Best Eco-Friendly Fabric Softener

I’ve never been a big fabric softener person, mostly because I’m allergic to almost all of the standard options out there, and I hate spending money on plastic packaging unless it is for a product that is high quality. But I am also a big fan of soft laundry, especially sheets. 

If you, like me, have been looking for an eco-friendly, non-toxic alternative to commercial fabric softener, there are several options worth trying! Here is a list of eco-friendly fabric softeners that are better for our planet and your health. 

What Does Fabric Softener Do?

Fabric softener is an additive used to make laundry softer and less staticky. It works by depositing a layer of chemicals over the fabric, causing the fibers to fluff up and feel softer. These same chemicals also neutralize electric charges, which cause static. 

Are Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets Toxic?

They can be, depending on what materials and ingredients they use. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets often contain ingredients like quats and phthalates. These chemicals have been linked to asthma and allergies and can be toxic to the reproductive system (Source: EWG).

Eco-Friendly Fabric Softener Options

Dropps Fabric Softener Pods

Dropps Fabric Softener Pods: Lavender Eucalyptus | 32 Count | HE Compatible + All Washers | Cold…
  • ENHANCED SOFTENING EFFICACY: Dropps In-Wash Fabric Softener Pods work from the start of the wash cycle. Pair with your detergent to infuse a subtle, pleasant scent while deeply conditioning fibers….
  • SOFT TOUCH FORMULATION: Dropps Fabric Softener Pods utilize mineral-based components to ensure your laundry comes out soft and smooth without any sticky residue. Our precision-measured pods dispense…
  • FOR ALL MACHINES & WASH CYCLES: Our fabric softener is the epitome of laundry convenience. Formulated for universal use, these pods are compatible with all washing machine types—HE, standard, front,…

Dropps Fabric Softener pods utilize bentonite powder as the active ingredient. The pods are coated in biodegradable PVA coating that dissolves in water to release powerful softening for your laundry. 

These fabric softener pods have a lavender and eucalyptus scent that reviewers largely agreed was light and pleasant on their laundry. With that said, Dropps doesn’t specify what is included in the “fragrance” listed on the ingredients for scented pods. So if you’re sensitive to artificial fragrances or concerned about their effects, opt for their unscented pods.

Dropps Fabric Softener Pods are cruelty-free and vegan. They are sold in cardboard packaging that is compostable and recyclable. Dropps has also partnered with Oceana (an ocean conservancy organization) and is an EPA Safer Choice partner

Pros:

  • Natural bentonite and mineral-based ingredients
  • Oceana partner for ocean conservancy 
  • Cruelty-free and vegan
  • Excellent softening power
  • Cardboard packaging (compostable and recyclable)
  • Unscented option available

Cons:

  • Fragrance – chemicals used to create scented pods are not clearly specified in the ingredients list 
  • Mineral powder can be harder to dissolve than other commercial laundry softener pods
  • Some pods may break during shipping

Specs:

  • Price (at time of publishing): $12.38
  • Form: Pod
  • Active Ingredient(s): Bentonite 
  • Ethics: Mineral-based ingredients, Oceana partner, EPA Safer Choice partner

Ecover Fabric Softener

Ecover Fabric Softener boasts plant-based ingredients and no animal testing for their products. Their fabric softener leaves laundry feeling soft and fluffy, and reviewers love this product’s results. 

It’s worth noting that artificial fragrance is used in their scented laundry softener formulas. While this product is sold in plastic packaging, it is fully recyclable. 

Some reviewers noted that this fabric softener has a thick consistency that might make working with it tricky if you have a sensitive washing machine. 

Pros:

  • Plant-based ingredients
  • No animal testing
  • Leaves laundry soft and fluffy

Cons:

  • Plastic bottle packaging 
  • Fragrance
  • Thick consistency

Specs:

  • Price (at time of publishing): $18.49
  • Form: Liquid 
  • Active Ingredient(s): Dipalmitoylethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate
  • Ethics: Plant-based ingredients, no animal testing

Caldrea Liquid Fabric Softener

Caldrea Liquid Fabric Softener, Plant Derived, Helps remove static and wrinkles, Sea Salt Neroli…
  • Caldrea Sea Salt Neroli Fabric Softener is HE machine-compatible and helps release wrinkles to make ironing easier
  • Softens and freshens laundry while eliminating pesky static
  • Featured blend of essential oils work magic to refresh, condition, and liven up laundry

Reviewers love the scent of the Caldrea Liquid Fabric Softener derived from essential oils. It’s made without harsh chemicals like phthalates and parabens and is cruelty-free. This softener claims to soften while also removing static and wrinkles. If naturally scented laundry is your priority, then this fabric softener is the way to go. 

