How Do Fabric Softeners Work?

Types of Fabric Softeners

Fabric softeners come in liquid form, which can be placed inside the washing machine while the clothes are washed with detergent; or they can come in fabric softener dryer sheets, which are placed in the dryer as your clothes are dried. There are many different brands of fabric softeners on the market that come in many different scents. In addition, some fabric softeners are "green" meaning they use no harmful chemicals and are considered to be the safest for the environment.

Purpose of Fabric Softeners

Fabric softeners are added to your laundry in order to reduce the negative charge disseminated into your laundry by the detergent. Fabric softeners give the laundry a positive charge to eliminate static on your clothes, and in addition they coat your clothing fibers with a thin film to make them fluffier, softer and better smelling.

There are many different brands of fabric softeners. Most of them have the same chemical components and function the same way. However, many of the "greener" products on the market may cost more because they are using all-natural ingredients. Typically liquid fabric softener will cost between $3 and $7 for a 32 ounce jug, and fabric softener sheets will cost between $1.50 and $5 for about 100 sheets.

Effects of Fabric Softeners

There is some evidence to suggest that the overuse of fabric softeners can lead to cancer and environmental damage. The chemicals used in fabric softener dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener cling to the fibers of your clothes and your skin, making them readily available for you to breathe in. These same binding chemicals are believed to have the same effects on the lungs and many recent studies suggest that it may lead to the development of various cancers. In addition, the particles eliminated through the dryer vent carry out into the local environment and can lead to similar issues with your surroundings.

Many detergent and fabric softener companies are now creating products that are made from all-natural materials and have little to no impact on the local environment.