How to Soften Clothes and Fabric Naturally (Without Dryer Sheets)

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Soft clothes are great. Soft fabrics are fantastic. But if you’re like most people, then your wardrobe is either made up of sustainable fabrics, stiff synthetic materials or wool that feels itchy and rough against the skin.

Traditional fabric softeners are expensive and bad for the environment and we need to stop using them. There's no point in buying eco-friendly clothes and then softening them with single use dryer sheets that aren't biodegradable.

But nobody wants to go around wearing scratchy t-shirts, tops or sweaters all day either. Fortunately, there’s no need to resign yourself to rough clothing any longer!

There are many ways you can soften your clothes and fabrics right at home with simple ingredients you probably already have on hand.

Here are 12 of the best techniques for softening fabric without using dryer sheets.


Baking Soda

baking soda

Baking soda is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to soften clothes.

Simply dissolve 1/2 cup (120 ml) of baking soda in 2 quarts (2 liters) of warm water before your wash. Check that all the baking soda has fully dissolved, then add your garments or laundry before running them through the wash cycle. You can pour the baking soda mix into your washing machine, or mix it with your laundry detergent

Baking soda is an alkaline which inhibits the minerals in your water, meaning they don't get deposited on your clothes, which is what can make them feel stiff.

Baking soda is a natural softener that is inexpensive to buy, and does not harm either your clothes, your washing machine or the environment.

If you don't happen to have any baking soda in the house and want to try this method today, then Epsom salt can be substituted instead.

Wool Dryer Balls

wool dryer balls

Wool dryer balls are a great solution to soften clothes and fabrics without using dryer sheets. Simply throw the balls into the dryer with your wet garments and run as usual.

This is another opportunity to add a scent to your laundry by putting a few drops of your favorite essential oil on each of the dryer balls. Your clothes will feel softer and smell good too.

Wool dryer balls work by fluffing up your clothes as they dry. They're particularly effective in giving you fluffy, soft towels. They're also reusable, so after the one time purchase your dryer balls will start saving you money as compared to traditional fabric softeners.

They're cheap to buy as well.

You may read some people advising you to use tennis balls as a cheap alternative to dryer balls, but I would advise against this. The glue used in tennis balls can be toxic and I wouldn't want that getting all over my family's clothes.


white vinegar

White Vinegar is a miracle worker that will naturally soften your clothes, and also remove the smells and residues that accumulate on clothes over time.

Just add 1/2 cup of vinegar to your fabric softener dispenser, in place of regular liquid fabric softener. If your washing machine doesn't have a dispenser, then just add the vinegar solution during the rinse cycle.

In case you're wondering, no this won't make your laundry smell of vinegar!

But if you do want to add a little scent then here's an extra tip. Try adding a few drops of essential oil to the white vinegar first as a natural scent booster. Be sure to give it a good shake before you pour it in, to stop the oils separating.

This method works brilliantly on regular or organic cotton t-shirts, towels and any other garments that have a cotton blend.



Don’t worry, you don't have to drink it (unless you want to). Vodka is a gentle fabric softener that leaves no smell behind and can be safely used on even the most delicate of fabrics.

Mix one part vodka with 3 parts water, shake it up to mix well, then add to your wash cycle or directly to stains before throwing in the washer for a quick prewash solution.

Vodka also doubles as a handy laundry disinfectant. Pour one half water, one half vodka into a bottle sprayer, shake it up and spray onto your clothes as you air dry them.

Soap Nuts

soap nuts

Soap nuts are the berries of a large evergreen tree that grows throughout India and south-east Asia.

After they’ve bloomed, the fruit dries and splits open, revealing a round and hard seed. The seeds inside can be crushed and used as a vegan soap substitute; they also make great natural softeners for your clothes.

Naturoli sell some of the best soap nuts around.

Soak the shells in warm water before throwing them into your wash along with your garments in place of store bought liquid detergent. This is a completely natural way to soften and wash your clothes and you won't need to worry about any dangerous chemicals or toxic ingredients.

No need for any laundry detergent, fabric softener or dryer sheets, the nuts do all the work!

Soda Crystals

Soda crystals are a natural dried chemical that is also known as sodium carbonate. The soda crystals will help produce an alkaline reaction in your water when they mix with it. They're ideal for people who are sensitive to chemicals.

Soda crystals are another great natural way to soften clothes and fabrics. Just add the crystals to your wash along with your garments or laundry for an extra boost of fabric softening power.

They also work great as a softener if you're hand washing your clothes.

As well as being a great softener, you can also use soda crystals to remove bacteria and clean your washing machine. Show me dryer sheets that can do all that!

