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When ranking household cleaning products for sustainability, traditional fabric softener lands pretty low on the list. Not only does fabric softener often contain non-biodegradable ingredients. But, unlike laundry detergent, fabric softener isn’t really necessary in the first place!
Countless households forego fabric softener without issue. If you rely on the stuff to keep your clothes feeling fresh and free of static, however, there are definitely better alternatives out there.
Our top pick is the Molly’s Suds All Natural Fabric Softener. These dryer sheets are created without petroleum or synthetic fragrance and come packaged in compostable cardboard.
For a complete list of our favorite eco-friendly fabric softener formulas, keep reading!
What Makes A Fabric Softener Eco-Friendly?
To a degree, the most environmentally friendly fabric softener is opting not to use one at all. So how do you weigh the pros and cons of so-called “green” formulas to decide if they’re worth your while?
Ingredients should always be the first thing you look at when switching to a more sustainable version of a household product. Fabric softener is no exception.
Traditional fabric softener formulas rely on non-biodegradable ingredients made from things like petroleum.
In terms of eco-friendliness, the manufacture of such ingredients takes a heavy toll on the environment. If that wasn’t bad enough, they then wash down our drains and end up in lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water where they can have a dastardly effect on aquatic wildlife.
Ideally, an eco-friendly fabric softener should be made entirely of biodegradable ingredients. An easy (yet not foolproof) way to identify such formulas is by looking for those labeled “100% plant-based.”
Fabric softeners have also been identified as a common source of carcinogenic chemicals. Opting for eco-friendly formulas with fewer ingredients and little or no fragrance could help decrease your family’s exposure to these chemicals.
In our opinion, ingredients are the most important thing that makes a fabric softener eco-friendly or not. But it’s not the only thing to consider when comparing various products.
Plastic bottles are the go-to packaging for liquid fabric softeners. Obviously, this is far from ideal.
Recycled plastic bottles are definitely a step towards greater sustainability. Foregoing plastic altogether is even better.
Fabric softener sheets are almost always packaged in cardboard or paper. Meanwhile, innovative brands like Dropps have found other ways to ditch plastic bottles.
Last but not least, we always like to look at the brands behind the top eco-friendly products.
If all else is the same, it’s worth knowing if one brand invests a little more into giving back to the planet or community than another!
Best Eco-Friendly Fabric Softener 2022
Best Overall — Molly’s Suds All Natural Fabric Softener
Molly’s Suds All Natural Fabric Softener
Keep your clothing soft and wrinkle-free with these natural dryer sheets from Molly’s Suds.
If sustainability is your top priority, then ditching liquid fabric softener in favor of dryer sheets is a great first step. The Molly’s Suds All Natural Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets are a personal favorite.
These dryer sheets are made with plant- and mineral-derived ingredients. Most importantly, they’re completely free of petroleum-based compounds and synthetic fragrances.
The main reason we prefer dryer sheets like these over liquid formulas is that they come in a fully recyclable and compostable box. And you can recycle the used sheets, too!
Best Pods — Dropps Fabric Softener
Dropps Fabric Softener
Swap out your liquid fabric softener for these dissolvable, low-waste pods by Dropps.
By now, we’re all familiar with the magic of laundry detergent pods. But Dropps has taken things one step further by putting fabric softener into pod form as well.
Dropps Fabric Softener is available in several scents, including an Unscented version and a few seasonal options. All scents are packaged in compact, recyclable, and compostable cardboard boxes.
Dropps specifically notes that this fabric softener formula won’t damage athletic clothing or towels. The fabric softener is made of primarily mineral- and plant-derived ingredients (and is vegan and cruelty-free) but the dissolvable film around each pod is synthetic.
Be sure to check out our Dropps review of their laundry detergent and dishwasher pods, too!
Best Budget Option — Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Fabric Softener
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Fabric Softener
Go green without spending a fortune with the Mrs. Meyer’s biodegradable liquid fabric softener formula.
