How To Use Fabric Softener For Wrinkle-Free Results

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Clothes just feel better when you use fabric softener. The best fabric softener will infuse your clothes with protection, softness, and, even better, a fresh scent. For some, a fabric softener is also a detergent, especially for brands with two-in-one formulas, but it is purely a fabric conditioner for others.

Of course, knowing how and when to use a fabric softener isn’t always easy for everyone, especially those starting. If you’re not sure about how to use fabric softener or wonder when you should use it, we’ve got you covered.

What is a Fabric Softener?

A fabric softener, also known as a fabric conditioner, is a product with lubricating ingredients used to coat the fibers of any fabric, leaving your clothes smelling fresh and feeling soft.

Fabric softener

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Although fabric conditioners come in different forms, all of them have positively charged ions that coat the fibers of your fabric. These positive ions will attach themselves to the negative ions at the end of the fabric, making them rise and feel softer to the touch.

What Does a Fabric Softener Do?

There are many uses for a fabric softener. Apart from making your clothes smell good, it also protects your clothes from damage. It ensures your fabric remains in good condition even after several uses.

No matter the type of fabric softener you’re using, using it in the washing machine will help prevent stretching and piling in your clothes. Furthermore, some fabric conditioners will also ensure that the color of your items does not fade.

A fabric softener has ingredients that will help lubricate the individual fibers in your clothing. The lubricants will coat the fibers and soften them, and as a result, less static cling is experienced as they rub against each other in the dryer or washer.

Why Do You Use a Fabric Softener?

Many people use fabric conditioners mainly because of the fresh scent it provides, and there is nothing wrong with doing so. Different fabric conditioners come with different scents, so adding fabric softeners to your clothes will make them feel complete.

When to use fabric softener

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Some other people will add fabric softener to their laundry because they want that super soft feel. There is more to fabric conditioners than just the scent. In fact, if you don’t want any fragrance or have sensitive skin, you can use unscented types.

So you can use fabric softener on your everyday laundry, from beddings to cotton clothes. This is because it makes the sheets, pillowcases, and T-shirts feel cozier. In addition, they can help reduce the risk of irritation for anyone with sensitive skin.

How to Use Fabric Softener While Washing Clothes

Using a fabric conditioner is a straightforward process; in most cases, you just need to add it to your washing machine.

Here are the steps when using a fabric conditioner in washing machines; 

Step 1: Read the Instructions

Carefully check and read the care label of all the items in your laundry and ensure they are machine washable.

Step 2: Measure

Using fabric softener

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Measure the correct amount of fabric softener into a detergent dosing cup based on the load you have. Follow the instructions on the packaging to find the recommended amount of softener you should use.

Step 3: Pour into the Softener Dispenser

Put the fabric softener into the washing machine’s softener dispenser before you begin your wash cycle as you add your laundry detergent. This automatic dispenser is a small compartment with a star or flower icon indicating where to add fabric softener. However, the location may vary in different washers, so always check your washing machine’s manual. Do not add it directly to the drum because it needs to be diluted lest it stains your clothes.

Using fabric softener

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The washing machine will release the fabric softener in the final rinse cycle. However, if you’re using an older washing machine or a machine at a launderette, you may need to add the fabric conditioner manually before the rinse cycle.

How to use Fabric Softener when Handwashing Your Clothes

Fortunately, you can also use a fabric softener during a hand wash. Here are the steps to follow

Step 1: Dilute the fabric softener

Add the recommended amount of fabric conditioner to a clean-rinsing bucket with water. Then, swirl it to mix and rinse your clothes in the solution for the best results.

Step 2: clean your hands

Remember to clean your hands after using a fabric conditioner to minimize the risk of irritation. Although rare, some people with sensitive skin might have a reaction when an undiluted fabric conditioner stays on the skin for long.

Where Do You Add Fabric Softener in the Washing Machine?

For washing machines that have an automatic fabric softener dispenser, you can just put the fabric conditioner into the dispenser. However, the location of the dispenser and how you put it varies depending on the type of washing machine you’re using.

A). Front Loader

Front-loading washers will come with a detergent drawer where you can add detergent or softeners. You need to pull the drawer to add fabric softener to the machine.

Front loader fabric softener compartment

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This drawer may have a label to indicate the amount of fabric conditioner you should add. Ensure you don’t fill the drawer past the maximum fill line, as it will only spill or be released too early, causing stains on your clothes.

Once you have added enough softener for the next load, close the drawer. The fabric should automatically be dispensed during the rinse cycle.

