5 Fabric Softeners Can Ruin – Better Life

There are few things more frustrating than unloading your washing machine or dryer only to realize you’ve ruined an item of clothing. And, of course, there are so many things that can go wrong. You can accidentally shrink something in the dryer, strengthen a stain using hot water, or dye an entire load pink by mixing colors. A lesser-known laundry mistake is using fabric softener on materials that can’t handle it. While this may not result in immediate staining, it could degrade your items over time. But don’t be afraid. We spoke to cleaning experts for laundry information. Read on to find out what clothes you should never wear with fabric softener.

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You probably use fabric softener regularly, but do you really know what it is? According Phi Dang, director of home-service company Sidepost, fabric softeners come in liquid or gel form and are often applied to laundry during the rinse cycle. Dryer sheets also fall into this category. There are also laundry detergents that contain fabric softeners.

The active ingredient in these products is usually a cationic surfactant. “This surfactant reduces the electrostatic forces between the fibers, making them softer,” says Dang. “Softener also often contains fragrances and other chemicals that can make fabric feel fresh and smell great.” But in some cases, they do more harm than good. Here are five common examples.

silk kimonos on rack
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Silk is a delicate material that requires special washing techniques, one of which is to do without fabric softener. “Softener can leave a residue on fabric that can make it less effective at repelling dirt and stains,” Dang says. “It can also make fabrics less breathable, which can make them more uncomfortable to wear.” Breathability is one of the main reasons people invest in silk. So you’ll want to keep this feature as long as possible.

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baby puts a toy in his mouth
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Today, many infant (particularly infant sleepwear) and adult garments in high-risk industries are made from flame-retardant materials. These fabrics are self-extinguishing and eliminate the risk of clothing melting on the skin and causing a burn in the event of a fire. Because they are technical materials, you must wash them properly.

“Most people don’t know that their FR clothes can lose their FR properties when treated with fabric softener,” Dang says. “Chemicals in fabric softener can break down flame retardant chemicals in garments, leaving the wearer vulnerable to burns.” Read the care label carefully to ensure that you do not compromise your garments and subsequently your safety or that of your child.

man holding umbrella outside in the rain
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Many of us own various water-repellent jackets, coats and down jackets. And when you clean them, you shouldn’t use fabric softener. “That would be counterproductive,” Dang says. “Softener can actually reduce the water repellency of the fabric over time.” An absorbent raincoat is the opposite of effective.

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Microfiber is one of our favorite materials for sportswear, workout towels, and cleaning towels. It easily absorbs moisture and easily traps dust. But if you add fabric softener to the mix, those abilities might be reduced. “Microfiber garments are made of extremely fine synthetic fibers that are woven together to create a lightweight, durable fabric,” Dang explains. Fabric softener will cling to these tight fibers and alter them in unconstructive ways.

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Woman choosing from a rack of sweaters
Shutterstock/Ira Shpiller

Materials like wool, cashmere, and mohair might look ready for fabric softener (after all, who wants an itchy sweater?), but that’s another garment you’ll want to avoid conditioning. Fabric softeners can reduce the fluffiness of a sweater and cause it to lose texture and warmth. Hand wash these items with soaps made specifically for knitwear.

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