There’s no easier way to clean up your (potentially toxic) laundry routine than to start using homemade fabric softener! These simple DIYs will leave your clothes fresh and soft without relying on tons of artificial fragrances, synthetic chemicals, and wasteful plastics.
Not quite ready to make your own? Check out our post on eco-friendly fabric softeners! There’s never been a better time to transition to eco-conscious laundry products, and we’ve done all the hard work of finding which brands have the best products (and are actually sustainable, eco-conscious, and clean).
Skip down to check out our homemade fabric softener recipes. We also cover why you might want to use a homemade natural fabric softener, if DIY fabric softeners work well, and how to make your own dryer sheets.
Why Use A Homemade Fabric Softener?
Fabric softeners are a luxury product that makes the tedium of laundry a little more enjoyable. Both fabric softeners and dryer sheets give laundry a great smell, prevent static cling, and soften clothes. But there’s an unfortunate downside: these products are packed with artificial fragrances and synthetic chemicals.
The compounds present in conventional fabric softeners can cause a whole host of health issues. Artificial fragrances are tied to skin and respiratory irritation, exacerbating conditions like eczema and asthma. They also contribute to indoor air pollution, which can cause other health issues.
Traditional fabric softeners and dryer sheets also often contain a compound called quaternary ammonium, called “quats” or “QACs.” These are a common ingredient in many household products, but researchers have found they are directly related to aquatic toxicity. Quats are toxic to many different forms of marine life, including fish, algae, and other microorganisms.
Switching to an eco-friendly fabric softener, trying an alternative, or making your own are all ways you can reduce your exposure to the dangerous compounds in fabric softener. By making the switch, you’ll also be helping protect the delicate ecosystems of our planet’s waterways.
It’s a win-win situation… and our homemade fabric softeners are way cheaper than the bottled stuff.
Does DIY Fabric Softener Work?
Yep, it totally does. Crazy, huh? Fabric softener seems like a necessity you can’t replicate at home, but there are tons of fabric softener alternatives and DIY substitutes. Lots of homemakers and zero waste enthusiasts have made the switch to homemade fabric softeners with great results.
Many of the qualities that make fabric softeners a staple of the household can be replicated with ingredients you have around the house. You might even use some of them for cleaning already. Plus, a lot of our homemade fabric softener recipes will actually enhance your laundry, getting it cleaner and fresher than ever.
If you aren’t sure about making your own but are concerned about what’s in conventional fabric softeners, check out this post to explore the question “Is fabric softener bad for your clothes and the environment?” and whether or not you actually need fabric softeners for laundry. You’ll be surprised by what you learn.
Our Top 4 Recipes for Homemade Fabric Softener
Each of these recipes is designed to be super quick, super easy, and super effective. It’ll feel like you’re using the real (toxic) stuff without all the toxins! Most of the ingredients we mention down below are probably in your kitchen pantry, so no need to swing into the store.
For Super Stinky Laundry: DIY Vinegar Fabric Softener
This is the perfect solution for laundry that’s a little stinky. Vinegar is great for getting out lingering odors and softening clothes. Try this one on athletic wear that’s past its prime to give it a second shot at life.
- Mix 1 cup of white vinegar with 2 cups of water
- Add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil (totally optional)
- Pour into a clean, empty bottle
This homemade fabric softener is really that simple. When you’re ready to use it, add 1/4-1/2 cup to your washing machine’s rinse cycle. And don’t worry about the smell—it’ll disappear when your clothes dry.
For Whites That Need A Refresh: DIY Baking Soda Fabric Softener
Baking soda is one of the best fabric softener substitutes because it removes stains, brightens whites, and softens clothes. This recipe is great for your load of whites, especially if they’ve been getting a little grimy.
- Mix 1 cup of baking soda with 1 cup of water until dissolved
- Add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil (again, totally optional)
- Pour into a clean, empty bottle
Add 1/4-1/2 cup of this DIY fabric softener to your rinse cycle. You’ll be amazed at the difference it’ll make in how your clothes look and feel.
For The Haircare Enthusiast: DIY Conditioner Fabric Softener
We know this one sounds a little… weird, but hear us out: you’ve probably got a half-used bottle of conditioner floating around. Put it to good use by turning it into a homemade fabric softener. This recipe will soften your clothes the same way it does your hair.
- Mix 1 cup of conditioner, 1 cup of vinegar, and 3 cups of water (or use a 1:1:3 ratio)
- Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil (not necessary if you’re using a scented conditioner).
- Stir until combined, then add to a clean, empty bottle
Add 1/4-1/2 cup to your laundry’s rinse cycle when you’re ready to use your homemade fabric softener. Try not to shake this mixture too hard if it settles—it can make a lot of foam and become difficult to use.
For The DIYer: DIY Glycerin Fabric Softener
If you’ve been making your own skincare products, you probably have vegetable glycerin lying around. This recipe is super simple and only uses a little glycerin to help you get super soft clothes.
- Mix 3 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of vegetable glycerin in a jar
- Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil (optional!)
- Pour into a clean, empty bottle
When you’re ready to use your DIY fabric softener, add 1/4-1/2 cup to the rinse cycle of your laundry.
What Essential Oils Are Good For Laundry?
Since the smell of fabric softener is part of what makes us want to use it, a DIY fabric softener can seem a little lackluster without some kind of scent. Luckily, essential oils are cheap, easy to use, and can give your laundry a hint of scent without all the headaches of artificial fragrances.
Some of the more popular scents for those sensitive to fragrances or who have cleaned up their cleaning routine are lavender and tea tree. Essential oils are pretty strong at first smell, so use them sparingly the first few times.
You can use any essential oil for your laundry, but here are a few combinations we think are great:
- Lemon and lavender
- Lemon, basil, and spearmint
- Spruce, tea tree, and cypress
Add them in equal parts to get a perfect custom fragrance for your laundry. There’s nothing better than falling into a clean bed that smells like a fresh forest!
Can You Make Your Own Dryer Sheets?
You can totally make your own dryer sheets! This is a great way to cut down on waste while still enjoying the benefits of fresh scents in the dryer.
You’ll need some reusable cloths, like washcloths or zero waste cleaning cloths, and a jar big enough to fit them. Add the cloths to your container, then fill the container with white vinegar. Add a few drops of essential oils to finish it off.
When you’re ready to use your homemade dryer sheets, wring one out so that it’s damp and toss it in with your damp laundry! When your load of laundry finishes, add your newly dry sheet back to the container. Try to rotate which cloth you’re using for maximum longevity; drying a cloth too much will wear it out quickly.
As an alternative, wool dryer balls are great substitutes for dryer sheets. They will last for hundreds of loads, and you can add essential oils to them before drying to freshen up your clothes. These are a favorite for eco-conscious households.
Final Thoughts On Homemade, Natural Fabric Softeners
We hope making the choice to switch to a homemade fabric softener is a no-brainer now that you’ve learned how easy it is to make your own. The companies that manufacture laundry products often rely on our naivety when it comes to store-bought products being the best.
The reality, however, is that many household products can be made with simple ingredients you have lying around your home. Making your own cleaning and laundry products is a great way to learn about the products you use every day. You’ll also save money in the long run by reducing your reliance on synthetic products like conventional fabric softeners.
We hope you’ll accept the challenge of trying out a simple DIY fabric softener to get your clothes soft and fresh. Every step you take in the direction of being a sustainable and eco-conscious consumer means a step closer to a healthy, happy planet.