in industries directly related to environmentalism and sustainability, including chemical manufacturing and waste management. She holds a B.A in English from the University of Central Florida and is well-versed in what it means to be an eco-advocate.
Christina Boren

Christina Boren

Christina is an Alaskan-based sustainability and environmentalism writer. She’s spent nearly a decade working in industries directly related to environmentalism and sustainability, including chemical manufacturing and waste management. She holds a B.A in English from the University of Central Florida and is well-versed in what it means to be an eco-advocate.

Related Blog posts