See how to make the best DIY fabric softener without vinegar! This homemade liquid laundry softener is all-natural and made with essential oils and eco-friendly, biodegradable ingredients. The easy non-toxic laundry recipe makes clothes feel super soft and removes static cling.
Best natural fabric softener
Looking for a natural fabric softener alternative that actually works? Then give my homemade laundry softener a try! Homemade doesn’t mean you have to compromise on quality. It works just as well as commercial products – but without any toxic chemicals.
My DIY fabric conditioner leaves clothes feeling silky-soft, smelling good, and free of static cling. The recipe is made with natural, plant-based ingredients that are skin-friendly and won’t harm the environment.
What is fabric softener?
Liquid fabric softener is a laundry product that softens your clothing, making it less rough and scratchy against the skin. They are used in the washer’s rinse cycle and lubricate fabrics to make them feel silkier and reduce static cling.
Clingy clothes are harmless but can be super annoying. But what causes clinginess, and how does fabric softener help? Let’s find out!
What causes static cling?
Static cling is the result of an electron imbalance. The dryness and tumbling action of the dryer cause fabrics to rub against each other. The friction between the fabrics builds up a negative electrostatic charge. This negative electric charge is felt as static cling.
How does fabric softener work?
Fabric softeners contain materials with a positive charge. We call them cationic ingredients (positively charged ingredients). The positive charge is attracted to the negative charge on the fabric. They cancel each other out, and the static cling disappears.
Do you really need fabric softeners?
Fabric softeners are a polarizing subject. Some swear by it, some hate it with a passion. They aren’t essential to launder but can make our clothes and bedlinens feel softer, especially in areas with hard water.
Reasons to make DIY fabric softener
Guess what all commercial fabric softeners have in common? They contain a long list of synthetic chemicals. This list includes quats, phthalate-loaded fragrances, paraben-based preservatives, and artificial colorants.
These materials can accumulate in the body and potentially cause skin irritation, contact allergies, and asthma. Some of them don’t biodegrade, posing a threat to the environment and marine life. Sounds like something to avoid, right?
Even fabric softeners and dryer sheets marketed as “green” or “eco-friendly” contain quats like hydroxyethyl methylammonium methyl sulfates. What are quats exactly?
Quats (short for quaternary ammonium compounds) are cationic (positively charged) substances that lend clothes a soft feel. The downside of quats is that they can potentially lead to allergic reactions and respiratory problems.
Benefits of homemade fabric softener
My DIY fabric softener is loaded with gentle, skin-friendly materials and does a stellar job of softening clothes. Here are all the things to love about this natural laundry recipe:
- Soft clothes and fabrics: You’ll be positively surprised how well this DIY fabric softener works! It leaves clothes and fabrics soft and cushiony and reduces static cling.
- Beautiful scent: Your laundry will come out smelling fresh and clean. Creating homemade laundry products allows you to customize the scent to your personal liking and skip the synthetic fragrances.
- All-natural: Each ingredient is natural, non-toxic + sustainable, and comes from renewable sources.
- Gentle and skin-friendly: My homemade natural fabric softener is made with gentle, non-irritating ingredients suitable for sensitive and hypersensitive skin types.
- Biodegradable: Every ingredient in this eco-friendly fabric softener biodegrades entirely and doesn’t endanger aquatic life.
- Reduce plastic waste: Storing your DIY laundry softener in a glass bottle helps to reduce plastic waste in the form of empty bottles.
- Affordable: Making your own fabric softener at home will save you some bucks. The ingredients are inexpensive, and 1 bottle of this DIY fabric softener costs around 3 bucks compared to 5 to 7 USD for conventional products.
Fabric softener ingredients
The beautiful thing about homemade liquid fabric softener is that the recipe doesn’t require that many materials. You’ll mainly need green cleaning staples like distilled water, citric acid, and essential oils. Here are the ingredients in fabric softener:
- Distilled water is the main component and carries the other ingredients. Either use distilled water, purified water, or boiled, cooled tap water if the other 2 aren’t available.
- Citric acid acts as a softener and prevents bacterial spoilage.
- Guar gum is a cationic ingredient. The natural gum enhances softness, reduces static electricity, and adjusts the texture of the fabric softener.
- Calcium chloride is a saltneutralizes unpleasant odors, lifts stains, and softens hard water. You can swap out calcium chloride for table salt (sodium chloride).
- Potassium sorbate preserves the product from mold.
- Essential oils (optional) act as a scent booster and impart a pleasant natural scent. Omit the essential oils if you have hypersensitive skin or need a hypoallergenic laundry product.
The exact amounts are in the DIY card at the end of the post.
Let’s have a closer look at the 2 most important ingredients, citric acid, and guar gum.
