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A good laundry detergent only cleans your clothes; to make them soft, fluffy, free of static, and easier to iron, you may want to reach for a fabric softener. We conducted hours of research to find the best fabric softeners, evaluating each on scent, formula, softening ability, and machine compatibility.
Our best overall pick is Seventh Generation Natural Fabric Softener, which is a greener, gentler product that works just as well as conventional formulas and has a fresh, clean scent.
Below, the best fabric softeners to add to your laundry routine.
Best Overall: Seventh Generation Lavender Fabric Softener
Smell turns musty if clothing sits too long
What do buyers say? 86% of 200+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 5 stars.
Seventh Generation Lavender Fabric Softener is our top pick because it is powerful on clothes but gentle on your machine (and the environment). Whether you're washing new sheets or your favorite t-shirt, this fabric softener will have you looking forward to cuddling up in both.
This Seventh Generation product is made of naturally derived ingredients (plant-based ingredients mixed with essential oils). It doesn't contain any dyes, fluoride, or synthetic fragrances, which means it's suitable for everyone in the family—babies and those with sensitive skin included. The biodegradable formula is septic-safe and leaves laundry soft, fluffy, and free of static cling. To use, pour an ounce for large loads (or a little less for medium loads) into the water during the final rinse cycle.
The natural lavender scent is just the right balance of not too light and not too strong. It is calming and refreshing without being overpowering. As with most detergents and softeners, if you leave your wet clothes sitting in the washer too long, the smell will turn musty, so it's still important to dry clothes immediately after washing.
Best Budget: Snuggle SuperCare Liquid Fabric Softener
Multiple scents available
Easy to pour
May leave some buildup in the machine
Though just as powerful as other formulas, Snuggle SuperCare costs just a fraction of the price. On top of that, it comes in a convenient family size bottle that’s easy to pour, thanks to the push-button top.
Aside from effectively softening your clothes, this liquid fabric softener also protects colors from fading, prevents premature wear and tear, and helps clothes retain their shape. We recommend the Sea Breeze scent, but it's also available in others such as Lilies and Linen. There can be some residue buildup with this product, so be sure to only use the recommended amount and clean your washing machine on a regular basis.
Best Liquid: Gain Liquid Fabric Softener Original
Small and manageable bottle
Minimizes static cling
Not as fragrant as some other options
Gain Liquid Fabric Softener is an all-around excellent option. The original liquid formula can be used with your regular laundry detergent to not only soften your clothes but also leave them smelling amazing for weeks.
The scent is light, airy, clean, and reminiscent of being outdoors in the springtime. This fabric softener helps minimize static cling as well, and the price is about the same as your average jug of detergent. The only downside is that the scent could be stronger.
Best Sheets: Bounce Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets
Easy to use
Less messy than liquid
Sheets are on the thinner side
Scent not as strong as liquid softeners
Bounce Fabric Softener Sheets give clothes and linens a softer feel while repelling lint, hair, and other debris from your clothing. They also control static cling, reduce wrinkles, and leave your load with a super-fresh, energizing scent.
One box includes 240 sheets, so you won't have to restock any time soon. For smaller loads, use one sheet. For larger loads, you can throw in two or three. Even with multiple sheets, you can be sure they won't stain your clothes or leave behind a residue like some liquid softeners. However, they also won't produce the same softening qualities as liquid products since softening sheets are a little more subtle.
Best Dryer Balls: Blueland Dryer Ball Starter Set
Doesn’t add scent to your laundry
Limited retailer availability
If you want a reusable, eco-friendly option, Blueland dryer balls are the way to go. They’re easy to store, last a long time, and don’t contain any chemicals at all.
Made of sustainably sourced wool from New Zealand, consider these dryer balls for a natural alternative to dryer sheets. They'll help reduce your waste and also significantly reduce drying time. They don't add a scent to your clean clothes, but Blueland offers a 60-day money-back guarantee if you decide they're not for you.
Best Smelling: Downy Infusions Liquid Fabric Conditioner
Multiple scent options
Small and manageable bottle
Dryer sheets and booster beads in matching scent
Need to use a bit more than other formulas
If you want something that smells incredible, we recommend Downy Infusions. This liquid fabric conditioner comes in two scents: Calm (lavender and vanilla bean) and Refresh (birch water and botanicals).
Calm is more relaxing and soothing (perfect for sheets, towels, and PJs), while Refresh is crisp and revitalizing, which would pair well with workout clothes to give you the jumpstart you need for your morning spin class. Either way, you'll have softer, fluffier, comfier fabrics that smell just as great as they feel against your skin.
Best Eco-Friendly: Dropps Fabric Softener Ultra Concentrated Pods Unscented
Multiple scent options (including unscented)
Pods don’t always fully dissolve
Dropps Fabric Softener Ultra Concentrated Pods make clothes super soft without any of the same harsh ingredients you’ll find in more traditional formulas. The fragrance-free pods help athletic wear maintain its moisture-wicking ability and ensure towels remain soft and absorbent, which can be an issue with some other fabric softeners over time.
Using these pods will help you reduce the amount of plastic you use at home since the pods come packaged in cardboard, which you can recycle or compost when you're finished with them. The only customer complaint is that sometimes the pods don't fully dissolve, so you'll need to dispose of any leftovers.
Best for Babies: The Laundress Baby Fabric Conditioner
Small and manageable bottle
Not as many uses per bottle
Unlike some other formulas, The Laundress’s fabric conditioners are plant-derived and specifically designed to not leave a heavy or waxy coating on garments, so you won’t experience the staining that sometimes happens when you use fabric softeners. What’s more, these gentler formulas don’t contain harsh fragrances, so they’re suitable for those with sensitive skin, including babies and toddlers. Still, you’ll get a pleasing scent with each use.
