All fabric softeners and dryer sheets, whether petroleum-based or plant-based, work by coating fibers with lubricants that make the fabrics feel softer to the touch. The lubricants also cause fibers to slide against each other more easily to reduce static cling, make fibers feel more fluffy and reduce wear and tear on fabrics.
Liquid fabric softeners are added to the rinse cycle of a washer to infuse the fabrics. Dryer sheets are tossed in the dryer and activated by the heat and tumbling motion... of the dryer. Both types usually contain perfumes that also infuse the fabrics.
It should be noted that neither form is safe to use on children's sleepwear or other flame resistant fabrics as they may reduce flame resistance. The residual coating, in addition to reducing flame retardancy, also decreases absorbency. If you've ever had towels that don't seem to remove moisture from your skin after a shower, blame fabric softener. Excessive use of fabric softener can actually leave clothes looking dingy and reduce the effectiveness of high-performance sports clothing that wick away moisture.
As an alternative to commercial fabric softeners, add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle to cut through residual detergent that leaves clothes feeling scratchy.
Bounce dryer sheets have been a popular choice since they first hit market shelves in the early 1970s. The dryer sheet eliminated the need for adding fabric softener to the rinse cycle when washing clothes.
Bounce began with just one scent but today, you can find Bounce in five scents and Bounce Free which contains no fragrance or dyes.
Bounce Dryer Sheets are safe to use in both gas and electric dryers. Place the sheet on top of wet clothes and start the dryer cycle as usual. Discard after use... or recycle for other household uses.
Bounce is manufactured by Procter and Gamble, which purchased the rights to a U.S. patent for a dryer sheet from Conrad J. Gaiser in 1969. Mr. Gaiser first used a piece of cotton flannel which he treated with liquid fabric softener. He called his prototype "Tumble Puffs". P&G took the idea and recreated it using a less expensive non-woven fabric and Bounce was offered to the market.
The Downy name from Proctor & Gamble is applied to several forms of fabric care products–liquid fabric softener, dryer sheets, fabric deodorant and as a wrinkle releaser. Downy also offers the Downy Ball as a laundry aid for dispensing the fabric softener in washers that don't have an automatic fabric softener dispenser.
Downy liquid fabric softener is offered in several scents and different formulas - Ultra Downy, Downy Infusions, Free & Gentle and Downy with Febreze.
The liquid... formulas are compatible for all washers including high-efficiency (HE) models. However, using too much can leave a residue in HE washers that acts as food for mold and mildew growth causing terrible odor. For use in an automatic dispenser, shake the Downy well because it can settle and measure to the desired amount. Pour the fabric softener into the dispenser and top off with water. To keep your washer working well, be sure to clean the dispenser regularly. If Downy freezes or thickens, dissolve it first in a capful of water before using.
Purex Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets are manufactured in the United States by Henkel. The company offers a full line of laundry products including liquid and powder laundry detergent, Purex Crystals in-wash scent booster, as well as, liquid fabric softeners, and dryer sheets.
The liquid softener is offered in several scents and is also available in a sensitive skin formula that is hypoallergenic and contains no dyes. As with all liquid fabric softeners, it should not be poured directly onto... fabrics because spotting can occur. Purex dryer sheets are available in two scents that reduce static cling and leave clothes feeling soft with a fresh scent.
Snuggle has long been recognized as a leading in-wash fabric softener. In addition to classic Snuggle fabric softener and dryer sheets, there is now Snuggle Plus SuperFresh.
The science behind Snuggle Plus SuperFresh works by binding odor molecules that humans can detect with the formula's chemical molecules to make them imperceptible to the human nose. The molecules in Snuggle trap the odors and provide the fragrance that replaces the bad odors.
Snuggle leaves a scent that lasts for more... than a week and fabrics that are soft to the touch. If you have sensitivity to fragrances, you may need to reduce the amount of product used or choose the scent-free version.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
If you are concerned about the chemicals used in fabric softeners and dryer sheets or have small children, consider environmentally friendly dryer balls like Woolzies or make your own to soften clothes.
The dryer balls help to soften clothes and reduce static through gentle friction during the tumbling action in the dryer. They reduce drying time by separating and creating space between pieces of laundry allowing hot air to circulate better.
While Woolzies are unscented, some users prefer scented... laundry. To add your favorite scent to dried clothes, sprinkle a few drops of pure essential oil on one or all of the Woolzies.
In a test of two identical loads of laundry–a queen-sized top sheet, queen-sized bottom sheet and four pillowcases–wool dryer balls reduced drying time significantly. The first load–without Woolzies–took 25 minutes to dry completely. The next load–with Woolzies–took only 19 minutes to dry. That is a 24 percent reduction of drying time which saves both time and money.
Disclosure: At The Spruce, our Expert writers are committed to researching and writing thoughtful and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your life and your family. If you like what we do, you can support us through our chosen links, which earn us a commission. Learn more about our review process.