/ Home & Energy

How do you make your laundry soft and scented?

A washing machine with rainbow-coloured laundry

A lot of people use fabric conditioners – 57% of the Which? members we surveyed use the stuff, many to make their clothes soft and smell heavenly. Are you one of them?

I’m sure you’re with me when I say that the feeling of soft and almost ‘cuddly’ clothes or bed sheets is heavenly, especially when also infused with a delicious smell that makes you want to stay in bed all day.

But how do you get that magical effect? I’ve read numerous articles online discussing how to get the holy grail of softness and scent, alongside ‘cries for help’ on how to rectify crisp and rough washing disasters.

So I’d like to hear from you. How do you get your clothes, towels or bed linen soft and smelling delicious? How do you bring life back to coarse fabric?

Top fabric softener tips

When we asked people about some of the techniques used, 11% said they opt for dryer sheets and 12% use dryer balls. Have you tried them and found they help?

Most people said they hang their washing outside to give it that fresh smell and feel, but there are a fair few that use the tumble dryer instead. Maybe you use a combination of both?

So what about the smell? It’s harder to replicate the smell of something like Spring Awakening or Ocean Breeze at home. What have you done to try?

And from that huge array of scents and colours of fabric softeners in the supermarket, what draws you to discover what fragrance is hidden inside and then to buy? For me it’s fresh linen and a clean, white bottle. But I don’t put fabric conditioner in with everything – I like to use the washing line and let the power of fresh air blow through my towels.

I also know from the comments made here on Which? Convo that some of you don’t like using fabric conditioners at all. So, fabric softener or no fabric softener? How do you get your clothes, towels and bed linen soft and smelling gorgeous?


Fabric conditioners are added to the final rinse water and so remain on clothing, bedding, etc. That means that the collection of chemicals in the fabric conditioner can be in contact with your skin. Since manufacturers are not required to declare what is in fabric conditioners then you have no idea what you are being exposed to. I would not use fabric conditioners if I was paid to.

Fabric conditioners are unnecessary. Anyone suffering from skin irritation should try to minimise the variety of chemicals they are in contact with and stopping using fabric conditioners would be a good start.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Sufferer says:
22 August 2015

My life,along with countless numbers of fellow sufferers ,is a misery because of the constant exposure to the toxic chemicals used in the production of these dangerous products.It pervades the air wherever you go and there is seemingly no escaping inhaling airborne fumes,made even more lethal when ‘cooked’ in tumble dryers.My neighbour refuses to understand that she is ruining my life with her noxious dryer fumes (she herself has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease- coincidence?Possibly).
I urge anyone who uses them to go online immediately and search ‘Danger of Fabric Softeners’.
There you will find that what you are paying good money for is a lethal concoction of carcinogenic chemicals,one of which (Ethyl Acetate) is classed as HAZARDOUS WASTE by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The sickening perfumes are there to mask the foul smell of these chemicals.

If you would like to develop one or more of the following conditions :

Upper respiratory tract irritation,pancreatic cancer ,irritation of mucous membranes or even Parkinson’s Disease -and I almost forgot – there are links with infant mortality or Cot Death Syndrome – then write yourself a shopping list that includes :
Benzyl acetate:Linked to pancreatic cancer

Benzyl Alcohol:Upper respiratory tract irritant

Ethanol:On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders

Limonene:Known carcinogen

A-Terpineol:Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage

Ethyl Acetate:A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list

Camphor:Causes central nervous system disorders

Chloroform:Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic

Linalool:A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders

Pentane:A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled

Time to wake up and smell the FRESH AIR and ban Unilever (and the rest) from manufacturing these harmful products with absolutely no obligation to disclose the ingredients on the label.
I’m very disappointed to see that your highly respected publication is actively promoting the use of fabric softeners when the government should actually be taking steps to ban them .


I am very much in favour of cutting down our exposure to chemicals in our daily lives but some of the lists of chemicals published on websites do little to put the problem in perspective. A large amount of a chemical can be harmful but smaller amounts may be harmless.

On your list is: “Ethanol:On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders” Ethanol is better known as alcohol and in the UK we are advised not to drink more than 16g of ethanol a day. Ethanol fumes from laundry products are hardly likely to do us any harm.

I would like to see all manufacturers required to state what chemicals are used in the formulation of products used in the home for the benefit of those who understand the risks. It would also help members of the public who know that they have a sensitivity or allergy to avoid certain chemicals.


As most people have no idea what chemicals are harmful or how to find out it is more practical to have a responsible agency to examine products before they are released on sale. Does an EU agency do this, and is it successful?


I can’t answer these questions, Malcolm, but I would like to point out some of the complications:

1. The amount of a chemical is critical. To take a trivial example, toilet limescale remover and Coca-Cola both contain phosphoric acid but only one will burn the skin.