The Baby formula leaves clothes smelling like a sweet blend of vanilla, musk, lily of the valley, lavender, and sandalwood. It also decreases drying time, reduces wrinkles, and eases ironing—all time-savers every busy parent will appreciate. The convenience comes at a price since this fabric conditioner is a little more expensive. You'll only be able to get about 16 uses out of each bottle.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Public Goods Fabric Softener Sheets
Compostable and biodegradable
Doesn’t reduce static cling
Limited retailer availability
Soften your laundry the natural way with Public Goods plant-based sheets. They don’t contain any harsh chemicals or fragrances, so you can use them even if you have children or adults with sensitive skin. Customers report super soft clothes that border on unscented or have a fresh, light scent. If you're sensitive to smells, this is an excellent option.
Another nice-to-have: The packaging is biodegradable and compostable, so you can feel good about reducing waste with this purchase, even though it doesn't reduce static cling.
Best Combo: ECOS Liquid Laundry Detergent with Built-In Fabric Softener
Short ingredient list
Bottle is a bit bulky
No easy-pour spout
A combination product is a fantastic time-saver. The ECOS Liquid Laundry Detergent with Built-In Fabric Softener is free from optical brighteners, parabens, phosphates, and phthalates. It's also safe for both septic tanks and home greywater systems, which take water from baths, showers, and laundry and reuse it for jobs like lawn irrigation. This is great news for anyone searching for a safe product for themselves and their home.
The bottle is on the larger side and doesn't include an easy-pour spout, so you'll need to be careful not to overdo it when pouring.
Our best overall pick is the Seventh Generation Natural Fabric Softener which is a greener, gentler product that works just as well as conventional formulas and has a fresh, clean scent. If you’re worried about using chemicals of any kind on your clothes, try dryer balls. The Blueland Dryer Ball Starter Set includes three dryer balls made of sustainably-sourced New Zealand wool that can leave clothes soft while reducing both wrinkles and drying time.
What to Look for in a Fabric Softener
Fabric softeners used to come in two forms: liquid and sheets. Today, there are many more options, including pods and dryer balls. You can even find combination products that mix both liquid detergent and conditioner.
While your choice largely hinges on preference and whether you want to use the product in the washer (liquid or pods) or dryer (sheets and balls), it’s worth noting that dryer balls are the most natural, chemical-free option. That said, these products are completely unscented. If you want to infuse your clothes with a pleasing scent, look for liquid, sheets, or pods.
Most newer washing machines are designed for HE or “high-efficiency” products, so make sure to check the packaging to ensure whatever formula you choose is suitable for your machine. Also worth noting: In a typical load, only a small amount of HE-optimized conditioner is needed along with your detergent. In other words, you'll get a better value when purchasing HE products.
While it can be nice to add a sweet scent to your clothing, many of these formulas contain harsh ingredients and synthetic fragrances that can irritate skin—especially in babies and those with more sensitive skin. If you fall into that category, look for plant-based, naturally-derived formulas or naturally unscented options like dryer balls.
What does fabric softener do?
“Fabric softener, also known as fabric conditioner, is a fabric care product designed to deposit a coating that makes fibers feel smoother and more supple,” says Lindsey Boyd, co-founder of The Laundress. "While certain detergents may have conditioning properties, fabric conditioner is not the same as detergent."
While some fabric softeners are designed for use in the dryer (dryer balls and sheets), liquid and pod versions work in tandem with detergent during the wash cycle to reduce stiffness and static, decrease drying time, and make ironing easier.
How do you get fabric softener stains out of clothes?
“Most fabric conditioner stains are oily in nature, and are best addressed with an oil-specific stain remover and a stain brush, which will help to gently coax the stain from the garment’s fibers without disturbing the weave,” says Boyd.
To remove fabric softener stains, apply a stain-removing formula to a laundry brush and lather into the fabric using circular motions, then proceed with washing or rinsing the garment.
And in the future? “Fabric conditioner stains are easily prevented by using only the recommended amount of product for your washing machine type, and placing it inside the fabric conditioner-specific dispenser instead of pouring directly on top of laundry in the drum of the machine,” says Boyd.
When should you and should you not use fabric softener?
“Think of fabric conditioner as the facial lotion in your everyday laundry routine: Just like you want to moisturize your skin after cleansing it, you want to do the same for your clothes to make them buttery soft,” says Boyd.
That said, there are a few exceptions to conditioning everyday laundry—namely towels, flame retardant items, and workout gear—otherwise you risk buildup. “Outside of everyday laundry, more sensitive fabrics like cashmere, silk, wool, and other delicate natural fibers require fabric-specific laundering formulas,” says Boyd. “These garments do not typically require the use of fabric conditioner when laundering with the correct fabric-specific detergent.”
Why Trust The Spruce?
This roundup was written by Theresa Holland, a freelance writer, homeowner, and mother with extensive experience researching, testing, and reviewing home goods, cleaning solutions, and baby products. You can find more of her writing on Byrdie, MyDomaine, and Verywell Health.
The article was later fully updated by Brigitt Earley, a freelance writer with over 12 years experience writing for digital publications like The Spruce and Good Housekeeping. She’s an experienced product tester and is no stranger to laundry products. As a mom to four babies and toddlers under the age of four, her own laundry pile is practically insurmountable, requiring daily attention with the best products available. Additional input was provided by Lindsey Boyd, co-founder of The Laundress.