The 8 Best Fabric Softeners of 2020

These hardworking formulas soften clothes with each wash.

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Our Top Picks
"You can add this liquid fabric softener to your laundry right along with your laundry detergent at the start of the cycle."
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"The honeysuckle scent of this fabric softener, which users describe as 'heavenly,' is a major plus if you prefer floral scents."
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"This 70 percent plant-based liquid uses a touch of coconut oil to soften and fluff clothes."
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"Without artificial dyes or fragrances, this fabric softener leaves your clothes clean and soft without any lingering scents."
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"One of only ten products to get an A or B rating from the EWG, this cruelty-free formula was designed to be eco-friendly."
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"These sheets go the distance: even the largest of loads need just three sheets, so one box will last you a minimum of 80 loads.."
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"A natural alternative to liquids and sheets, these balls can reduce drying time, soften your clothes, and smooth out wrinkles."
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"Distilled white vinegar is an effective softener, especially if you have hard water in your home, as it cuts through calcium deposits."
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Best Overall: Downy Ultra Cool Cotton Liquid Fabric Softener

In addition to making clothes super soft, this liquid formula infuses fabric with the fresh smell of crisp and clean cotton. It’s the quintessential laundry smell. But, as one reviewers notes, it’s not too overpowering: “It's a nice clean scent, but not too heavy that it makes me sneeze.” It’s practical, too: The special liquid formula helps reduce static and wrinkles and prevent stretching, fading, and fuzz build-up on clothing.  

There’s no science to it when it comes to how and when you add it into your laundry. You simply add one capful to any washing machine (even front-loading, high efficiency machines) right along with your detergent of choice. Reviewers love that this particular fabric softener is white (many others are blue), so it won’t stain light clothes or carpets if it spills. 

Best Smelling: Mrs. Meyer's Liquid Fabric Softener

This fabric softener has a heavenly honeysuckle scent—a welcome departure from the more typical cotton and fresh rain scents out there. Though slightly sweet and floral, the fragrance doesn’t smell synthetic thanks to the natural ingredients, like essential oils, in the formula. Reviewers say the formula works well, but they really rave about the scent, saying they "can't stop smelling their laundry" and that it's "not overwhelming or overpowering," which can be a complaint with some brands.

Despite its more organic approach, this fabric softener really works. It not only makes clothes noticeably softer, but it also reduces static in up to 32 loads of laundry. 

Best for Sensitive Skin: Downy Nature Blends Fabric Conditioner

If you have sensitive skin or allergies, you may steer clear of some fabric softeners to avoid irritation. The good news? This 70 percent plant-based liquid fabric softener is free of dyes and parabens, which can be too tough on sensitive skin. Instead, the formula uses a touch of coconut oil to soften and fluff your laundry.

The honey lavender scent is best described as airy and musky, with both fruity and floral notes. Even reviewers who often prefer unscented products find that this formula's light scent doesn't bother them.

Best Unscented: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Fabric Softener

Plant-derived and free of dyes and fragrances, this fabric softener formula is designed to be gentle on sensitive skin and to those who are sensitive to scents in their laundry and body products. It's also fully biodegradable, and has been certified as cruelty-free from the Leaping Bunny Organization. Just one bottle will cover up to 42 average-size loads of laundry.

Reviewers love this gentle formula, with one reviewer even mentioning that she loves this softener for her baby's cloth diaper inserts, since it doesn't make fabric water resistant like other formulas can.

Best Natural: ATTITUDE Hypoallergenic Fabric Softener

If you're concerned with the environmentally-friendliness of the cleaning products in your home, you'll be relieved to learn that ATTITUDE's fabric softeners aren't just created with a goal to make your clothes soft—they want to do it in a way that's safe for the environment, too.

This cruelty-free formula is one of only ten fabric softeners to receive an A or B rating from the Environmental Working Group, and it's even created to be used with cold water, so you can use less energy as you wash your clothes. This formula works in both HE and regular washing machines.

Best Sheets: bounce Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets are a popular choice for their convenience. There’s no measuring or pouring sticky liquid or trying to demystify which compartment the liquid goes into—you simply toss a few sheets into the dryer with your wet clothes. They're especially a convenient pick for apartment dwellers who travel a few floors (or further!) to wash and dry clothes.

Another big bonus of sheets is that they are multi-tasking products. These sheets, for example, soften fabrics, eliminate static cling, reduce wrinkles, and repel lint and hair.

Dryer sheets go the distance, too, making them an economical choice for families. Even the largest loads need just three sheets. That means—even with the heaviest usage—this box will see you through 80 loads of laundry. 

Best Balls: Parachute Wool Dryer Balls

For the most natural and eco-friendly alternative to liquids and sheets, consider wool dryer balls. Dryer balls are the best option for anyone with sensitive skin or allergies, and a particularly great option for households with young children and babies, since dryer balls don’t contain any chemicals, synthetics, or fragrances. 

They are easy-to-use and incredibly economical, too. Simply toss the balls into a large load of laundry. The result? Softer clothes, plus shorter drying time (an energy-saver!) and fewer wrinkles. They're even safe to use on towels, as they won't affect absorbency, like liquid fabric softeners can.

While many love the absence of fragrance for environmental and physical reasons, others will miss that fresh scent you’d get from other fabric softeners. Luckily, there’s an easy way around this: Just add a few drops of essential oil (lavender or lemon are both great options) to the dryer balls before turning on the machine. 

Best Budget: Heinz Vinegar Distilled White Vinegar

If you’re looking to streamline the products in your home, distilled white vinegar is actually a very effective fabric softener. You simply add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to each load of laundry during the rinse cycle. It’s free from fragrances and dyes, and it can help neutralize odors in laundry.

Bonus: It’s also a particularly good choice if you have hard water in your home, since vinegar cuts through the calcium deposits this type of water leaves behind. One particularly savvy reviewer raves: “I also use it as fabric softener, because the person that fixed my washing machine said it actually helps keep the machine clean and maintained and actually gets my clothes nice and soft!” 

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