2. Ingredients do not necessarily represent what is in a product we buy. Chemicals can react with each other and produce other chemicals.

3. Manufacturers often change the formulation of their products, making it difficult to keep up. There are many reasons for this, including product improvement, elimination of ingredients that are now suspected to be hazardous and using lower cost ingredients. Manufacturers’ MSDS (material safety data sheets) sometimes give an insight into changing formulation of products but these do not list all the ingredients.

Many household and gardening chemicals have been withdrawn, either on grounds of safety to us or for environmental reasons. The fragrance industry is to some extent self-policing and Dieseltaylor has posted some information from a document that discussed, among other things, the need to limit the amount of certain chemicals in products.

In my view the top priority is to get manufacturers to declare what goes into their products. We have not even completed this job with the food we buy.

Jill says:
22 August 2015

Some people clearly have too much time on their hands.
One of my lovely patients has been Detoxing for 5 years but clearly still has no grasp on reality in regards to how and why virii and bacteria behave as they do yet so say he takes in nothing that’s not natural but is one of the most poorly people I know!
I have been vegan for 30 years and eat only organic -mostly that I grow myself, I do not use artificial stuff generally but have early onset Parkinson really how does that work with your ‘theories’ get real. Sometimes you can’t buck nature genetics will out every time. Stop making people feel bad for what they do sometimes their life circumstance dictates what they can /can’t use cost and availability being 2 major issues. Get a life have some fun


Jill I totally agree with you on all counts!!!

Jax Wells says:
23 September 2016

Sorry but you are misinformed. Eg. Limonene is not carcinogenic, it can be extracted from lemons. Ethanol and pentane aren’t in fabric conditioners. As a chemist, I’m only too aware of the effects that chemicals can have, but chemicals make up everything on the planet so it is impossible to avoid them completely.


Some of these anxieties don’t arise where the water is naturally soft. Has any thought been given to artificial water-softening in hard-water areas as an alternative to expensive conditioners? A little soda can also help.

I’m not sure that bed sheets need to be softened. Crisp clean bed-linen is perfect and after a couple of days it’s already got that cuddly wrinkled look. Airing the bed is the best way to keep it fresh.

Towels should not be coated in conditioner as it impairs their absorbency.

Table linen is best left unconditioned and pressed while damp.

Shirts and blouses look limp and lifeless if overdosed with conditioner, and there’s still a role for starch in our house.

Undies are the only laundry that might feel better for fabric conditioning but what Wavechange says about chemicals in contact with your skin is important.

For all other laundry conditioner is a waste of money.

If you have to “bring life back to coarse fabric” it might be time to review it’s continued use and consider replacing it.


There is another way of imparting fragrance to laundry without using fabric conditioners but I don’t know how effective or pleasant it is. There is branded and own-brand ‘ironing water’ for use in steam irons. It seems a bit extravagant to me but claims to make the laundry smell fresher or sweeter depending on the ‘flavour’ in the bottle.

I have also seen adverts for a Febreze product that you can spray on the bedclothes to neutralise the odours of youth [eau de student?] Is this desire to permeate every textile surface with an aroma just another unnecessary and expensive fad, or is it an essential antidote to the hermetically-sealed and centrally-heated environment in which so many people spend their time?

MissM says:
16 August 2015

I agree with your comment, I thought I was the only one who find fabric conditioner’s undesirable. I wash my cloths in antiseptic disinfectant to get rid of the bacteria in the washing. Then I set the washing machine to rinse and put a few drops of “Zoflora” in the wash drawer and hang out to dry.

MissM says:
20 August 2015

At £19:95, do you think it would be cost effective wev? I use Arial as my detergent with my laundry and two caps full of anti-disinfectant with a full wash, then set the washing machine to rinse with a few drops of “Zoflora” for freshness. I find this to be lucrative not only for my purse, but also for my clothing.


Very interesting. The John Lewis website refers to these Ecoballs as anti-bacterial yet the manufacturer’s website does not. The ingredients are listed as: Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Alpha Olefin Sulphonate, Laureth-9, Epoxy Resin, Polyamide Resin, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Metasilicate, Cellulose, Iron Oxide Yellow, Iron Oxide Red, Aqua.

I certainly don’t see anything that would be anti-bacterial in the small quantities used – these balls are supposed to last for 1000 washes. In fact I cannot see that the Ecoballs are going to achieve much more than washing in water.

Jax Wells says:
23 September 2016

Good grief! Antibacterial soaps are being banned next year as they cause more problems than they are worth. To wash your clothes in disinfectant then add more to the rinse cycle is nothing if not weird! As soon as you put them on they will instantly be covered in bacteria from you and the environment. You must smell like a hospital! A very unhealthy practice.