Citric acid is a true multitasker and natural cleaning wonder. The material is made by fermenting molasses and is 100% natural. Let me show you the benefits of citric acid in fabric softener:
- Water softener and chelating agent: Hard water contains high amounts of minerals, like calcium and magnesium. Citric acid softens water by binding these minerals and discourages the build-up of limescale in your washing machine.
- Preservative: Citric acid makes the softener formula acidic and uninhabitable for bacteria and microbes.
- Anti-bacterial: And speaking of bacteria, citric acid removes odor-causing bacteria from clothes.
- Odorless: Another benefit is that citric acid has no smell (unlike vinegar fabric softeners).
Cationic guar gum
I have never seen anyone else suggest guar gum as an ingredient in DIY fabric softener. In fact, most homemade fabric softener recipes don’t contain any cationic ingredients at all.
But my goal was to create a formula that performs just as well as regular fabric softener, so I tried to come up with a natural substitute for quats. Yes, I’m a total nerd.
Enter guar gum, a natural cationic polymer. Guar gum is the dried powder of guar beans. It offers the following benefits:
- Anti-static agent: Guar gum releases positively charged ions that neutralize static cling.
- Softness enhancer: Guar gum works as a fabric conditioner and gives clothes a soft feel.
- Thickener: It also thickens homemade liquid fabric softener and adds slip.
When buying ingredient, be sure to get cationic guar gum. Regular guar gum powder does not work. The ingredient is offered under different names so check that the INCI name is: Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride.
Being a natural product, guar gum has a fishy smell. No worries though, you won’t notice the odor in the finished product (even without essential oils).
Essential oil fabric softener
Irena assisted me in coming up with 4 essential oil blends for scented fabric softener. They lend an incredibly refreshing scent and additional cleaning benefits. Washed laundry will have a faint scent, but don’t expect commercial fabric softeners’ strong smell.
- Misty Forest: 65 drops pine scots + 35 drops lemon eucalyptus + 20 drops blue tansy
- Snuggle Up: 50 drops lavender + 40 drops cedarwood + 15 drops sandalwood + 8 drops clove bud
- Sunshine Clean: 55 drops lemon + 40 drops grapefruit + 25 drops lemongrass
- Sundried Linen: 65 drops citronella + 35 drops fir needle + 22 drops lime
And for that typical fresh clothes smell, try Irena’s fresh linen essential oil recipe.
Using essential oils in fabric softener is optional. Skip the essential oils to reduce the risk of irritation for sensitive skin.
How to make fabric softener
Homemade fabric softener comes together in minutes. All you do is stirring the ingredients together. Here are the simple steps for how to make natural fabric softener:
Step 1: Dissolve guar gum
- Add the distilled water and guar gum into a large measuring cup or pitcher. Stir with a spoon until the guar gum has completely dissolved into the water. The mixture will look cloudy and might smell unpleasant. The citric acid will neutralize the odor.
- The guar gum needs to be fully dissolved before you proceed to the next steps. Any guar clumps left won’t dissolve once you add the critic acid.
Step 2: Add citric acid
- Stir in the citric acid. Citric acid dissolves over time. You don’t need to do anything more than give everything a good stir. You might feel a cooling effect and notice a thickening action.
Step 3: Add other ingredients
- Add the calcium chloride, potassium sorbate, and essential oils. Stir until everything is evenly distributed throughout.
Step 4: Package
- Fill the laundry detergent into a glass bottle and store airtight.
How to use fabric softener
Using fabric softener is quick and easy. Follow these steps:
- Measure out the fabric softener into a measuring cup or detergent dosing cup.
- Pour the fabric softener into the detergent drawer before starting the wash cycle. A small star or flower icon indicates the compartment where you need to put the softener. Never pour fabric softener directly into the drum.
- The washing machine will release the fabric softener during the final rinse cycle.
- If you have an older machine, you may manually add the fabric softener before the last rinse cycle.
- Wash your hands after using fabric softener. Undiluted fabric softener can cause a mild reaction if left on very sensitive skin.
How much laundry softener do I need?
This laundry softener is very concentrated. The smaller the load, the less you’ll need.
- Large load: For a large load, add 1/8 cup / 30 ml / 1 oz of product.
- Medium load: 1 1/2 tbsp / 20 ml / 0.7 oz is sufficient for a medium load.
- Hart water: If you live in a place with hard water, add up to 3 tbsp / 45 ml / 1.5 oz DIY fabric softener.
How many loads will get out of this recipe?
The recipe yields 3 cups liquid fabric softener, which is enough for 24 to 30 loads of laundry.
More ways to use fabric softener
- Hand washing clothes: Add 1 tablespoon softener to the rinse bucket, swirl with your hand to disperse, and rinse your clothes.
- Fabric softener balls: Soak wool dryer balls in the fabric softener solution for 1 to 2 minutes. Wring out excess liquid and add to the dryer.