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Fabric Softener boasts just about everything the eco-conscious household could want. It’s biodegradable, plant-derived, and available in several scents. It’s also quite affordable.
This is a great formula to test out if you’re looking for something a bit more sustainable than your average supermarket fabric softener. But its ingredient list does contain a few compounds that could irritate sensitive skin.
It’s also important to note that while Mrs. Meyer’s advertises its cruelty-free status very prominently, the brand is owned by SC Johnson which does test on animals in some cases.
Best Synthetic Dryer Balls — Whitmor Dryer Balls
Whitmor Dryer Balls
There’s no need for fabric softener at all when you toss these reusable dryer balls in with your laundry.
Fabric softener does more than add fragrance to clean laundry. If you tend to rely on fabric softener to reduce static or speed up drying time, then these Whitmor Dryer Balls may be a worthwhile alternative.
The Whitmor Dryer Balls are made of 100% PVC. So you won’t need to worry about shedding or potential allergies like you would with fiber dryer balls.
Plastic may not sound very eco-friendly but it’s important to remember that you can reuse these dryer balls again and again. In the long term, these dryer balls will likely result in less waste than using actual fabric softener.
Best Wool Dryer Balls — Woolzies Wool Dryer Balls
Woolzies Wool Dryer Balls
Households looking for a more sustainable version of plastic dryer balls will love these ones from Woolzies.
Of course, plastic dryer balls are not your only option! Woolzies Wool Dryer Balls offer much the same experience without the use of plastic.
These dryer balls are made of 100% New Zealand-sourced wool. This set also includes a bottle of essential oil that can be added to the dryer balls before each use (you can also use a different oil of your choosing).
Like synthetic dryer balls, these will remove wrinkles and static from your laundry. According to Woolzies, a set of 6 will last through thousands of loads.
Best Biobased Formula — Botanical Origin Plant-Based Fabric Conditioner
Botanical Origin Plant-Based Fabric Conditioner
This biobased fabric softener formula proves you can have fresh-smelling laundry without relying solely on synthetic chemicals.
For a liquid formula that is both sustainable and gentle, the Botanical Origin Plant-Based Fabric Conditioner is a popular choice.
This fabric softener is currently available in two hypoallergenic scents — Fresh Jasmine & Wild Lavender and Orange Blossom & Citrus Leaves — and comes packaged in bottles made of 25% post-consumer recycled plastic.
Despite the label, this fabric softener is not entirely made of plants. According to Botanical Origin, the formula is 71% bio-based (based on USDA standards). The rest is made up of water, minerals, and organic polymers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does fabric softener cause buildup?
Any laundry product has the potential to build up on your clothes or in your washer and dryer. Due to the way most fabric softeners work, they are even more likely to build up than something like laundry detergent.
Whether or not an eco-friendly fabric softener will cause as much buildup as a traditional formula depends on a number of variables.
The best way to prevent buildup is to follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly. You should also clean your washer and dryer on a regular schedule (this is a good habit to build even if you don’t use fabric softener at all!).
Are there any household alternatives to fabric softener?
Yes! While there are several great options available for those who don’t want to give up regular fabric softener entirely, there are also many ways to ditch the product altogether.
White vinegar and baking soda are by far the top household alternatives to fabric softener. These products can be added straight to your washing machine, although I would be careful not to overuse them as they might be safe for your machine. If using, be careful not to mix vinegar or baking soda with bleach-containing products.
If you still want the fragrance of a standard fabric softener, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil as well.
Is it safe to use fabric softener on all garments?
There are several items that fabric softener should not be used on. The most notable are athletic garments and bath towels.
Applying traditional fabric softener to athletic clothing can destroy the sweat- and odor-wicking qualities of the fabric. Often, athletic clothing starts to smell after being treated with chemical fabric softener.
Bath towels tend to lose their absorbency when treated with regular fabric softener. This is because the fabric softener leaves behind a thin chemical layer on the fibers.
Some eco-friendly fabric softeners and alternatives are safe to use on these items. But we recommend proceeding with caution!
Last update on 2022-11-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API