There’s a mild problem with fabric conditioners. Most of them are oily and will encourage bacteria to stay and multiply over time. The oil will eventually go rancid and smell if you leave the fabric too long in storage.

I have some white clothes that always smell of rancid oil even after washing twice at 60 degrees. I don’t know how to get rid of the smell, and they’re unwearable because of it.

If you want soft bed sheets, choose the right type of fibre. Egyptian cotton, Supima, Linen and blended varieties with modal will be softer and smoother, and a higher thread count will be too. You won’t need much conditioner with them. Wash them with a mild liquid detergent like the ones for delicate fibres.

John Lewis sells a 1000 thread count Genuisa bed sheeting range that supposedly gets softer and silkier with every wash, but I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe someone who has it can enlighten us?

Don’t air dry anything for too long, or it will overdry the cotton fibres and make them hard and brittle. Don’t iron them, because that also dries out the fibres and makes them rough to touch.

Annie says:
5 September 2015

I can confirm that John Lewis Genuisa bed sheeting range starts of soft and silky and does indeed get even softer with use. Highly recommend


Quote : “I’m sure you’re with me when I say that the feeling of soft and almost ‘cuddly’ clothes or bed sheets is heavenly, especially when also infused with a delicious smell that makes you want to stay in bed all day.”

NO – I’m not with you at all ! I LIKE the feeling of crisply dried sheets, and I can’t imagine at all why I would want to lie in a bed smelling of “Ocean Breeze”, or sleep in a “Spring Awakening” !

I haven’t used fabric softener for years. I don’t think it does anything to improve the feel of the fabric, and I would rather not have bedding and clothes polluted by any particular “fragrance” (i.e. sickly perfume) !

Jean says:
18 August 2015

Bed sheets that have been treated with fabric conditioner always feel as though someone else has slept in them. Towels that aren’t crisp and a bit raspy simply feel dirty.
This is without the revolting smell of most fabric conditioners.

If towels and facecloths really get too scratchy, there’s a simple solution: put a few drops of coconut oil on your hands and rub it in, then squeeze the facecloths or towels or rub them over your hands. Then wash them and they will be much softer, without the sickly smell. It lasts for a number of washes.


When “towels and facecloths really get too scratchy” it’s probably time to say good bye. Facecloths tend to get hard with limescale in hard water areas so it’s best to buy thin cheap ones [Tesco £1] and replace them – the savings from not using fabric conditioner will pay for new ones.


Is it safe to tell consumers they are a waste of money? Or would that inpact commercial considerations? GH give advice and take money for recommending items so their advice following seems to suggest that everything else is OK.

And this Which? article has not covered the allergy side.

Whether you use liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets, fabric softeners work well at softening fibers, reducing static, and adding a bit of fragrance to your laundry. But using it on certain materials can actually have a negative effect on the fibers. Here are four times you should skip it:

“1. Microfiber
What’s great about microfibre is that its intricate fibres have the ability to trap dust and absorb spills. However, if you toss it in the wash with fabric softener, you could end up destroying the effectiveness and durability of its fibres.

2. Athletic Sportswear
Many types of athletic wear have wicking technology to absorb sweat from your skin and keep you cool when you’re working out. If you use fabric softener on these garments, it’ll leave a coating that will prevent them from wicking.

3. Flame-Retardant Clothing
To reduce the risk that kids’ sleepwear will catch on fire, it’s required to be flame-resistant. Washing your children’s pajamas and nightgowns with fabric softener will make them more flammable. We repeat: It will make them MORE FLAMMABLE.

4. Towels
While everyone loves to dry off with a soft towel, liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets can reduce the absorption factor of terry cloth and other fluffy fabrics.”


And it is death to most waterproofs as often is detergents.

MissM says:
16 August 2015

Thank you dieseltaylor for the information, I always had the understanding that fabric conditioner’s was ineffective and no good for your skin. But you stated some useful facts.

Nurain says:
16 August 2015

I always use a good, fresh-scented conditioner in the final rinse. But I strongly believe in the power of drying in fresh air. I have to use the tumble dryer in the winter months as I don’t live in the UK, so retaining that fresh, ‘ just- washed’ fragrance is challenging!

MissM says:
16 August 2015

I agree with your comment, I thought I was the only one who find fabric conditioner’s undesirable. I wash my cloths in antiseptic disinfectant to get rid of the bacteria. Then I set the washing machine to rinse and put a few drops of “Zoflora” in the wash drawer and hang out to dry.


It is slightly odd but when you click the link

The post How do you make your laundry soft and scented? appeared first on Which? Conversation

the actual tab on my browser and I assume yours is:
Should you use fabric soften ….

