Fabric Conditioners: Do we need them?

What is a fabric conditioner?

Fabric conditioner, sometimes referred to as fabric softener, is an additive that interacts with clothing during a wash cycle. It contains lubricating ingredients that attach to clothing fibres to make them feel soft to the touch.

Some key ingredients in fabric softener include:
Diethyl Ester Dimethyl Ammonium Chloride: This is a compound responsible for the soft feel of your garments. It’s also an antibacterial agent.
Polyquaternium-33: This acts as a strengthening agent and stabiliser.
Pentasodium Pentetate: This serves as a binding agent.

Specific ingredients differ among brands, but all fabric conditioners have a similar makeup and they mostly come in liquid form.

Why you might want to avoid using fabric

Although fabric conditioners are made up of chemicals and chemical compounds that can add to the life and look of your clothing, they can also, potentially, trigger dangerous side effects. Here are the top offenders to look for:
“Quats”: Quaternary ammonium compounds give clothing and linens that soft feel, but they are also known for triggering asthma. Some studies also show that they may impact reproduction.
– Preservatives and Dyes: Most fabric conditioner contains preservatives and dyes, and these chemicals can irritate the skin.
Fragrances: Fragrances often use phthalates to release scents into the air. Research suggests they are linked to skin irritation and breathing issues, among other health risks.

Not Sustainable

Avoid fabric conditioner if you prefer sustainable, eco-friendly products. Many fabric conditioners contain petroleum-based chemicals that are harmful to the environment, and most formulas are not biodegradable, not to mention the plastic bottles they are all sold in.


If you want the benefits of fabric conditioner, like softer clothes, less fading, or reduced static cling, but don’t want the negatives that come with that, consider the alternatives. These options are healthier, more sustainable, and less costly:
Wool dryer balls: Wool dryer balls are an affordable and simple way to get some of the benefits of fabric softener without chemicals. As they bounce around in the dryer, they create space between the damp clothes, which reduces the drying time and reduces wrinkles. They can be reused as many as 1,000 times, making them a far more sustainable choice. For fragrance, you can put a few drops of essential oil on the balls. Just be sure to allow them to dry before adding them to the dryer.
Dry towel: Placing a clean, dry bath-sized towel amongst the wet clothes in your dryer helps separate fabrics, reduces static, and encourages your clothes to dry faster. You don’t need to keep it in for the entire cycle. For a full load, let it tumble with the other clothes for 15-20 minutes.
Baking Soda: Easy and cheap to find product. 1 – 2 tbsp per washing load, added at the rinse cycle.
White Vinegar: Again added at the rinse cycle. 2 tbsp per load. The smell will quickly evaporate from your clothes.

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