B). Top Loader

For top-loading machines, the dispenser is found at the top of the agitator in the middle of the drum. So you need to pour the right amount of fabric softener into the dispenser and then add water to dilute the softener.

Top loader fabric softener dispenser

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Just as with a front loader, be careful not to overfill the dispenser. Once the wash cycle has started, the fabric softener will be dispensed automatically during the rinse cycle.

Remember to clean the fabric softener dispenser regularly. If you don’t do this, the residue may clog up and damage the dispenser. The residue buildup may also lead to the growth of mold in both top and front-loading washing machines.

How Do You Add Fabric Softener Without a Dispenser?

Sometimes, your washing machine may not include a fabric softener dispenser. As a result, you need to pour the fabric conditioner into the washer during the rinse cycle. However, it is important not to use fabric softener directly on top of the clothes. Instead, pour it into a water pocket at the top of the load to ensure it is diluted before it gets dispersed.

Adding the fabric conditioner during the wash cycle will only make it get washed away before it can penetrate the clothes. Also, adding it after the rinse cycle will not properly get it washed out.

Liquid Vs. Powder Vs. Dryer Sheets, Fabric Softeners

Fabric conditioners come in different forms: liquid, powder, dryer sheets, and dryer balls.

1. Liquid Fabric Softener

A liquid softener does a great job of freshening up your clothes, but it is the most expensive of the three options. Liquid fabric softeners will penetrate your fabrics during the wash cycle. However, one drawback of using liquid softeners is that they build up in your washing machine and even leave stains on clothes if not diluted and used correctly.

2. Powder Fabric Softeners

Like liquid fabric conditioners, the powder fabric softener will also be added to the wash cycle. They are less convenient but also quite affordable compared to all others.

3. Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets are simply small sheets coated with a fresh scent, stearic acid, and other chemicals. When the dryer heat, the stearic acid melts and goes into your clothes, reducing static and leaving your clothes smelling fresh.

Dryer sheets

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Dryer sheets are relatively inexpensive and easy to use than liquid fabric softeners. You only need to pop one or two in the dryer, and you’re good to go. Here’s how to use Dryer sheets;

Step 1: Load Wet Laundry into the Dryer

Shake each wet piece of laundry to help reduce wrinkles and place them in the dryer. But don’t overload the dryer because the clothes and the dryer sheet need room to move freely.

Step 2: Add the Dryer Sheet

Put one or two dryer sheets on top of the laundry load. Adding it last makes it circulate freely in the dryer without getting trapped between clothes.

Step 3: Remove the Dryer Sheet

After the cycle is complete, remove the dryer sheet(s) and dispose of it properly. Leaving dryer sheets in the drum can cause them to get stuck in the lint filter or block an air vent.

4. Dryer Balls

Dryer balls are simple wool balls that you can add to your dryer to help soften and freshen your clothes. These balls can also help speed up the drying process as they are able to absorb the moisture on clothes.

Dryer balls

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These balls are generally more effective than the sheets since they are round and move around better. However, both are great options if you’re looking for an alternative to a liquid fabric softener. To use dryer balls, load the dryer with wet laundry, then add the plastic or natural wool dryer balls to the drum on top of the wet garments. You can use two or three balls to help get rid of static. Then, remove the dryer balls at the end of the cycle so you can use them again.

When Should You Not Use Fabric Softener?

Because of their unique characteristics, some fabrics should never be used with fabric conditioners. If you’re not sure if the fabric softener can or can’t be used with the specific material, you should check the label.

Using fabric softener

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Here are several things you should never use a fabric softener with;

A). Microfiber

Microfiber is a soft fabric, but people still want to use fabric softener on it to ensure it remains soft. However, this fabric is designed to absorb moisture, and coating the fibers using fabric softener prevents them from becoming absorbent.

Additionally, microfiber materials do a fantastic job of trapping dust, dirt, and moisture because of the amount of electricity in the fibers. So, when a fabric softener coats the fibers, it minimizes the amount of static electricity, and as a result, it won’t trap dust and moisture efficiently.

B). Athletic Wear

Most often than not, athletic wear or workout clothes are made from fabrics that feature moisture-wicking abilities. A piece of moisture-wicking fabric will help you cool down by moving sweat from your body. Fabric conditioners will add a lubricating coat to the fibers, and as a result, it hinders the ability of your fabric to move moisture.

C). Towels

Although using a fabric softener on your towels is generally okay, and it makes them soft, using it on repeated washes may make the towel less absorbent. So, it is recommended not to use a fabric softener every time you wash the towels.