Much more relevant in these days of constant TV and media adverts pushing the whole envelope on “smelling nice” that we actually have a consumer organisation that argues that it may be nice but is unnecessary , an expense, and in fact harmful.

Any search on allergies will highlight that there are people who react strongly to some wash products, AND, we have to consider those who suffer to a degree but have never made the connection attributing poor feelings to other factors. Of course there are people who react strongly to smells and then some were dermal contact results in rashes and eczema.

This from the trade body to its members in 2011:
“Due to the expected negligible skin exposure from such products the risk of induction of
dermal sensitization through the normal formulation and use of such products is considered
to be negligible. As such, the concentration of fragrance ingredient is not restricted in
the finished product.”

This applies to category 11 products which are these:
“All non-skin contact or incidental skin contact. Including:
Air Fresheners and Fragrancing of all types (concentrated aerosol air fresheners , plug-ins, solid substrate, membrane delivery, electrical, pot pourri, powders, fragrancing sachets, incense, liquid refills, air freshening crystals)
Air Delivery Systems
Animal Sprays
Cat litter
Deodorizers/Maskers Not Int
ended For Skin Contact (e.g.
fabric drying machine deodorizers, carpet powders)
Floor wax
Fragranced lamp ring
Infused socks
Insecticides (e.g. mosquito coil, paper, electrical, for clothing)
Joss Sticks or Incense Sticks
Machine Dishwash Detergent
and Deodorizers
Machine Only Laundry Detergent (e.g. liquitabs)
Odored Distilled Water (that can be added to steam irons)
Plastic articles (excluding toys)
Reed diffusers
Scratch and sniff
Scent pack
Scent delivery system (using dry air technology)
Shoe Polishes
Toilet Blocks
Treated Textiles (e.g. starch sprays, fabric treated with
fragrances after wash, deodorizers for textiles or fabrics, tights with moisturizer”

Things have improved since then and you can download the 2015 IFRA guidelines which reveal how much it is a suck it and see industry. The data establishes the 2001 recommended no limit for citral was wrong – but this of course is but one element.

” Why should levels of citral be limited?
The patch test database survey from the Contact Allergy Unit, University Hospital Leuven, Belgium
indicates, at least for toilet water/perfume products that a limit for citral should be established.

A total of 3323 subjects were investigated by the Contact Allergy Unit. 9.1% of these patients were found to have a positive patch test reaction to the fragrance -mix; 6.7% to balsam of Peru; 4.8
% to colophony.

Some of these patients showed positive reactions to multiple fragrance ingredients. Of the patients who reacted positively to the fragrance mix, 133 exhibited positive patch tests to their own cosmetic products. Of these 133 patients, 66 involved fragrance-related contact-allergic reactions and 6 reacted to citral in hydroalcoholic products.
IFRA reported in 2001 that the average maximum concentration of citrl in hydroalcoholic products was 1.76% or 37.4 g/cm2 /day
Figure 1 shows how the average maximum concentration reported in 2001 is unacceptable (i.e. the Acceptable Exposure Level or AEL is less than the customer exposure level or CEL). The figure also demonstrates how the current IFRA limit for this product type (Category 4, hydroalcoholic product for unshaved skin) is acceptable (i.e. the AEL is greater than the CEL).”



DO we have chemists who understand these things.?

Should we use all the talent we have in Which? subscribers to form mini-committees with the expertise beyond that of the journalists at Which?


Hi Diesel, FYI the title you were seeing is the headline I added for search engines. I’ve tweaked it a bit to make it more relevant to the post.


John Ward,

“If you have to “bring life back to coarse fabrics” it might be time to review its continued use & consider replacing it”.

Correct if it is bed linen which can be re-used as dust sheets but if it is clothes then relegate them to housework/gardening/decorating clothes but a bit of fabric conditioner does help to keep them going.


I agree that fabric conditioner can soften up old clothes and make them more comfortable but given that there are many washing products that give a gentle wash I just wonder how many more chemicals we should be putting down the drains and next to our skin. As someone else suggested earlier, choosing bedding and garments of the right fabric makes a better contribution to comfort [and probably longevity of the material]. I never throw out clothes until they have been given a second or third life including cutting up shirts for wiping rags and cleaning cloths.


It’s well known that low temperature washing can result in slime and sludge laden with bacteria building up inside washing machines. This deposit includes oil and grease from dirty clothing and detergent residues. Users will not be aware of the problem unless their machine starts to smell unpleasant or they see evidence, such as discolouration of the door seal.

Some of the components of fabric conditioners will stick to oil and grease and it seems likely that fabric conditioners add to the gunge hidden in the insides of machines. The fact that fabric conditioners go into the final rinse water and the machine is not rinsed after use makes this more likely. Maybe a washing machine engineer will be able to tell us if the build up of gunge is worse in machines used with fabric conditioners.

