/ 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.