woman holding a stack of white towels
Research report
12 July 2019

3 reasons why fabric softeners are a waste of money

Why we don’t recommend fabric softeners.

Fabric softeners might seem like the easy way to get soft, fluffy towels – but they’re not without their downsides. Here’s why we think you should avoid them, plus how you can get soft laundry without forking out for a bottle of fabric softener.

  1. Fabric softeners can react with laundry detergent in the water, resulting in a waxy residue called “scrud”. This can build up in unseen parts of your washing machine and may damage it or contaminate laundry – so it’s important to use the correct dose and to dilute the softener before adding it to the dispenser.

  2. Fabric softeners might make your towels less absorbent. To create a feeling of softness, chemicals make the fabric strands fluff up. The downside, according to our past tests, is that “softer” textiles absorb less water. A soft towel isn’t much good if you can’t dry yourself.

  3. Then there’s the fire risk. Cuddly PJs are comforting on cold winter nights, but flame-resistant fabrics, such as those in children’s pyjamas, may become more flammable when coated in softener (re-washing the fabric without softener may restore flame resistance).

How to get softer laundry

If you want softer laundry:

  • select a programme that doesn’t skimp on water (some “quick” and “eco” programmes use so little water that fabrics come out stiff and scratchy)
  • add an extra rinse
  • lower the spin speed
  • use a clothes dryer on cool to fluff towels up before hanging them on the line.

Tip: Our database of 32 washing machines will help you choose one that’s good at rinsing while still being water-efficient.

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Member comments

Get access to comment

Caroline E.
23 Aug 2019
Does washing soda (or vinegar) cause corrosion in washing machines?

I'd be happy to try washing soda or white vinegar in our washing machine but am worried about corrosion over the long term. Has anyone who had used washing soda or vinegar over a long time had problems with this? We have a front loader Miele.

Mairi D.
11 Aug 2019
static electricity

I use fabric softener on my clothes only. I've found its very effective in minimising or removing my problems with static electricity. Yes, scrud is an issue but regular cleaning of the machine with baking soda seems to keep it at bay.

Elizabeth Ann M.
20 Jul 2019
softer wash

I use washing soda - 1/4cup per load of towels directly into the detergent dispenser in front loader, you only need 1/2 the amount of detergent. I have even used direct into machine with no detergent. You can also baking soda in the same manner. Either also helps remove the soap build up that you can get in flannels, just soak in solution before adding to wash.

Leanne B.
21 Jul 2019

love more feedback like this to share and educate us

kerry-ann w.
22 Jul 2019
WASHING SODA is the way to go

Especially if you live in areas with " hard water".....like Wanganui...the washing soda will soften the water which also means you need less washing powder. I have been using it for years and keep an old plastic jug in the laundry to which I add about half a cup of washing soda crystals , then the washing powder, then some very hot water. Stir it around and add to machine. Its best to dissolve these powders first otherwise you can get powder stuck on the clothes especially noticeable on black or dark clothing.

25 Jul 2019
Fabric softener vs Soda crystals

Yep, me too. Haven't used fabric softeners for many years. Soda crystals are great at softening cotton towels, they are very cheap, fragrance-free, and have myriad other uses around the house and garden. You can use it to kill moss on concrete and wooden patios instead of expensive wet 'n forget type products. I also use soda crystals periodically in the dishwasher too - to give it a good clean, and it makes glassware sparkle. Use them in hot water to clean silverware too...

Gaye Oldham
31 Jul 2019
washing soda

I do use fabric softener but not with towels only with tshirts however I would like to try washing soda - can you purchase this from a supermarket, if not where please.

Consumer staff
02 Aug 2019
Re: washing soda

Hi Gaye,

You should be able to purchase washing soda from most major supermarkets in New Zealand. You can also buy it online from Countdown: https://shop.countdown.co.nz/shop/productdetails?stockcode=276728&name=greenwood-washing-soda-crystals

Kind regards,

Natalie - Consumer NZ staff

Helen K.
20 Jul 2019

I rarely use fabric softener in my washing machine, but use it at times in small amounts in a bucket of water to put clothing items in that are prone to static when wearing.

Diana W.
13 Aug 2019
Re static

I used to use fabric softeners to reduce static, but stopped a few years back due to the scrud issue. After I stopped, I found I didn’t get an increase in static - and in fact had very little problem with it ...until this winter.
For some reason, several items of clothing now carry static after being washed, and I can’t find a way to remove that static. I haven’t changed how I wash them or the detergent. Some are line dried and some in a dryer. Can anyone suggest a way to stop the static?

Consumer staff
14 Aug 2019
Re: Re static

Hi Diana,

We’ve heard that adding a cup of vinegar to the final rinse can help, as can washing soda.

Sort your laundry so that you tumble-dry natural and synthetic fibre fabrics separately, and take them out of the dryer while they’re still slightly damp. You could also throw a dryer sheet or two in with the load.

You could also try tumble dryer pads, available here: https://shop.countdown.co.nz/shop/productdetails?stockcode=317201&name=fluffy-tumble-dryer-pads-field-flowers&searchString=dryer+sheets

We hope that helps.


Julia - Consumer NZ writer.

Pam R.
20 Jul 2019

I try to fluff up my (front loader washed) towels after they are dry by putting them in the dryer on cool. Is it better to fluff them before they are hung out to dry ?

Previous member
23 Jul 2019
Re: Dryer

Hi Pam,

We'd suggest fluffing your towels (using a clothes dryer on cool) before hanging them on the line.

Fonda - Consumer NZ staff

Muriel M.
20 Jul 2019

Is white vinegar ok to use instead of softener?

25 Jul 2019
Vinegar works too!

And it also helps prevent dyes 'bleeding'.
You're welcome.

Peter W.
20 Jul 2019
Fabric Softener

Using soda crystals work better than commercial softeners and leave no residue

Rob and Coralee C.
20 Jul 2019
Washing soda?

How much would you add per towel wash in a front loader and would you put it where you would normally put fabric softener?

Jim & Kuini S.
21 Jul 2019
Using washing soda crystals

I buy 12kg bags from the manufacturer in Palmerston, and store it in a bucket with a tightly fitted lid. It doesn’t seem to need exact amounts; I use 1/4 - 1/2c tossed in with the soap powder.
I also add it to the dishwasher, and use it for floor & wall cleaning where one might use sugar soap.