A regular maintenance wash on the highest temperature setting will help keep washing machines clean.


wave, how often would you recommend a 90 degree cleaning wash for a machine, and would bio or non bio be better at removing the hidden grime and bacteria?

Is adding clear vinegar to a rinse cycle good at removing oil hardened on to cotton clothes and sheets and the bacteria living in it, and will the vinegar damage the cotton fibres?


Hi Wev – I don’t actually do what I’m suggesting. 🙂 I use my ancient machine at 60°C setting at least once a week, so it does not have much opportunity to build up greasy gunge in its innards. I should add that my machine is that my machine reaches 60°C on the 60 setting, whereas Which? revealed that this setting is now a measure of cleaning performance rather than temperature. 🙁

The usual recommendation is to do a maintenance wash at the maximum temperature once a month: http://www.whitegoodshelp.co.uk/washing-machine-smells/ Bacteria can grow quite quickly so it would do no harm to do a maintenance wash more frequently than this. The recommendation is always to run the machine empty but that seems an unnecessary waste of detergent, electricity and water when you could wash all sorts of things like cleaning cloths.

There are two complications with bio laundry detergents in maintenance washes. To help remove grease they would have to contain enzymes called lipases. I don’t know which bio detergents contain lipases because the manufacturers don’t provide this information. The other problem is that the enzymes will be inactivated at higher temperature, though they might do some good during earlier stages of the maintenance wash. The combination of hot water and high temperature and detergent will hopefully be enough to wash away most of the gunge and bacteria and moulds it contains.

I don’t believe that adding vinegar to rinse water will achieve anything useful, though it is unlikely to harm fabrics. The link I gave above mentions using vinegar to clean a detergent drawer but brushing with oxygen bleach would be far more effective if contaminated by bacteria/mould.

Even though low temperature washing is effective in making clothes look clean, I doubt that this removes all the grease. There is a growing number of reports online about washed clothing, towels and bedding smelling musty after storage in drawers and wardrobes. My guess is that this is caused by moulds growing on oils/grease on fabrics, helped by atmospheric moisture. (The majority of bacteria don’t grow on oils/grease.) I wonder how many are using scented fabric conditioner to cover up unpleasant smells caused by failure to do maintenance washes or allowing oil and grease to build up in their ‘clean’ clothing.


Thanks 🙂

What about dust mites? Is 40 degrees enough to remove them, and again, is bio or non bio better for it?

I asked about vinegar because some clothes and bed linen don’t loose their musty smell after 60 degree and even 90 degree washes.


A common recommendation is to wash at 60°C to get rid of dust mites but that’s not much help when most modern machines don’t reach that temperature on the 60 setting.

The cause of dust mite allergy is mainly proteins the faeces of dust mites. As an asthma sufferer, I wash my bedding twice a week and always iron pillowcases, which would kill any dust mites and destroy any proteins.

A bio detergent contains proteases which help break down proteins. On the other hand, non-bio powders detergents usually contain bleaching agents, which might be better at killing dust mites. I’ve not seen much in the way of good scientific advice, so it might be best to experiment and find out what works best for you.

There seems to be a lot of comments on websites about musty clothing and how to get rid of the problem. I don’t know the answer but someone else may be able to advise.

Presumably whatever is responsible for the musty smell is binding to the fabrics and resisting washing, just like a stain or a dye does. There is plenty of suggestions on websites but I cannot see anything definite. I once came home from holiday and forgot that there was a plastic bag with a wet towel in it. I had to throw it out because it still smelled musty after washing at high temperature. Many years later I’m still using a matching towel I bought in Fenwick’s sale at the same time. I can’t imagine how many times it has been washed now but it still smells fine.


My washing machine engineer recommends half a bottle of lemon juice on a 90 degree wash will clean all the gunk from your washing machine,do it once a month,works on mine


Hopefully you have detergent in the machine to help get rid of grease etc. I expect the lemon juice will produce a nice smell, but don’t expect it to do much else. 🙁


I covered dust mites in another thread.

AFAIR a Japanese researcher said rinsing actually can be sufficient unfortunately you need to programme in enough rinse cycles and so I would go for the 60C, peroxide bleach route. I think the tricky point was actually dust mite eggs rather than the dust mites.

The advice from various US sites seems to vary from washing at 77F or at 130F but with a subtle distinction between killing and washing away most of the mites.

Of course the problem is does YOUR machine actually do a 60C wash or does it just do a longer wash somewhere between 40C to 50C – I put below some recommendations …..

