There are so many reasons why ditching mainstream fabric softener is worth considering, but the best reason I have for making the switch to a natural DIY version is that it is the only way to know for certain, what you’re using!
Are you aware that, in Australia at least, companies are not required to disclose ingredients on cleaning products? Isn’t that absurd? I believe we are entitled to know exactly what it is we’re buying and using, but sadly the law doesn’t agree with me! (Note: I plan on doing whatever I can to change this and I’m starting with a petition which you can sign here).
What is fabric softener?
It is typically a liquid added to your washing machine, that promises to deliver fresh, clean-scented, softer, static-free, reduced-wrinkle clothing. I think that most people use them out of habit, rather than necessity; it’s just part of their laundering process.
One problem with commercial fabric softeners is that they actually coat fibres and makes them feel more slippery, but in the process, can reduce the absorbency of towels, transport chemicals to the skin while you’re wearing treated clothing, and reduce the fire retardancy of clothing (that’s a whole other issue right there!).
Now, because the law does not require ingredients in cleaning products to be disclosed, you could only guess what is inside those squishy packets and bottles.
Among many other less than desirable ingredients, you’ll probably find the following:
These are added to make clothes smell ‘nice’. Known to cause headaches, skin and respiratory irritation, hormone disruption… I personally detest this stuff, you can read about that here.
Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QUATS)
Used to reduce static to clothing and make them ‘slippery’. This is a broad term given to a group of chemicals known to irritate skin and the respiratory system (triggering asthma).
A preservative that has been found to irritate skin and cause contact dermatitis. It is also known to be acutely toxic to aquatics.
Commercial fabric softeners are known to be one of the biggest contributors to indoor air pollution.
And, they’re certainly not good for the environment (this study looks into this).
Now, let’s consider the stickiness, or substantivity, of fragrance – this will resonate most with people who have ditched the softener already… Have you ever received hand-me-downs, or had someone helpfully wash clothes for you, and immediately noticed how strong and persistent the softener stench is? I was recently given a massive bag of school uniform hand-me-downs (yay to that, I was sooo grateful!!) but it was clear before I even opened the bag that the clothes had been treated with a commercial fabric softener. I can smell these clothes everywhere. The aroma is wafting from my laundry and into my living area. I’ve washed them twice, hung them in sunshine and they are still noticeably smelly.
That’s ok, I’ll persist. Rather than be frustrated, I’m practicing gratitude. Gratitude that my neighbour was so kind (I voluntarily gave her $50 and a bottle of organic red wine, she didn’t want a dime!), and gratitude that I now have the ability to hear what my body is trying to tell me, and this is only possible because I have invested time into reducing the number of toxins we’re exposing ourselves to.
For those of you that still use commercial fabric softeners, the idea of having clothes that smell more like clothes and less like a field of daffodils, may feel a little confronting. Yes, ditching this household ‘staple’ will feel weird initially, but I can almost guarantee that one day soon after, you’ll wonder how you ever tolerated the stench!
More reasons to strengthen the argument for ditching commercial fabric softeners, is that it is way more economical to make your own (you’ll see why later on). Then there is the fact that you’ll be reducing your household waste and minimising your impact on the environment. The most obvious reason however, is that it is simply not needed, we can go without it!
Keen to try your hand at some DIY?
It doesn’t get much easier than making your own Fabric Softener. It’s about as simple as salt and vinegar.
The salt acts as a water softener and the vinegar is just all-round awesome (but also helps to combat odour and loosen soap build up). Get the recipe here.
You can add essential oils if you wish but I find I can only smell them when the rinse cycle begins on my load, and not on my clothing afterwards (but I am ok with that!) I use a few drops of eucalyptus or lemon and add it as I need it.
To make things even simpler still, you could always just use plain old white vinegar as softener. Yep, just vinegar, that’s it! So simple (and no, you won’t have any lingering fish and chip shop odours). Unlike commercial fabric softeners that tend to coat your machine with a slimy film, vinegar will help to keep your machine clean!
Worried about vinegar and your appliances?
Well, all I can say is that I have been doing this for over 5 years and haven’t seen any issues. I’ve had numerous people share that they’ve been using vinegar in their appliances for over a decade and have had absolutely no issues.
I’ve also been told by a techie that vinegar, salt, citric acid etc are fine to use in household appliances like washing machines and dishwashers (preferable he said). However, if you’re worried, don’t use it. You have to be comfortable with the non-toxic swaps you make at home. Here’s a thought for those unsure: rather than swap out the store-bought for a DIY version, perhaps try just ditching the fabric softener altogether and seeing how you like it.
Author, Advocate & Founder
Krissy wants to see a world where people make conscious, educated decisions that honour both humans and habitat. With a background in education and health promotion, she devotes her time to passionately increase awareness on common and avoidable toxins, in everyday items like washing powder and deodorant, and to educate individuals on how they can easily reduce their daily exposure, through simple and realistic do-it-yourself ideas and recipes.
Krissy has sold over 30,000 copies of her natural DIY recipe books, including her latest, award-winning book, Naturally Inspired - Simple DIY Recipes for Body Care and Cleaning, and offers honest and gentle guidance, education and 100+ natural DIY recipes on her website The Inspired Little Pot.