Finding balance with food, movement, and community for my (dairy-free) family.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Natural Fabric Softener: Five Fabulous Tips

Looking for a cheap, easy way to reduce your family's chemical exposure?  Ditch the conventional fabric softener and replace it with these simple, natural tips to soften your fabrics.  

In trying to eliminate conventional chemical fabric softeners from my laundry routine, I encountered three hurdles:  

  • crunchy fabric
  • static
  • a reluctant husband.  

These five tips solved my problems, allowing me to soften my clothes naturally, without leaving harsh or toxic chemical residues in our clothing.   Our skin is our largest organ and it spends all day and night in contact with the fabrics we wash--eliminating commercial fabric softeners is a great baby-step toward reducing chemical exposure.

Tip 1:  Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your wash.  The vinegar helps resolve the crunchy issue by acting as a natural softener, relaxing the fibers of the fabric.    Using your machine's fabric softener dispenser makes this step simple.

Tip 2:  Dry synthetic fabrics and natural fabrics separately.  This is the first key to solving the static issue.  Static is created when dry fabrics rub against other dry fabrics.  Synthetic fabrics (such as polyester and nylon) dry much more quickly than natural fabrics (such as cotton).   Synthetics often dry in as little as 20-30 minutes and spend the next 30 minutes of their time in the dryer bouncing around creating static.

I usually wash my synthetic and natural fabrics in separate loads; however, if I don't have enough to make two full loads I wash them together and then just hang-dry one fabric type.

Tip 3:  Stop over-drying your laundry.  This is the second key to solving the static issue.  As mentioned above, static is created when dry fabrics rub against one another.   I discovered that I was routinely setting the timer on my dryer for longer than necessary; dialing it back reduces static and saves energy--bonus!

Tip 4:  Use motion to relax fabric fibers.  Here's the second key to solve the crunchy issue.  Motion keeps the fibers from drying in a single, stiff position, which is what makes them feel crunchy.  Even for clothes I'm going to line-dry, a quick 5 minute tumble in the dyer first makes for softer clothes.

No dryer?  For clothes I don't want exposed to any dryer heat, I find it helpful to briskly, vigorously, shake and snap the clothes before hanging them to dry.

Tip 5:  Be Gradual.   If your family (ahem--husband) is used to fluffy-soft, highly-scented, chemically softened fabrics, making a gradual transition may be more successful.  I started out using liquid fabric softener and my first shift was to dryer sheets.  Then I started cutting the drying sheets in half and finally in quarters.

My husband still occasionally waxes nostalgic about the good ol' days when his towels smelled like a chemist's idea of a spring meadow, but going gradually staved off the laundry coup he started when I tried to go cold-turkey.

Often, we associate clean with chemical perfumes from our cleaning products, but that's not the true smell of clean.  Clean laundry should smell neutral.  

What strategies have helped you conquer crunchy fabric and static without using chemicals?  Any tips to add?

I shared this post at Homemaking Hints at Heavenly Homemakers.  

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