The next most important step is to wash the sheets and blankets weekly in hot water. Temperatures of at least 130 degrees F are needed to kill dust mite.
SOURCE: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care. First created 1995; fully updated 1998; most recently updated 2005.
© Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)

CLEANING/HEAT TREATMENTS — Wash all bedding weekly. Research has shown laundering with any detergent in warm water (77 degrees F) removes nearly all dust mite and cat allergen from bedding. If you cannot launder blankets, dry clean them once a year. Shampoo, steam clean or beat non-washable carpets once a year.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln

It should be pointed out that generally speaking US washing machines use much more water than European ones so the rinsing is very likely more effective than an EU machine.


I agree that it would be beneficial to use a detergent containing bleach, which means a powder rather than a gel. I’m not up to date, but perborate salts used to be used in laundry detergents. A peroxide-based bleach (so called oxygen bleach) could be added but it will be inactivated rapidly.

If washing machines are overloaded then washing and rinsing will be inefficient. Kenneth Watt made this point in other Conversations. His company sold rebranded machines under the ISE name that would do up to seven washes. It is not difficult to calculate that multiple rinses with small amounts of water are more effective than fewer rinses using the same amount of water. Sadly the company is no longer trading.

It’s a long time since I looked into dust mite allergy but my understanding was that the faeces were the cause of allergies rather than the eggs. Of course eggs can produce more dust mites, so we need to either kill them or wash them away.


Sorry – the ISE machines would do up to seven RINSES.

Masi says:
22 August 2015

I gave up using washing softeners.
One look into the drawer for the conditioner put me off for good:black mold thrives there in a fairly short space of time. Conditioner must be a growth medium for it.

After a while, the scent goes or if it does not, I often find it acrid.

Conditioner stays in the clothes and then goes on to the skin when you sweat.

Fabric smells best when it is clean and have dried out properly before being put away.

Do give me crisp sheets anytime, also towels with conditioner don’t dry well and feel soapy!


I haven’t used detergents or washing powders at all for the last 8 years but use Soapnut shells which I have bought from a variety of sources. Unfortunately each supplier has disappeared and I cannot now see anywhere to buy them. A year’s supply was about £23 last time I bought them. Fortunately I bought 2 years worth a year ago so still have a year to go before I have to look elsewhere. I do not use softener and have never had a problem with clothes or linen. I do finish drying towels in the drier to keep them softer as I find air drying does tend to make them hard. My husband and I both suffer from allergies but have had no problems since using the soapnut shells. I do Iron everything so presumeably that is killing anything left in the clothes/linen after washing and usually airdrying. When it is too wet to hang outside, the washing is hung up inside our large basement and usually dries overnight.


Bri, I’ll tell mrs r about these – I’d never heard of them before. The web tells me they are shells of nuts from the Sapindus Mukorossi tree growing in the Himalayan foothills. The coating of saponin is the natural soap. You put half a dozen (6 in metric) in a little cotton bag in with your washing. Looking on the internet produces a number of suppliers including through Amazon and The Natural Gardener. Hopefully 2016 will still see you with clean clothes 🙂


Malcolm have you tried liquid castle soap? You can log onto wlkihow.com – How to use Castile soap
It has many uses as you will see. I haven’t tried it in my washing machine yet and would be interested to know if anyone else has? I use it as a shampoo as I am allergic to most commercial shampoo and It is chemical free. I hope you find this useful.


The most comprehensive website is wikihow.com – 3 ways to use Castile soap.


Please can I give a caution about using alternatives products in washing machines. When front-loading machines were introduced in the UK we were told that we must use detergents manufactured for this purpose. The reason is that laundry detergents used in twin-tubs and top-loading washing machines foamed too much. At best this can cause a wet floor and at worst serious damage to a machine. My guess is that most laundry detergents now contain defoamers/antifoams to prevent formation of large amounts of foam.

Keep an eye on the machine and if it is obvious that a lot of foam is being produced, stop it and drain it before it is too late. I once put some washing soda in my machine and it foamed out of the detergent drawer producing an ugly stain down the front. 🙁 It does not seem to have suffered any ill effects and I managed to remove the stain completely, but now I will keep a close eye on it if trying something new.


Without a tumble dryer my towels became rough feeling. Using the maximum amount of conditioner I can get into my washer dispenser, a 60 degree wash and air drying makes them acceptably soft and they still seem sufficiently absorbent. I don’t use it on clothes as they never feel completely dry when I use it. Likewise, I have found that ‘Ironing Water’ leaves cloth feeling slightly damp and it never seems to become completely dry no matter how well they are aired. Furthermore I don’t want my clothes smelling of ‘Ocean Pong’ or whatever its called. For my steam iron I use Car Plan deionised water – available in the ‘motoring’ isle at ASDA for £1.18 for 2.5 litres. It works a treat.