Pros:

  • Made without Phthalates, Formaldehyde, Artificial Colors, Parabens, and Animal-Derived Ingredients
  • Naturally scented with essential oils 
  • Cruelty-free
  • Removes static and wrinkles
  • Member of Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, The Conservation Alliance and are Leaping Bunny Certified

Cons:

  • Plastic packaging

Specs:

  • Price (at time of publishing): $15.63
  • Form: Liquid
  • Active ingredient (s): Dihydrogenated Palmoylethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate
  • Ethics: Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, The Conservation Alliance and are Leaping Bunny Certified 

Biokleen Dryer Sheets

Biokleen Laundry Dryer Sheets, Fabric Softener, Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic, Plant-Based, No Artificial…
  • Softens fabric & reduces static
  • Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic, Plant-Based, No Artificial Fragrance, Colors or Preservatives
  • Kind to those with chemical sensitivities and allergies

These dryer sheets are an excellent budget option for fabric softeners. They are anti-static and fragrance-free, with no artificial colors or preservatives. With 80 sheets in a box, Biokleen dryer sheets are one of this list’s most economical fabric softeners. 

Biokleen sheets are made in the USA and are sold in recyclable cardboard packaging. Reviewers note that these sheets have a more rigid texture than commercial dryer sheets. 

Pros:

  • Excellent budget option 
  • Anti-static
  • Fragrance-free 
  • Made in the USA
  • Recyclable cardboard packaging 

Cons:

  • Tougher sheet texture 

Specs:

  • Price (at time of publishing): $12.90
  • Form: Sheets 
  • Active ingredient (s): Dihydrogenated palmoylethyl hydroxyethylmonium methosulfate
  • Ethics: No animal testing, U.S.A manufacturer world-sourced ingredients

Molly Suds Dryer Sheets

Molly’s Suds Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets for Sensitive Skin | Plant-Based Static Reducer,…
  • SOFT-STATIC FREE CLOTHES: Our 97% plant-based dryer sheets employ a gentle fabric softening technology to leave clothes feeling fresh, cozy, and comfy. Better for people with sensitive skin, the…
  • INSPIRED BY NATURE: Made with essential oils derived from Mother Earth, certified Cruelty-Free by Leaping Bunny and Made in the USA. Our dryer sheets are free of waxes, dyes, harsh fragrances, and…
  • FEMALE FOUNDED: Molly’s Suds was founded by a pediatric nurse & mom who felt we all deserve cleaning products made with simpler, safer, more transparent ingredients.

Molly Suds dryer sheets are another great budget-friendly option with 120 sheets per box. They’re cruelty-free and vegan with a Leaping Bunny certification. The sheets themselves are compostable and are sold in biodegradable cardboard packaging. 

When it comes to function, reviewers love the anti-static and softening properties of these dryer sheets. Other customers did note that they needed more product to get their desired results, sometimes using two or more sheets per load. 

Pros:

  • Budget-friendly 
  • Cruelty-free and vegan
  • Anti-static 
  • Compostable
  • Biodegradable cardboard packaging

Cons:

  • Need more product to get desired results 

Specs:

  • Price (at time of publishing): $12.99
  • Form: Sheet
  • Active Ingredient(s): C16-18 Glycerides, Di-(Palm Carboxyethyl) Hydroxyethyl Methylammonium, Methyl Sulfates, C16-18 Fatty Acids
  • Ethos: Leaping Bunny certified, vegan

Considerations Before Using Fabric Softener

Ingredients to Avoid

  • Quaternary ammonium compounds: Also known as quats, these compounds are a common ingredient in fabric softeners. They can cause problems with asthma and the reproductive system and should be avoided whenever possible. Avoid ingredients ending in “monium chloride” or vague terms like “biodegradable softening agent.” 
  • Phthalates: These chemicals are used to help disperse fragrances. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors which can lead to hormone imbalances. They aren’t always listed on ingredient labels, so try to avoid the umbrella term “fragrance” and look for options that specifically claim to be phthalate free. 
  • Fragrance: This umbrella term used in product labels can represent a whole host of harmful chemicals, like phthalates and galaxolide. 
  • Preservatives and Colors: Much like fragrance, these vague terms can be product label codes for harmful chemicals like methylisothiazolinone, linked to allergies and even cancers. 

(Source: EWG)

Fabrics that Should Never be Washed with Fabric Softener

  • Towels: It might be tempting to use fabric softener to keep your towels fluffy and soft, but it can reduce the absorbency of towels over time, especially terry cloth.
  • Performance fabrics: Anything with sweat-wicking capabilities, like all your Lululemon leggings, shouldn’t be washed with fabric softener because it will essentially clog the fabric’s pores, damaging its breathability. 
  • Delicates: Since delicates are, by nature, delicate, fabric softeners can cause damage to sensitive fibers over time. 
  • Children’s sleepwear: Children’s pajamas sometimes come with a flame-retardant coating that fabric softener will damage. 

Do You Really Need it?

No, you don’t. Fabric softener is a bonus if you want soft laundry, but there are other ways to achieve that goal. There are several natural alternatives if you feel your laundry really needs the extra softening. 

