Everyday Cheapskate: Create a Hassle-Free Homemade Fabric Softener | Tips

Fabric softeners are designed to reduce the amount of static electricity in synthetic fibers and make laundry feel soft and smell nice. These products contain lubricating ingredients that help coat and “soften” fabric fibers when added to your laundry load in liquid, powder or dryer sheet form.

So why would anyone choose to take the time and trouble to make a homemade fabric softener when commercial products are thought to work well?

Commercial fabric softeners can present a potentially serious health problem for many people. Also, commercial fabric softeners aren’t cheap. Depending on the brand and your measurement methods, liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets can cost north of 30 cents per dryer load. If you do as much laundry as I do, it adds up quickly.

Option 1. The easiest homemade fabric softener is to regularly use plain white vinegar in the final rinse.

Add 1/2 to 1 cup (depending on load size) of white vinegar to the last rinse in the washer. Vinegar is cheap, non-toxic, effective, and antimicrobial. It softens naturally because the vinegar helps remove every last bit of detergent from your clothes.

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Pour the vinegar into the liquid fabric softener reservoir. Typically, this is designed to be released in this rinse cycle. If your washer is a top-loading machine that doesn’t lock you out until the load is complete, you can lift the lid during this rinse cycle and pour the vinegar directly into the machine. However, the new top loaders as well as all front loaders are not about to let you have that kind of interruption.

Why does it work? The very weak acidic nature of regular 5% white vinegar (meaning it’s 95% water) mixed with gallons of rinse water in your washing machine (diluting it even more) is basically harmless, but it does help get soap and detergent out of the fabric. It’s the presence of soap and detergent in clothes and linens that don’t rinse off, which makes these gray items look dull, stiff and itchy over time.

Option 2. If you are looking for a subtle and pure fragrance, this recipe is made for you:

Mix 6 parts water, 3 parts plain white vinegar and 2 parts any hair conditioner in a container with a resealable lid.

Here is an example of measuring “parts” where 1 part equals 1/4 cup.

  • 1-1/2 cup water (1/4 cup x 6)
  • 3/4 cup vinegar (1/4 cup x 3)
  • 1/2 cup hair conditioner (1/4 cup x 2)

You can make 1 part equal to any measurement you want and then simply multiply accordingly.

An inexpensive bottle of conditioner from the dollar store works great for softening and scenting your laundry. Use it in the final rinse or fill your washing machine’s fabric softener dispenser, as you would any commercial liquid fabric softener.

Option 3. If you prefer dryer sheets, you can make them yourself for next to nothing. Take an old T-shirt or cotton baby blanket and cut it into a few small squares. Place them in an airtight container, such as a mason jar or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.

In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 8 drops of your favorite essential oil, which you can buy at your local drugstore or pharmacy, or online. A bottle of oil will last a long time. Pour this liquid over the rags in the container to saturate them. Close the container. To use, remove a foil from the container, squeeze out any excess liquid in the jar, and toss it in the dryer. When the clothes are dry, return the sheet to the jar for later use.

When using essential oil in the dryer, do not set the heat to “Hot”. Dry on “Medium” for best results. In fact, medium heat is a good idea across the board when using a dryer. Hot heat is harsh on fabrics and will cause them to wear sooner and colors to fade.

Option #4. Here’s a great way to keep using your favorite commercial fabric softener if no one in the family shows signs of an allergy, while dramatically reducing costs.

Mix 1 part liquid fabric softener with 3 parts distilled water (for example, 1/3 cup fabric softener and 1 cup water) and pour it into a spray bottle. Spray the inside of your dryer before putting your clothes in the dryer.

It will make that bottle of fabric softener look like it will last forever. Just this small amount will soften and scent an entire load of laundry.

Mary Hunt writes this column for Creators Syndicate. She is the founder of www.EverydayCheapskte.com, a lifestyle blog. Submit comments or advice or answer questions on its website. She will answer general questions through this column, but letters cannot be answered individually.

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