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Dryer Sheets vs Fabric Softener: Which to Choose?

Both soften clothes and reduce static. But which is better?

Decisions, decisions! When it comes to dryer sheets vs fabric softener, which should you go for?

Both are designed to soften clothes, reduce static and wrinkles, and freshen your clothes.

In this post, we’ll discuss the key differences to hopefully help you make a decision.

Key Takeaways

  • Both dryer sheets and fabric softeners soften clothes, reduce static and wrinkles, and add fragrance.
  • Dryer sheets are cheaper and easier to use, but fabric softener may provide more benefits like preventing stretching, fading, and pilling.
  • Both products can contain harsh chemicals that may cause skin and respiratory irritation.
  • Consider alternatives like baking soda or white vinegar for fabric softeners, and dryer balls or aluminum foil for dryer sheets.

What Does Fabric Softener Do?

Fabric softener has key benefits, all which make it so popular in many households.

  • It scents your clothes. Fabric softener comes in lots of different scents, so you can find one you love.
  • It reduces static.
  • It can reduce wrinkles.
  • It softens your clothes so they don’t come out stiff and hard.
  • Some softeners can protect your clothes from stretching, fading and pilling.

Is Fabric Softener Always Necessary?

Fabric softener is not always necessary. Some people skip using it entirely in their laundry routine. But even if you are a devoted fabric softener user, there are times when you should absolutely not use it.

When Not to Use Fabric Softener

  • Don’t use fabric softener on towels. It can reduce their absorbency which defeats the towel’s purpose (1).
  • Like towels, don’t use fabric softener on microfiber or water-resistant garments. Gym clothes need to absorb your sweat and odors, and fabric softener can reduce this ability.
  • Don’t use it on flameproof clothes or pajamas as it can wear down this ability.
  • Skip the fabric softener on any synthetic clothes.
  • Don’t use fabric softener on baby clothes. First, baby clothes tend to be flameproof. Second, babies have sensitive skin and fabric softener often contains harsh chemicals.

Pros and Cons of Using Fabric Softener

If you’re unsure about fabric softener, here are some of the main pros and cons.


  • It keeps fabrics soft.
  • It can reduce wrinkles.
  • It reduces static.
  • It can protect garments from vigorously rubbing against each other and wearing down.
  • It adds fragrance.
  • They work alongside detergent.
  • There are some plant-based options.


  • Fabric softener is made with harsh chemicals that can irritate your skin and cause respiratory problems (2).
  • It can wear down wicking and flameproof abilities on clothes.
  • Fabric softener can build up on your clothes.
  • It’s harmful to the environment (3).

What Do Dryer Sheets Do?

Dryer sheets are a popular alternative to fabric softener. Unlike fabric softener, however, they go in the tumble dryer, not the washing machine. Add them to the top of your laundry before starting the cycle. Here are a few things dryer sheets can do.

  • They prevent static build-up: Dryer sheets, like fabric softener, prevent static build-up.
  • They freshen clothes: Dryer sheets come scented and unscented. Scented sheets can freshen your clothes. Some dryer sheets come with an ability to fight odors, rather than just mask them.
  • They soften your clothes: Dryer sheets are made with fabric softening agents, such as fatty acids. The heat in your dryer spreads the softener across your clothes so they come out lush.
  • Multiple other uses: You can use dryer sheets outside the laundry for dusting, cleaning your iron and freshening up your closet.

When Not to Use Dryer Sheets

Because dryer sheets are made similarly to fabric softener, you’ll want to avoid using them on the same fabrics.

  • Don’t use dryer sheets on towels as this can reduce the absorbency.
  • Don’t use on microfiber, water-resistant or gym clothes as this can also reduce the absorbance ability.
  • Don’t use on flameproof clothes or pajamas.
  • Don’t use on synthetic clothes unless the packaging instructions allow it. If so, use a low heat cycle.
  • Don’t use them on baby clothes as this can reduce flameproof ability. Plus, babies have sensitive skin and dryer sheets still contain harsh chemicals.

Pros and Cons of Using Dryer Sheets

There are pros and cons to using dryer sheets. So before you buy some, check out this list.