Fabric Softener Comparison Chart

Product Image
Dropps Fabric Softener Pods: Lavender Eucalyptus | 32 Count | HE Compatible + All Washers | Cold...
Ecover Fabric Softener - Morning Fresh - 32 Fl Oz (Pack of 2)
Caldrea Liquid Fabric Softener, Plant Derived, Helps remove static and wrinkles, Sea Salt Neroli...
Biokleen Laundry Dryer Sheets, Fabric Softener, Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic, Plant-Based, No Artificial...
Molly's Suds Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets for Sensitive Skin | Plant-Based Static Reducer,...
Product Name
Dropps Fabric Softener Pods: Lavender Eucalyptus | 32 Count | HE Compatible + All Washers | Cold…
Ecover Fabric Softener – Morning Fresh – 32 Fl Oz (Pack of 2)
Caldrea Liquid Fabric Softener, Plant Derived, Helps remove static and wrinkles, Sea Salt Neroli…
Biokleen Laundry Dryer Sheets, Fabric Softener, Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic, Plant-Based, No Artificial…
Molly’s Suds Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets for Sensitive Skin | Plant-Based Static Reducer,…
Form
Pod
Liquid
Liquid
Sheets
Sheets
Active Ingredients
Bentonite
Dipalmitoylethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate
Dihydrogenated Palmoylethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate
Dihydrogenated palmoylethyl hydroxyethylmonium methosulfate
C16-18 Glycerides, Di-(Palm Carboxyethyl) Hydroxyethyl Methylammonium, Methyl Sulfates, C16-18 Fatty Acids
Ethics
Oceana partner, EPA Safer Choice partner
Plant-based ingredients, no animal testing
Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, The Conservation Alliance, Leaping Bunny Certified 
No animal testing, U.S.A manufacturer world-sourced ingredients
Leaping Bunny certified, vegan
Price
$13.75
$18.81
$19.32
$17.41
$13.99
Product Image
Dropps Fabric Softener Pods: Lavender Eucalyptus | 32 Count | HE Compatible + All Washers | Cold...
Product Name
Dropps Fabric Softener Pods: Lavender Eucalyptus | 32 Count | HE Compatible + All Washers | Cold…
Form
Pod
Active Ingredients
Bentonite
Ethics
Oceana partner, EPA Safer Choice partner
Price
$13.75
Purchase
Product Image
Ecover Fabric Softener - Morning Fresh - 32 Fl Oz (Pack of 2)
Product Name
Ecover Fabric Softener – Morning Fresh – 32 Fl Oz (Pack of 2)
Form
Liquid
Active Ingredients
Dipalmitoylethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate
Ethics
Plant-based ingredients, no animal testing
Price
$18.81
Purchase
Product Image
Caldrea Liquid Fabric Softener, Plant Derived, Helps remove static and wrinkles, Sea Salt Neroli...
Product Name
Caldrea Liquid Fabric Softener, Plant Derived, Helps remove static and wrinkles, Sea Salt Neroli…
Form
Liquid
Active Ingredients
Dihydrogenated Palmoylethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate
Ethics
Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, The Conservation Alliance, Leaping Bunny Certified 
Price
$19.32
Purchase
Product Image
Biokleen Laundry Dryer Sheets, Fabric Softener, Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic, Plant-Based, No Artificial...
Product Name
Biokleen Laundry Dryer Sheets, Fabric Softener, Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic, Plant-Based, No Artificial…
Form
Sheets
Active Ingredients
Dihydrogenated palmoylethyl hydroxyethylmonium methosulfate
Ethics
No animal testing, U.S.A manufacturer world-sourced ingredients
Price
$17.41
Purchase
Product Image
Molly's Suds Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets for Sensitive Skin | Plant-Based Static Reducer,...
Product Name
Molly’s Suds Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets for Sensitive Skin | Plant-Based Static Reducer,…
Form
Sheets
Active Ingredients
C16-18 Glycerides, Di-(Palm Carboxyethyl) Hydroxyethyl Methylammonium, Methyl Sulfates, C16-18 Fatty Acids
Ethics
Leaping Bunny certified, vegan
Price
$13.99
Purchase

Natural Alternatives to Fabric Softener

Distilled White Vinegar

To use distilled white vinegar as a fabric softener, add ½ cup of vinegar to the fabric softener compartment and run your machine as usual. The smell of the vinegar will dissipate completely by the time your laundry is washed and dried.

Dryer Balls

Dryer Balls are an easy replacement for fabric softener. Toss a few balls in the dryer with your laundry and let the cycle run. These balls agitate the fabric in the machine to soften them as the cycle runs. They also absorb extra water, making clothing dry faster, and are a great alternative to dryer sheets

FAQs

Is fabric softener bad for the environment?

It can be. Once your load of laundry is finished, the water washes down the drain, and the chemicals in the fabric softener can eventually make their way to the water system, harming aquatic life. Most fabric softener formulas are packaged in plastic packaging that too often ends up in landfills.

Is fabric softener the same as detergent?

No. Fabric softener does not have cleaning properties on its own. You still need to use detergent with fabric softener if you want your laundry to get clean. 

What is the best alternative to fabric softeners?

The best natural alternative to fabric softeners would be distilled white vinegar in the wash cycle and wool dryer balls in the dry cycle. These materials are all-natural and do a good job of removing static and softening fabrics in the wash.

Do you really need fabric softener?

No, you don’t. But if you want that extra laundry-softening power, you can try several natural alternatives. 

Best Eco Friendly Fabric Softener for Sustainable Laundry.

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