- Fabric softener spray: Transfer into a spray bottle. Spritz on damp clothes before drying. You can also lightly apply on dry clothes to remove static.
Storage, shelf life, and packaging
How to package homemade fabric softener
An airtight glass bottle is best for storing this natural fabric softener recipe. An amber glass bottle or glass jar protects the product from UV rays (which can deteriorate essential oils). If you prefer clear glass, be sure to keep the product in a dark place, away from direct sunlight.
I don’t recommend plastic containers because essential oils contain compounds that can release chemicals from plastic.
How to store DIY fabric softener
Store your homemade clothes softener in a dark, cool place where it isn’t exposed to sunlight. I keep mine in my laundry cupboard, so it’s at hand whenever I launder.
How long is natural fabric softener good for?
The shelf life of this homemade laundry recipe is 1 year.
Homemade fabric softener FAQ
Does it work in high-efficiency washers?
Of course! The linen softener works in standard and high-efficiency washing machines.
Is this DIY laundry softener septic safe?
Yes, my DIY fabric softener safe for greywater and septic systems.
Can I use this homemade laundry product on baby clothes?
Yes, the formula is safe for babies and small children. I recommend omitting the essential oils for babies under 1 year to limit the amount of ingredients their bodies are exposed to.
I don’t recommend fabric softener with cloth diapers because it will make them less absorbent.
Is laundry softener a replacement for laundry detergent or laundry powder?
No, fabric softener isn’t a laundry detergent substitute because it isn’t a cleaning product. It’s meant to be used in conjunction with other laundry products.
Does this natural fabric softener prevent wrinkles?
No, the natural laundry recipe won’t eliminate wrinkles.
Do I need to add a preservative?
No, you don’t need to add any additional preservatives. Citric acid, potassium sorbate, and sodium chloride are highly effective at preserving the DIY liquid fabric softener.
Do I need to add an emulsifier for the essential oils?
I found that the essential oils will disperse well, so adding an emulsifier is optional. If you want to do so, I recommend glyceryl oleate, a natural emulsifier, and mild surfactant.
Glyceryl oleate is a wonderful emulsifier for essential oils and further improves the softening quality. You’ll need 2 tablespoons for this homemade fabric softener recipe.
- 3 cups / 700 ml / 24 fl oz distilled water (can sub for boiled, cooled tap water)
- 1/2 cup / 90 g / 3 oz non-GMO citric acid
- 2 tsp / 5 g / 0.17 oz cationic guar gum
- 1 tbsp / 18 g / 0.63 oz calcium chloride
- 1/2 tsp / 1 g / 0.03 oz potassium sorbate
- up to 120 drops / 6 g / 0.2 oz essential oils (see post above for blend ideas)
- large glass measuring cup or glass pitcher (something with a spout)
- spoon for stirring
- glass bottle for storing
- Dissolve guar gum. Add the distilled water and guar gum into a large measuring cup or pitcher. Stir with a spoon until the guar gum has completely dissolved into the water. The mixture will look cloudy and might smell unpleasant. The citric acid will neutralize the odor. The guar gum needs to be fully dissolved before you proceed to the next steps. Any guar clumps left won't dissolve once you add the critic acid.
- Add citric acid. Stir in the citric acid. Citric acid dissolves over time. You don't need to do anything more than give everything a good stir. You might feel a cooling effect and notice a thickening action
- Add other ingredients. Add the calcium chloride, potassium sorbate, and essential oils. Stir until everything is evenly distributed throughout.
- Package. Fill the laundry detergent into a glass bottle and store airtight.
Other ways to make natural fabric softener
Before signing off, I want to share a few other ways to make natural fabric softener. In case you prefer other options or can’t find the ingredients I used for my recipe.
Vinegar fabric softener
Vinegar is a natural, easy-to-find material, and it’s perfectly safe to make fabric softener with vinegar. Like citric acid, vinegar softens the water. I just cannot stand the pungent smell and wanted to create DIY fabric softener without vinegar.
Can I make this fabric softener with vinegar?
Of course! Simply replace the citric acid with 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar and prepare the natural fabric softener recipe as indicated. You can mask the harsh smell by adding a few drops lemon essential oil. The oil won’t eliminate the odor completely but disguise it significantly.
Homemade fabric softener with conditioner
Browsing for DIY fabric softeners online, you may have stumbled upon some recipes that use conditioner as an ingredient and might be wondering why conditioner.
Conditioner is used to tame frizzy (= negatively charged) hair and contains cationic (= positively charged) ingredients. Like guar gum, conditioner will reduce the static in fabric.
I prefer guar gum in this fabric softener recipe. Still, you can add 3 tablespoons conditioner to the recipe in case you can’t find guar gum.