  • Easy to use. No need to pre-measure anything out, like fabric softener.
  • They scent your clothes.
  • Affordable.
  • They soften your clothes.
  • They reduce static cling.
  • Can reduce wrinkles.


  • They coat the clothing and can build up on your clothes.
  • Dryer sheets contain harsh chemicals that can cause respiratory and skin irritation.
  • They are not reusable, though some are compostable.
  • They reduce the absorbency and flameproof ability of garments.

Fabric Softener vs Dryer Sheets

In summary, fabric softener and dryer sheets both soften clothes, reduce static and wrinkles, while adding fragrance.

However, both dryer sheets and fabric softeners contain some harsh chemicals. These chemicals can cause headaches, asthma attacks, and skin irritation.

Your Choice

Although some people respond negatively to the chemicals in both products, it’s not the case for everyone. Most people don’t have these reactions and find that the benefits outweigh the negatives, so it’s totally up to you.

Let’s compare some of the characteristics of both fabric softener and dryer sheets. Please note that every brand is different, so perhaps not all of these characteristics can be found in one product.

For example, if we say “sometimes” — then that is a unique characteristic found in a handful of products, rather than being a common trait.

Function Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets
Prevents stretching, fading and pilling Yes No
Scent Yes Yes
Softens fabric Yes Yes
Fights static Yes Yes
Reduces wrinkles Yes Sometimes
Fights odors Sometimes Sometimes
Packaging Plastic bottle Cardboard box
Toxic chemicals Yes Yes
Price $$ $

Fabric Softener Alternatives

If you don’t like the sound of fabric softener, there are some effective alternatives you can try. Alternatively, you can look for a more natural option.

  • Baking soda: Add ½ cup of baking soda to your detergent dispenser or your drum before washing clothes.
  • White vinegar: Add ½ cup of distilled white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser at the beginning of the cycle.
  • DIY fabric softener: Make a homemade fabric softener recipe. Mix together two cups of Epsom salts, ½ cup of baking soda, and 40 drops of essential oil. Add two or three tablespoons to the rinse cycle of your laundry load.

Or, Just Skip The Softener

You can also skip the fabric softener all together. It’s not necessary and you might notice your clothes are fine without it. Try this for a few cycles to see how it feels.

Dryer Sheet Alternatives

Likewise, there are many less toxic, reusable dryer sheet alternatives.

  • Dryer balls: Dryer balls are very popular now and have the same effect as dryer sheets but without the chemicals. Plus, they’re reusable.
  • Aluminum foil: Scrunch up a baseball-sized bit of aluminum foil and add it to the dryer cycle to fluff up and soften your clothes.
  • Air drying your clothes outside: This can reduce static and wrinkles as well as adding freshness.


Why Do Some Fabrics Say Not to Use Fabric Softener?

Some fabrics say not to use fabric softener because the softener may interfere with the material’s moisture absorption and wicking abilities. For sportswear, this is crucial for optimum performance.

What Happens If I Use Too Much Fabric Softener?

If you use too much fabric softener, you could suffer from breathing difficulties and skin irritation. Other side effects include respiratory problems, issues with your nervous system, and fabric damage.

How Do You Make Homemade Dryer Sheets?

The easiest way to make homemade dryer sheets is to mix white vinegar and essential oil into a bowl and soak clean cloths in the solution. Wring out the cloth and place it inside your dryer with your wet laundry.

How Do I Make My Towels Fluffy and Absorbent Again?

The best way to make your towels fluffy and absorbent again is to use half the usual laundry detergent in the washing machine on a hot wash. Add a few tablespoons of white vinegar to the drum and let the appliance perform a wash cycle.

Pop them in a dryer, or dry them outside for the best results.

Choices, Choices

When stuck between dryer sheets and fabric softener, it’s down to personal preference. Dryer sheets are easier to use and slightly cheaper, but fabric softener might have more benefits, depending on the brand you choose.

However, both products contain harsh chemicals so we recommend you check out some of our alternative options. Or go wild, and do laundry without either of these products!

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism, and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!