Dryer Sheets vs Fabric Softener

Updated
Categories Doing Laundry
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.

What Do Dryer Sheets and Fabric Softener Do?

Dryer sheets and fabric softeners can scent and soften clothes and reduce static. Place dryer sheets on top of your clothes in the dryer and dispose of them afterward. Fabric softener is used with your detergent during the wash cycle. Dryer sheets are cheaper and slightly easier to use, but fabric softener may have more benefits.


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 (2).

Pros and Cons of Using Fabric Softener

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

PROS:
  • 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.
CONS:
  • Fabric softener is made with harsh chemicals that can irritate your skin and cause respiratory problems (3).
  • It can wear down wicking and flameproof abilities on clothes.
  • Fabric softener can build up on your clothes.
  • It’s harmful to the environment (4).

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.

PROS:
  • 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.
CONS:
  • 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.

FunctionFabric SoftenerDryer Sheets
Prevents stretching, fading and pillingYesNo
ScentYesYes
Softens fabricYesYes
Fights staticYesYes
Reduces wrinklesYesSometimes
Fights odorsSometimesSometimes
PackagingPlastic bottleCardboard box
Toxic chemicalsYesYes
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.

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!

Headshot of Beth

About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a 20-something 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!
30 Laundry Hacks (You’ll Wish You Already Knew)30 Laundry Hacks You’ll Wish You Already Knew
7 Best Laundry Sorters (2020 Review)7 Best Laundry Sorters to Organize You on Wash Day
7 Tips on How to Stop Clothes From BleedingHow to Stop Clothes From Bleeding in the Wash
How to Get Paint Out of ClothesHow to Get Paint Out of Clothes (5 Easy Methods)
How to Wash Cashmere (Hand & Machine)How to Wash Cashmere (Hand and Machine Wash)
Dry Clean at Home With the Best Dry Cleaning KitsBest Home Dry Cleaning Kits of 2020

Leave a Comment