Aluminum Foil Balls

Grab a roll of aluminum foil, ball it up so it's around the size of a baseball, and throw it in the dryer with your clothes.

The balls will help remove static from cloths as they tumble through the dryer. Aluminum foil is also an excellent water softener! The minerals from hard water won’t stick to your clothes if you use aluminum foil balls.

If the balls start to unravel over time, don't throw them away! Simply scrunch them up again and reuse.

Salt Water

Want that new t-shirt feeling? Here's one tip the t-shirt manufacturers won't want you to know.

Salt water is an age old method of softening clothes, making that old t-shirt fabric feel like you just bought it from the store.

Add 2 cups (480 ml) of salt to a large pot of warm water and stir to dissolve. Add your garments or laundry to the salt mixture before running it through the wash cycle as usual. It makes cotton fiber feel like new!

Be sure not to pour the salt water directly into your washing machine, as it can cause damage to the appliance.

Shake Then Hang

Ideally, we should all be looking to tumble dry our clothes less often. Tumble drying uses a lot of energy and isn't exactly an eco-friendly solution.

Before air drying your clothes, simply give them a robust shake. This has the effect of getting rid of any excess water, and loosening the fibers so they don't go stiff when they dry.

Yes it'll take you a few minutes extra, and yes you might even get a small workout at the same time.

But this method can give results that are just as good as you'd get when you tumble dry. Your clothes will feel softer, and you'll save money, save energy and get that eco-friendly feeling.

Use a Pumice Stone

If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to remove dryer sheet buildup, then try using a pumice stone.

Simply take the clothing out of the dryer and scrub with the stone to remove any residue.

Be sure to be gentle with delicates! The stone can easily damage fabrics if you scrub too hard. This is best done outside of the dryer or before adding your garments, but this quick tip can save time and money on having to replace damaged clothing.

Use Soft Water

The quality of the water you wash your clothes in can have a big effect on how soft they feel. According to Consumer Reports, soft water has less calcium and magnesium than hard water which means that less soap is needed for cleaning.

If you live in an area with hard tap water then try using filtered water to see if it softens your clothes.

A top quality water refiner can provide you with soft water and make it affordable to purchase.

They will replace the calcium and magnesium in your water with sodium and potassium, which leaves you with softer clothes without the need for any chemical additives.

Use Reusable Dryer Sheets

If you’re not interested in changing your washing routine, then reusable dryer sheets can be a great alternative to soften clothes and fabric.

These ones are good for over 500 loads.

All you have to do is line dry your clothes whenever possible, then use the sheets when it’s time to throw them in the dryer.


Why Are Dryer Sheets Bad For The Environment?

Traditional dryer sheets are single use products which are thrown away after they've been used. This is essentially the antithesis of the zero waste lifestyle that we should all be aspiring to.

Environmentally, pretty much any single use product is bad. It takes energy and raw materials to produce them, and then they often end up in landfill afterwards.

Most dryer sheets are not recyclable or biodegradable, and many contain chemicals which can be harmful to people, animals and soil.

Can You Wash Clothes With Just Baking Soda?

Yes, baking soda is an excellent laundry booster with many uses in your washing machine. It can remove stains and dirt, soften clothes and give them a fresh smell.

Baking soda is actually incredibly versatile - it also helps to remove carpet odors!

Does Baking Soda Fade Back Clothes?

No. The baking soda helps break up stains without ruining black clothing. It works on most materials, including t-shirt fabric, denim, organic cotton and most other clothes in your wardrobe.

This method allows you to keep both clean clothes and bright colors!

Can I Use Vinegar and Laundry Detergent Together?

Yes. They will work together to clean clothes and remove dirt. And if you use vinegar, then there's no need to add any fabric softener afterwards!

What Can't You Use in the Washing Machine?

There are certain household items that you definitely should not use as a substitute for laundry detergent, fabric softener or dryer sheets. These include:

  • ammonia
  • dishwasher detergent
  • household cleaners
  • shampoo
  • bubble bath
  • shower gel

The Final Word

You now know how to soften clothes the natural way, without using harsh chemicals or disposable dryer sheets that harm the environment.

No matter what your circumstances there should be at least one tip here that you can use. It's simply a matter of finding the best method for you and your family.

Dryer sheets are notoriously bad for the environment, so this is one simple step you can take towards going zero waste without affecting your lifestyle too much. In fact, your health and your finances will almost certainly improve.

If you know of any other great tips to dispense with dryer sheets, then please do get in touch and let me know.

how to soften laundry naturally

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Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.
Arabella Ruiz
Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.

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