Rootin Tootin says:
22 August 2015

Hi, I have been using a couple of tablespoon full of Napisan (non bio disinfectant ) to every laundry load along with Bold 2 in 1 washing powder…( I prefer the Pomegranate or the White Lily Fragrances’ but that is just personal preference) . All my laundry whether dried out side ( preferably ) or in, stays fresh & clean for much longer. Plus Towels and Bedding are still absorbent crisp and clean. Try it

Ruth Howe says:
22 August 2015

I use Surcare washing liguid and Surcare softener.These products are without perfume and made for people with sensitive skins. I prefer to hang my washing outdoors, but if this is not possible I dry my washing indoors.

Linda says:
22 August 2015

I use dryer balls to make my towels soft, but I do use fabric conditioner for man-made fabrics, such as underwear, skirts, dresses, tops, etc. for one reason only, and that is to take away static electricity. If I don’t, I suffer from horrendous clinging and mini shocks. I’m not at all bothered about laundry having a lovely smell – in fact I’d rather it didn’t. All I want is a nice clean smell and no static electricity.


Apparently you can avoid static by crumpling up aluminium foil and throwing it in with the clothes. I have not tried it as I do not suffer statically charged clothes.

An apparent cause of static is overdrying, and possibly some dryers have better sensors to avoid this problem. Or it may be that a dryer has a setting for fully dry which may make sense for a cotton but is bad for synthetics. I have a Miele dryer.

Kate says:
22 August 2015

Many perfumes trigger my asthma, with things like lavender causing major breathing difficulties. I choose washing powder with care and never use fabric conditioner on anything In hotels I can ask for a chemical-free room but it’s really embarrassing if we visit friends and the bedding has been treated with something that makes me ill. And don’t get me started on perfume diffusers and air fresheners! Our local House of Fraser store is a no-go area.


I have the same problem and have to use inhalers that would normally be needed only once or twice a day. I have long since passed the embarrassment stage and just collect the various pong dispensers and consign them to a cupboard. When I was a teenager I had problems with feather pillows so always take a pillow or at least pillowcases when I am staying in hotels or with friends. That was long before we had fabric conditioners and air fresheners.

Sometimes I find the perfumes overpowering, and that is not uncommon with those who are sensitive to them.

john owen jones says:
22 August 2015

I read the observations on the chemicals with some concern I hadnt realised how dangerous some of them were, It says ethanol is linked to nervous disorders, That may explain why a significant section of the population appear to loss control of their bodies after drinking the stuff, have you considered campaigning to have it banned from all products. On second thoughts perhaps I will go off and have a stiff drink. I note your correspondent didnt mention the the di-hydrogen oxide which all the liquid softeners contain, it is documented without dispute to be responsible for many deaths every year and has been the subject of comment in the New Scientist magazine.Searching on “fruitloopery” is a good reference. Keep up the good work trying to scare everyone silly.


I’ve also posted on the reference to ethanol, John. As has been said many times, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

While fruitloopery and general misuse of science can be very entertaining (and New Scientist has published some of my offerings), I’m not sure how we can tackle the problem that many believe what they read. Even advertising is full of misrepresentation, but there is no doubt that it works.


Scaring everyone sensible might be an option …….

For those who suffer no allergies it may seem a lot of fuss about nothing however if even the fragrance manufacturers are finding a higher than 5% reaction rate to certain ingredients they use then it is only fair that society accepts the fact. The market offers people goods that are not rigorously tested and may potentially adversely affect a proportion of users.

We also have a rapidly increasing number of people with allergies. Not all allergies are related to man and s lot is natural however the incidence is rising and these are a few figures from AllergyUK:

” Allergy is widespread in the UK. Millions of adults suffer from at least one allergy, with numbers continuing to rise. Each year the number of allergy sufferers increases by 5%, half of all affected being children.

Below is an overview of allergy related statistics. Please contact the press office for more information:

615% increase in hospital admissions for anaphylaxis in 20 years, 1992-2012 (Turner et al, JACI, 2015)
In the last decade, the cases of food allergies have doubled and the number of hospitalisations caused by severe allergic reactions has increased 7-fold (EAACI, 2015)
Over 20,000 admitted to hospital each year with allergy, 61.8 per cent (12,560) of admissions due to allergic reactions were emergencies, a 6.2 per cent increase (730) on the same period last year (11,830).(HSCIC, 2014)
By 2025, asthma will represent the most prevalent chronic childhood disease and result in one of the highest causes of health care costs (EAACI, 2014)

Over 150 million people have allergies in Europe, the most common chronic disease (EAACI, 2014)

6–8 % of children have a proven food allergy (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, 2011)

