Do you really need fabric softener? Here’s what it actually does for your laundry.

Doing the laundry is a dirty job that most of us let pile up. You can make it easier on yourself by being as efficient as possible by adding fabric softener to your loads to help keep clothes softer and less static. By reducing friction between fibers, the best fabric softeners produce less static and can help extend the life of your clothes by protecting them from wear and tear. It can even prevent pilling of clothes.

Fabric softeners contain lubricating ingredients that help coat and soften fabric fibers and reduce static. They also help keep clothes fresh and come in different forms: liquid, powder, dryer sheets and dryer balls.

The best fabric softeners

Liquid fabric softener has been shown to be effective in removing odors and softening clothes, as long as it is not a product developed with detergent. It should be added at the start of the wash cycle so that it is automatically dispensed at the right time. It is the most expensive of all the options.

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A more economical option is dryer sheets, which can be added to your drying cycle. They’re also lightweight, making them easy to carry to the laundromat.

However, dryer balls are the cheapest because they are reusable and offer an allergy and eco-friendly alternative that fights static electricity and produces a slight softening effect. Dryer balls are usually made with wool or heat-resistant BPA-free plastic.

Those with sensitive skin will want to avoid scented fabric softeners or opt for dryer balls. For people who like to lightly scent sheets, towels and clothes, fabric softener can add an extra touch of fragrance. You can also add three to four drops of essential oils to the dryer balls.

A Consumer Reports study of fabric softeners found that not all types soften clothes the same way. The liquids were found to be very good while the dryer sheets were “passable at best”.

Some people mistakenly think that fabric softener will make your clothes cleaner, but it doesn’t.

For liquids, be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging, measuring out the correct amount of liquid or powder and pouring it directly into your machine’s built-in container. You won’t need to dilute it; your machine will automatically add water to it before it mixes into the wash.

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A word of warning: this is not a product for every garment you own. Fabric softeners are known to reduce the effectiveness of some water and flame resistant materials. (Think: gym clothes, Gore-Tex gloves, or children’s pajamas.) Since most workout clothes are formulated with moisture-wicking materials, you might want to avoid fabric softener when working out. washing these types of clothes. Fabric softeners can break down wicking abilities by clogging the pores of the fabric.

Fabric softener is also said to reduce the absorbency of terry or microfiber towels. If you’ve used fabric softener over a few cycles and you notice your towels aren’t drying as well as they used to, add a cup of distilled white vinegar to your next load. The vinegar works to remove residue and remove odors, making towels soft and fluffy.

The best fabric softener will keep clothes fluffy, reduce static, and help keep items looking good after use.

This story originally appeared on Don’t Waste Your Money. Check out Don’t Waste Your Money for product reviews and other great ideas for saving and earning money.

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