How to Make Homemade Fabric Softener

by Michael Nolan on 28 March 2012 · 19 comments

in DIY, Health & Home

I never expected my post on homemade laundry detergent to become one of the most visited pages on this site, but even a year and a half after I wrote it I am still getting feedback and questions.  That confirmed once and for all that I am not the only one looking for more natural solutions to things like laundry and household cleaners.

My Earth Garden: Laundry DayWhile we know how to clean laundry with a homemade and natural solution, and line drying our clothes is obviously more natural and less wasteful than using a clothes dryer, I had yet to tackle the realm of homemade fabric softeners. That changes today when we take a look at homemade fabric softener options.

There are two ways in which we use fabric softeners these days: in the washer and in the dryer. We’re going to take a look at homemade solutions for both.

Homemade Fabric Softener

Hair Conditioner

One of the frugal options I’ve seen for homemade fabric softener isn’t exactly homemade, but it will save you some money. Hair conditioner. Not the salon stuff, either. The big bottles are cheap and they work just as well as the more expensive fabric softeners.


Of course if you’re wanting to go more natural (like I do), you might try good ol’ white vinegar. A 1/4 cup in the rinse cycle will help to remove detergent residue and soften clothes at the same time.

Mix it Up

If you’re looking for something a bit more hands-on, give this a try:

  • 6 cups Water
  • 1/2 cup Baking Soda
  • 3 cups White Vinegar
  • Essential Oil (optional)
  1. Add water and baking soda to a large container and stir to mix.
  2. Slowly add the vinegar and allow the chemical reaction to do its thing.
  3. If you like, add a few drops of a favorite essential oil, but this isn’t necessary.

use 1/2 cup per wash load

Homemade Fabric Softener Sheets

My main complaints about dryer sheets are:

  1. They are made of polyester fibers or polyurethane foam, and that’s bad for the My Earth Garden: Laundry Dayenvironment.
  2. They are wasteful and though considered to be disposable, will remain unchanged in a landfill. And that’s bad for the environment.
  3. The ones that work aren’t cheap, and that’s bad for the wallet.

There are several options for homemade dryer sheets, including these:

Aluminum Foil

A ball of aluminum foil will eliminate static in the dryer as well as (and sometimes better than) commercial dryer sheets. What’s more, they are the ultimate thrifty, environmentally-friendly choice because not only do they last forever, when you do get rid of them, they can be recycled unlike dryer sheets.

Make Your Own Dryer Sheets

Instead of those plastic-infused dryer sheets, why not make your own? All you need is a washcloth or similar piece of soft cotton fabric and you’re on your way. Fill a spray bottle halfway with fabric softener or hair conditioner and then fill the rest of the way with water.  Spray this on your clean dryer cloth and toss it in the dryer with your next load.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth Jones March 28, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I like the aluminum foil idea… that’s one I haven’t heard of yet. I’ve done the hair conditioner and vinegar ones too, w/ the washcloth. Best way to do it! I hate dryer sheets with a PASSION. :) Now that I’m working on crochet again I’m going to make wool dryer balls to help elimate static.

Louise in SW SK March 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm

you can also just add 1/3 c washing soda or baking soda when you add your laundry. This was a tip I picked up from a Canadian government. Booklet on ways to become more environmentally friendly sometime in the 1980s. I have learned over the years that if you don’t wash your natural fibre clothing And synthetics together you seldom get static long anyway so now I use nothing.

Jen April 8, 2012 at 9:30 pm

For fabric softener in the washer, I just use white vinegar in my Downy ball (the name brand fabric softener dispenser ball that releases on its own in the wash) in addition to my homemade detergent (now even easier to make courtesy of Michael’s microwave soap method I call the “poof method”). I also wash everything in cold water and everything still comes out perfectly clean.

Now instead of dryer sheets, I found a cool, cheap idea that sounded so crazy I had to try it – SAFETY PINS. ( I adapted the idea from this blog The lady in the blog pinned a few items, but I figured making my own “sheet” full of pins would be even better! I pinned a bunch of safety pins all around a clean square dishcloth, making sure the pins wouldn’t snag on anything. So far, it has worked perfectly and we haven’t needed to use dryer sheets! We also live near Houston, a humid area, but static still happens. I have also read that overdrying causes more static, so we are careful not to overdry and the homemade “dryer sheet” is all we need. I have also noticed less lint to clean from the dryer. I am getting used to my clothes just smelling fresh and clean as opposed to perfumey, and I am excited about the money we are saving!

Marie April 18, 2012 at 9:06 am

what do these methods do to the new machine that we have to buy special soap and softeners or the sensor burn out or plug up

Michael Nolan April 18, 2012 at 9:10 am

Assuming you’re talking about HE machines, these methods all work perfectly well with them; I use an HE machine with homemade detergent and homemade softener.

Melissa April 26, 2012 at 12:19 pm

For the more hands-on fabric softener recipe, would Super Washing Soda work instead of using regular baking soda?

Michael Nolan April 26, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I would not recommend it. Washing soda and baking soda are completely different chemicals.

emily June 6, 2012 at 7:44 am

hi…i am interested in trying out the fabric softener using the essential oils…how many drops per batch should i put in?? keep in mind i want the clothes to have a nice scent to them when they are done washing…thank you, can’t wait to try

Michael Nolan June 6, 2012 at 7:53 am

Thanks for your question, Emily. The amount will depend on the type of oil you use and how strong you want the scent to be. Some essential oils are much stronger and longer lasting than others.

I would recommend starting by experimenting with a few drops added to a single load until you get the desired end result. When you come up with something you really love, please come back and let us know!

Debbie Suderman July 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Where can I get essential oil?

Michael Nolan July 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm

I generally buy mine at a local health food store. They are also available at Whole Foods and similar stores.

sharlene boulay July 31, 2012 at 10:56 am

what is michaels’ homemade detergent/

Michael Nolan July 31, 2012 at 11:03 am

There’s a link to it in the first sentence of this post.

Jess G August 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm

How long will the liquid softener last? Does it have an expiration time?

Michael Nolan August 11, 2012 at 6:35 am

I can’t imagine that it would have a shelf life any shorter than the stuff you’d get at the store. I have only ever made 3 months or so ahead, but would have no problem using it for 6-12 months if necessary.

Lori Davis September 15, 2012 at 7:48 am

Can you use the homemade softner on a piece of cotton cloth? I’m talking about the
vinagar and oil one. If so best method.

Kathryn October 8, 2012 at 6:13 pm

When I was a young bride 30 years ago. I found a great tip. You can take your fabric softener and mix it with water. Place in a tupperware. (Now they have other types of containers we didn’t have then.) Then take a sponge cut in half. Keep in the container with your deluded softener. Squeeze out then place in the dryer. You can use them over and over again. I think I will make my own softener and do this trick again like I use too.

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