D). Water Repellent and Flame Resistant Fabric

As much as a fabric softener can affect a fabric’s ability to absorb water or sweat, it may also affect its ability to repel water. The effectiveness of a water-repellent fabric can easily be decreased since the main purpose of a fabric softener is to coat the fibers.

Using fabric softeners on fabrics designed to be flame-resistant clothing will make them less flame resistant. Fabric conditioners are made of chemicals that could be flammable. However, just like in water-repellent fabrics, the fabric softener coats the fibers, making the flame-resistant properties ineffective.

Tips to Consider When Using Fabric Softeners

  • Never allow an undiluted fabric softener to come into direct contact with your clothes, as it may spot or stain them.
  • Always follow the directions on the specific fabric softener bottle.
  • Never use more than the stated amount; it could damage your clothes and even make them dirtier!
  • Clean your washing machine regularly after using in-wash fabric softeners. The lubricants that coat the garments also coat the drum of your washer and trap odors and soil.
  • Avoid using fabric softeners on some types of materials, for example, sportswear, as they may interfere with their use.
  • Clean your dryer four to six times per year if you use dryer sheets to prevent residues from redepositing on fabrics.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) On Fabric Softeners

How to use fabric softener

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1. Can you soak clothes in fabric softener overnight?

It is not recommended to leave your clothes or other items soaked in fabric softener for an extended period of time. As much as fabric softener adds a fresh scent, it could stain your clothes. The maximum time you can soak clothes in fabric softeners is five minutes.

2. Can you add fabric softener at the beginning of the wash?

You can only add fabric softener at the beginning of the wash cycle if you have an automatic dispenser. Adding it directly during the washing cycle could stain your clothes, especially if the washing machine doesn’t have enough water to dilute them. For best results, add it during the rinse cycle.

3. When does fabric softener automatically get dispensed?

When you use fabric softener with a full-size or a reliable portable washing machine, whether the front or top load, it will be automatically dispensed during the rinse cycle. However, what makes the difference is the settings and the number of rinse cycles your washing machine has.

4. Can you put fabric softener straight into the washing machine?

Fabric softener should be diluted. Therefore, never add it directly to the drum, as it can stain your clothes. Instead, add the softener to the washing machine dispenser, and the washer will automatically release it during the final rinse cycle.

5. Do you mix water with fabric softener?

Fabric softener is not formulated to be used directly on fabric but should be mixed with water to dilute it. It’s best to pour your softener into the correct dispenser in your washer so that it is automatically released and diluted during the final rinse cycle. But if you’re handwashing, dilute your softener in water before adding clothes.

5. What are the disadvantages of using fabric softeners?

Despite the excellent pros of fabric softeners, they also have downsides that you should consider before using them.

1. The chemical compounds in fabric softeners can cause skin irritations like dermatitis, allergies, difficulty breathing, and other potential health risks.

2. If you prefer eco-friendly, sustainable products, you may want to avoid fabric softeners because the chemicals used in them are not environmentally friendly, and a majority are not biodegradable. 

3. As fabric softener softens fabric, it also adds a coating that builds up over time. This coating prevents water from efficiently penetrating clothing during the wash cycle, meaning your garments don’t wash as thoroughly as before. It also reduces the effectiveness of the washing machine and the dryer.

4. Fabric softener doesn’t work with all types of fabric and may result in wax-like buildup on the specific fabrics, making them flatten and lose luster or fluff. Also, using fabric softeners on microfiber towels reduces their ability to absorb moisture. The coating prevents water from entering the towel and can make garments less breathable, causing the inability to pull moisture away from the skin. 

6. How do you make your garments smell good without fabric softener?

If you want to ditch the harsh chemicals and spiff your laundry the natural way, you can use chemical-free laundry tricks to brighten, soften and deodorize your clothes. These tricks include;

  • Using vinegar to wash your garments
  • Adding baking soda to the rinse cycle of your washer. Baking soda brightens and deodorizes garments.
  • Using essential oils such as lavender, tea tree oil, peppermint, lemongrass, and eucalyptus. You can add a few drops of these essential oils to wool dryer balls and toss them with wet garments instead of using fabric softener.

7. When should you use fabric softener?

You should add a fabric softener during your final rinse cycle. Adding fabric softener during a wash cycle will remove the chemical residue that makes the clothing soft, making it ineffective.

8. Can you put fabric softener and water together?

No. Fabric softeners and detergents are like water and oil; they do not mix. The chemical reaction between them would render either one of them useless. Therefore, you should put softer and detergent in different compartments in the washer, and the washer will automatically release each of them when necessary.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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