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You know those fabric softener commercials? The ones with the pretty moms getting all cozy with a dryer sheet? Or taking a big ol’ whiff of their towels after they come out of the dryer?

If your fabric softener has chemicals in it, don’t do that!

Liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets make our clothes feel soft and cuddly by leaving a layer of slimy, asthma-inducing, skin-irritating chemicals on them. Just the thing you want sitting on your kid’s skin all day, right?

And the lovely, fresh scents? Also chemicals — the kind suspected of causing cancer and disrupting our hormones.

Natural laundry softeners – vinegar and baking soda

These toxic fabric softeners with harmful synthetic fragrances don’t even make sense to me. Why use them, when you can easily – and at a much lower cost – just pop all-natural white vinegar or baking soda into the washer instead? That seems like a more logical solution to me.

White vinegar and baking soda dissolve soapy residue from the washing machine and pipes. So not only do they soften your laundry naturally, but they help to lower the risk of plumbing issues at the same time!  If that’s not enough of a bonus, they are both natural deodorizers as well. White vinegar kills odor-causing bacteria in the laundry, while baking soda neutralizes sweaty odors by absorbing them and then flushing them in the rinse cycle.

Natural laundry softeners: White vinegar & baking sodaTo soften your laundry naturally with baking soda, simply add the clothes and laundry detergent to the washing machine as usual. Then pour one cup of baking soda over the clothes and wash. Easy, right? (Buy it in bulk.)

To soften naturally with white vinegar, add the clothes and laundry detergent to the washing machine. Add half a cup of white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser and wash. If your washer doesn’t have a dispenser, add the vinegar to the main area of the washing machine during the rinse cycle. That’s it. Seriously.  (Buy it in bulk.)

NOTE: Use only white vinegar. Darker versions such as balsamic or apple cider vinegar can stain fabrics.

Also read: The Clean Laundry Scoop on Natural Detergents, Softeners, and Whiteners

Soften laundry with wool dryer balls

Wool dryer balls may seem expensive when compared to a box of dryer sheets or a bottle of liquid softener. But they last for dozens of loads, so you actually save quite a bit of money in the long run. They also help your clothes to dry faster, which saves you money on the energy bill as well.

Even without using vinegar or baking soda in the washer, wool dryer balls will do the trick. That said, I do both.

Just toss 2 to 3 wool balls in the dryer as you would a dryer sheet. Since the dryer balls reduce the drying time, set the timer for 10-15 minutes less than you normally would. And since they last dozens of dryer cycles, you can reuse them over and over — for months.

Allergic to wool? Don’t worry. The wool doesn’t shed onto clothing, so the dryer balls are hypoallergenic and safe for people with wool sensitivities.

Adding essential oils to your laundry (Optional)

To keep that fresh laundry scent, but without the synthetic fragrance, give essential oils a try,  Simply add 4 drops of essential oil into the vinegar, before adding it into the softener tray and/or drizzle 3 or 4 drops onto the wool dryer balls.

Be sure to use only light-colored oils, as darker oils may stain clothing. I mostly use lavender or peppermint, though if I have some especially sweaty stuff in there from the gym, I’ll use tea tree oil. To be fair, each of those essential oils has disinfectant properties, so it’s really about what ‘fresh’ smells like to you.

Dry your clothes outdoors

If you prefer to dry your clothes outdoors the ol’ fashion way, clotheslines are a must-have. A simple rope-style clothesline will do, but if you prefer something with more space and support (racks and umbrella styles, for example) look for sturdy construction that won’t rust with rain, won’t blow over with heavy winds, and won’t sag if you dry something heavy on it, such as wet towels or blankets.

Good to know

  • Pure wool dryer balls, white vinegar, and baking soda are all hypoallergenic and safe for those with skin sensitivities.
  • Just as white vinegar brightens the colors of Easter eggs, it also brightens the colors in your clothes.
  • Baking soda boosts the cleaning power of your laundry detergent.
  • Vinegar should not be used with PUL (polyurethane) diaper fabrics because the soft plastic fibers can degrade over time.

This one’s easy

In some cases, switching from commercial products to natural alternatives can be inconvenient or expensive. Fortunately, making the move to natural fabric softeners couldn’t be easier. After all, you probably have vinegar and baking soda in your home right now, and you can re-stock any time you’re picking up groceries.

And the best part? You can cuddle that fresh laundry to your heart’s content. You’ll feel like you’re in your own private fabric softener commercial — but without the chemicals.


Natural Living Guide

Find practical tips & natural alternatives to the everyday chemicals that invade our lives.

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