Generally speaking yes, fabric softener (or fabric conditioner) is bad and should be avoided. Fabric softener is also, in most cases, unnecessary and can be simply skipped!
However, there are exceptions where the benefits of adding an eco-friendly fabric softener may outweigh the ‘cons’. So, I would not completely ban fabric softeners from my laundry, but they are a rare addition to my washing.
Here is all you need to know about fabric softener, why it is bad + unnecessary, what are the exceptions for using them and what alternatives are available.
Fabric softener Ingredients
Fabric softeners are designed to give you smooth, fragrant, wrinkle-free and static-free clothing! So far, so good. What’s not to love about soft, good smelling clothes free of wrinkles?
The problem is how fabric softeners achieve this.
Most fabric softeners have quaternary ammonium compounds (quats) as a key ingredient to smooth clothes. I am not going to get into the ‘chemical’ details, but suffice to say that to soften clothes, fabric softener leaves behind a waxy fatty layer that coats your clothes giving them a smooth feel on the ‘outside’.
The biggest problem with this oily fatty component is that they don’t dissolve in water or biodegrade that easily. These components make fabric softeners bad in so many ways.
Let’s take a closer look at why fabric softener is bad.
Why Is Fabric Softener Bad?
Fabric softener is bad when, over time, a lot of it ends up in our pipes, drains, washing machines and our natural water systems. In the long run, they can also be bad for our own clothes.
Fabric softener can contribute to the clogging of drains and pipes
Some of the fatty/oily components present in fabric softeners often end up as residual material. They end up in our pipes and drains together with other materials such as fluff and dust.
As these materials do not break that easily, they can build up and up – particularly, when fabric conditioner is regularly used – and contribute towards clogging and blocking!
For those who have a septic system, the risk of clogging is even more problematic as the residual material is likely to build up and clog the septic tank.
Fabric softener and washing machines
Fabric softeners often contain oils and their residual material can provide a thriving environment for yuck bacterial stuff such as mold and mildew to develop. It is not uncommon for a washing machine to smell like sewage when mold and mildew are around.
Fabric softener is bad for the environment
Residuals from laundry products, in general, have been identified as a source of water pollution due to tiny particles that are toxic to fish, algae and other marine life. Non-biodegradable components present in some fabric conditioners are particularly bad for our natural water systems.
Fabric softener is bad for clothes
Fabric softener smooths your clothes by leaving a waxy coating on their fabric. While that can feel nice in the short term, with time, it is likely to alter the fabric. For example, materials that are meant to be absorbent can loose this feature as the fatty coat builds up on the outside.
Is Fabric Softener Necessary?
No, it’s not necessary to add fabric softener to your washing load.
The best laundry detergents available on the market should take care of all your laundry needs. That includes things that fabric softeners are often added to the washing for – like ‘smoothing’ your clothes and getting them to smell ‘fragrant’.
Modern laundry detergents, unlike old school ones, are far less concentrated and a lot more gentle on clothes, eliminating the need for a ‘smoothing’ agent to be added.
If fragrance is what you are looking for, there are many laundry detergents that offer a fragrance as a key ingredient.
Last, but not least, fabric softeners do not clean clothes – that’s what laundry detergents do.
When Should I Use Fabric Softener?
For all the above reasons, I hardly ever use fabric softener, however there are exceptions.
I do resort to fabric softener when my clothes have a terrible odor.
Luckily, the above described situations are pretty rare. When there’s a case that calls for the addition of fabric softener, it really is worth paying attention to the list of ingredients of what you are buying.
The good news is that there are alternatives to traditional fabric softener.
Fabric Softener Alternatives
Air-dry your clothes
There are many benefits to air-drying your clothes, including saving on electricity bills, extending the lifespan of your garments, and reducing static electricity.
Wool-dryer balls will help soften your garments and will also speed up the drying process.
Fragrant laundry detergent
If fragrance is the main attraction of fabric softeners, choosing a laundry detergent with fragrance is the way to go.
Final Thoughts on Fabric Softener
While, on some occasions, the use of fabric softener can be justified, generally speaking, avoiding it is the best for your clothes, your washer, your pipes and the environment.