Like most Americans, you’ve probably been using fabric softeners and/or dryer sheets for years. In recent years, living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle may have you questioning whether these products are right for the environment, and perhaps more importantly, right for you and your family and for your new high efficiency dryer.
At PDQ Repair Services, we want to help take the mystery out of drying your clothes. We take some time to sort out the facts from the myths and advocate for some great alternative products. When we’re done we hope that you feel great about choosing the right laundry products for your family’s specific laundry needs!
How does it work?
When it comes to helping keep your fabrics soft, there are two popular options. Both products soften your clothes, reduce static and keep them smelling fresh. The difference is when you choose to use the products.
Liquid fabric softener works while your clothes are washing.
Dryer sheets are added during the drying cycle.
Liquid fabric softener is added to the wash cycle. Most washing machines have a clearly marked compartment specifically made to hold fabric softener and dispense it at the right time in the cycle. This is important because liquid fabric softener and detergent don’t mix well. If your machines doesn’t have a special compartment, you’ll need to add the liquid softener during the final rinse when the tub is full of water.
Liquid fabric softeners works by soaking and lubricating your clothes with special chemicals that make them feel softer. This also helps to reduce static cling.
Dryer sheets are basically small sheets of material with fabric softener. The sheets are using in the dryer where heat and moisture warm up the softener and spread it across all the pieces of clothing. The chemicals inside the dryer sheets target static electricity charges and eliminate any that linger on the surface of the fabrics. By coating the fabric they help in the resistance of future stains, prevent clothes from gathering lint and make ironing easier.
Myths vs. Facts
Fabric softeners and dryer sheets lessen the life of your clothes dryer. Part MYTH and part FACT
Time is the enemy of your dryer. Dryer parts simply become worn out over time and eventually break down. The lifespan of your dryer is directly related to how often you use it and how you take care of and maintain it. One area that can significantly improve the lifespan of your dryer is regular cleaning of build-up.
Any residue that might accumulate over time can be removed with a brush or a little soap and water. Regular cleaning includes cleaning the lint filter screen at least once a month with a little dish detergent mixed with hot water. Make sure to thoroughly rinse and allow to air dry before replacing the lint filter.
With modern sensor dryer models, dryness is sensed by two metal bars inside the drum. Dryer sheets can coat these sensors with a waxy build-up which can prevent the dryer from working properly. So regular cleaning of those bars is recommended for best performance.
Furthermore, the use of fabric sheets can also coat the insides of the dryer venting inside the walls or crawlspace of your home and contribute to lint buildup. That’s why you should have your dryer venting cleaned as part of your spring-cleaning routine.
All manufacturers recommend that the lint filter be emptied after every load of clothes.
For additional tips on maintaining and caring for your clothes dryer, click here.
Fabric softeners and dryer sheets are not to be used with microfiber fabrics and towels. FACT
Microfiber towels are designed with special properties that enable them to be super absorbant. Once exposed to heat, as in a dryer, the delicate microfiber becomes damaged. This essentially turns your super absorbent towel into a regular ‘ol towel.
In addition, the waxy softening agents of dryer sheets and liquid softeners reduce the towel’s ability to absorb liquid. Always make it a point to air dry all of your microfiber towels, or tumble dry on low or no-heat. You may also want to wash and dry your microfiber fabrics and towels separately to help prevent the accidental use of fabric softener or dryer sheets.
Fabric softeners can stain clothes. FACT
Liquid fabric softeners are made from oil. They may stain clothes if not used properly. Most fabric softeners state right on the bottle that it cannot be used directly on your clothes just for this reason. While it’s not a large risk, you may notice a blue-gray or greasy stain. This is from improper use of your fabric softener.
To avoid possible staining of your clothes, don’t overfill the machine with too many items. When you overfill your washing machine, there is not enough water to circulate around the clothes and disperse the fabric softener equally.
It’s recommended to use a dryer sheet with every load. MYTH
A dryer sheet is not need in every load. As mentioned earlier, microfiber cloths and towels are one of the exceptions. It is also advised against using dryer sheets when washing the following:
- Athletic sportswear, spandex and nylon garments. Fabric softener and dryer sheets can reduce the ability of these fabrics to manage moisture and breathe. Hand your swimsuits, shapewear including bras, sportswear and athletic gear to dry.
- Flame-retardant fabrics, as seen in some children’s clothing. The ingredients in fabric softeners, both liquid and in sheets, apply a thin, waxy coating to all fabrics. This minimizes the flame resistance of fabrics that have been treated with a flame retardant. Be sure to read the labels and skip the liquid or dryer sheets when washing and drying these types of clothing.
- For sensitive skin. While there is no scientific proof that fabric softener can exacerbate skin problems, such as acne, it’s still wise to avoid it whenever possible. Many laundry detergents already have fabric softener in them, so adding additional softener to your wash load could irritate your skin.
For those of you who advocate for a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, there are options. One eco-friendly method is to avoid the use of them altogether.
If you want the benefits of fabric softeners, but don’t want to use commercial products, then there are alternatives you can try.
Add a half-cup of white vinegar to the wash during the rinse cycle when the tub is full of water. This will soften the clothes without leaving a vinegar smell behind. As a bonus, vinegar will brighten and preserve colors.
As an alternative to dryer sheets, crumple up some aluminum foil into three inch balls. Toss 3 or 4 of them into the dryer. This will reduce static but won’t add any softness. You can reuse the foil ball over several cycles until they become smooth.
Dryer sheets and fabric softeners are an important but underrated player in the laundry process. They add a touch of softness and freshness to your laundry. Both dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners have their pros and cons. Both products work well and do what they advertise. In the end, it’s up to you and your family to choose what works best.
- Make sure you read the label whenever your buying a new item of clothing.
- Do not use fabric softener or dryer sheets with your microfiber towels, athletic wear, spandex or nylon fabrics.
- Consider alternatives if you have sensitive skin, or want to be more environmentally friendly.
The best detergent and fabric softeners are not going to be effective if your washer and dryer is not performing at its best. Our expert technicians at PDQ Repair Service can help you with anything from regular tune-ups to full service appointments. We address some common issues and how you can fix them yourself in this article.
Or give our expert gas or electric dryer repair technicians a call at (360) 719-4810 or schedule an appointment online today.