How to Keep Clothes Soft After Air-Drying

clothing line drying

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5

Drying clothes on an outdoor clothesline reduces your carbon footprint by saving energy, provides great exercise, can be less damaging to some clothing fibers, and usually leaves clothes smelling like fresh air. But it can also leave some fabrics feeling stiff and scratchy—especially natural fibers like linen and cotton. If you don't like the feeling of crackling bedsheets, there are several things you can do to help soften fabrics dried on a drying rack or indoor or outdoor clothesline.

How Often Should You Soften Line-Dried Clothes?

Follow these tips each time you do laundry. It may take several rounds of washing and drying clothes to get them to the level of softness you desire.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Automatic clothes dryer
  • Water softening system


  • 1 Distilled white vinegar
  • 1 Liquid fabric softener
  • 1 Laundry detergent
  • 1 Water conditioner


How to Soften Air-Dried Clothes

  1. Use Less Detergent

    Using too much laundry detergent can leave a residue in your clothing that causes the fibers to feel stiff. In addition to the stiffness, the residue attracts soil and bacteria that leave clothes smelling less than fresh. Take the time to measure liquid and powdered detergents and adjust the amount based on the size of the laundry load.


    Almost all liquid detergents are concentrated—and you need much less than you think. In a front-loading washer, all you need is two teaspoons of detergent for an average-sized load.

    Laundry detergent poured into washing machine dispenser

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  2. Clean Your Washer

    How can you expect your clothes to be clean if your washer is dirty? A dirty washer can allow dirt and detergent residue to redeposit on clothes. Clean your washer regularly and your clothes will smell fresher and feel softer.

    Washing machine and dispenser drawers emptied out for cleaning

    The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

  3. Add Distilled White Vinegar to the Rinse Cycle

    The acetic acid in the vinegar helps break through the bond created when residue is left by detergents or other laundry additives on fabric fibers. By breaking the bond, the residue can be more easily flushed away by the water in the rinse cycle.

    Add one cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle. It may take several trips through the washer for the vinegar to strip away all of the residue that caused fabrics to feel stiff.


    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  4. Strip the Laundry

    Stripping laundry removes any detergent or fabric softener residue, body soil, and body oils left in the fabric after your laundry routine that could leave fabrics looking dull, feeling stiff, and reducing absorbency. Stripping does not need to be done—or should be done—each time you do laundry. However, if done several times a year, you may find that your line-dried laundry is much softer to the touch.

  5. Soften the Water

    If you live in an area of the country that has high levels of minerals in the water (hard water), consider softening the water to help keep clothes feeling less harsh. High levels of minerals are common in well-water but can even be found in municipal water systems. Water softening systems can be added to a home to help lower the mineral count.


    If you don't want to add a total home system, use a water conditioner in each laundry load. Adding one-half cup of powdered borax to the wash cycle will improve your laundry results.

  6. Add Fabric Softener

    Adding fabric softener or fabric conditioner to the rinse cycle will leave a coating on fabric fibers that will feel silky to the touch. The softener is left in the fabric to saturate and coat the wet fibers. Newer fabric conditioners on the market contain both softening ingredients and chemicals that help prevent fading, stretching, and pilling.

  7. Hang the Laundry Properly

    How you hang your laundry can make a difference in how it feels when it is dry. Start by giving each piece of laundry a good shake to help release wrinkles and relax the fibers that may have been twisted in the washer.

    Hang each piece separately using clothes pins to keep it secure. This will help the fabric dry quickly and allow more air to circulate. The air movement will also help relax the fibers.

    person shaking out clothes

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  8. Do a Quick Dryer Tumble

    To help fibers relax more quickly, place laundry in your automatic dryer for a quick tumble before hanging them on the clothesline or drying rack. Just 10 minutes on low or even air dry will make a difference in how the fabrics feel. Add wool dryer balls to keep the wet clothes separated.

    If you don't have time to tumble the clothes before hanging them outside, you can do the same thing when you take them off the line. Dampen a bath towel and toss it in the dryer with stiff jeans or towels and tumble for 10 minutes on low or air-only.

    placing clothing in the dryer

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Originally written by
Erin Huffstetler

Erin Huffstetler is a frugal living expert who has been writing for over 10 years about easy ways to save money at home.

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