Allergy is a chronic disease that is expected to affect more than 50% of all Europeans in 10 years’ time (EAACI, 2011)
Up to 1 in 5 allergic people suffer a serious debilitating disease and are in fear of death from a possible asthma attack or anaphylactic shock (EAACI, 2011)

An estimated 21 million adults in the UK suffer from at least one allergy (Mintel, 2010)
An estimated 10 million adults suffer from more than one allergy (Mintel, 2010)

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is associated with a detrimental effect on examination performance in UK teenagers. (Walker et al, J Allergy Clin Imm 2007)

UK hospital admissions for food allergies have increased by 500% since 1990 (Gupta, 2007)
The prevalence of diagnosed allergic rhinitis and eczema in children have both trebled over the last three decades (Gupta, 2007)”

Until such time as science can get a handle on this problem I think being cautious on chemicals is no bad thing. There must be something causing this change and whether it is diet or we are too “clean” for our own good the result is being more people being susceptible.


Dieseltaylor – You suggest we be cautious with chemicals and I agree. But how can we be cautious when manufacturers are not obliged to list which chemicals they put in their products?

Every product on sale must have an ingredients list, similar to those on processed food.


One of the things I used to like was the smell of a traditional hardware store in the days before hermetic packaging where soaps and detergents were stacked amid a residue of product and gave off a whiff of good clean [albeit chemical] atmosphere. This aroma is now regarded as unwanted and has to be masked by alluring scents whose fanciful descriptions belie their obnoxity. Added to which we introduce an aromatic conditioner to the mix and then ‘enhance’ it with a further dose of fragrant water in the ironing. And the manufacturers kid us that our laundry now smells lovely. But should it pall, we can now spray yet another vapour all over our textiles to ‘refresh’ them. Of course the carpets have also been dusted with deodorant and there is a plug-in thing in the socket wafting an oriental bouquet round the room. Preceding generations, who knew real austerity, would think we had all gone bonkers. And we wonder why we have allergies and respiratory conditions.


I have used fabric conditioner for years unless the care labels say otherwise, but use Comfort Pure, which has minimal smell. It also does not affect my husband’s itch – prone skin at all, and gives soft clothes and bedding without having to iron absolutely everything. I really hate both fabric conditioners and clothes washing liquids and powders with strong smells. It is awful when someone comes into a room smelling strongly of these products ( are they really meant to take the place of heavy-handed use of perfume or aftershave?), and even worse when your upholstery holds that smell for a few days afterwards. Ariel is the worst offender.

creoulo says:
22 August 2015

We are waiting for a full which test of this products please.


I wash my clothes and sheets either with eco balls or with a detergent such as Persil Small & Mighty or with Aldi detergent (convenience & need to give a colour boost drives choice). When using detergent I tend to keep the dose low and see what happens. Mostly a low dose does the job fine. Wherever possible I dry my washing out on the line. Smells just wonderful. No fabric conditioner necessary at all.
I give my towels a v short (eg 15-20 low temp spin just to fluff them up if necessary).

I’m not wedded to any particular process (& hate washing ‘badgering’ whether from advertising or other bandwagons) beyond reducing detergent and energy where reasonably possible and using the sunshine and fresh air as much as possible to dry & revive washing and give it all a lovely smell.


Don’t forget hay fever and high pollen count. Drying your washing outside when the count is high is not recommended for hay fever sufferers.


I always use 2 tbsp white vinegar when washing towels, facecloth or cleaning cloths. For almost everything else I use about half the minimum recommended dose of fabric softener. My belief is that manufacturers’ recommendations are set high (to sell more!) and using less works just as well and doesn’t gum up the washing machine’s insides (or the fabrics).


Being vegetarian I don’t use Fabric Conditioner unless it’s tallow free. I also don’t find it necessary and as it’s not rinsed off the fabric rather not use it.


Hello “Hoovermatic ” yes I had one , remember the plastic slotted edge “key ” you plugged in to change programmes ? I take it you refuse to accept the new £5 “plastic” notes because they contain animal fat ? Morrissey is against them as is the Rainbow Cafe and Hindu,s ?


Since manufacturers are not obliged to mention non-hazardous ingredients of their products it would be difficult to know if fabric conditioners contained tallow. As you say, they remain on the fabric and I’ve never used them.

Duncan – Are you referring to the Hoover Keymatic? Hoovermatics are twin-tubs and I’ve not heard of one with a key.


Your right Wavechange but I also had a steel/aluminium Hoover twin-tub previously , one of my aunts ran a Hoover spares shop and I got spares cheap. Not very big spin section on the old twin tub but they lasted a while just belt changes.


I remember because my mother had a Hoovermatic for many years. The blue anodised aluminium cover on the spin drier looked very modern. That was in the happy days before anyone tried to convince us we needed fabric conditioner.