Fabric Softeners And Dryer Sheets: Myths vs Facts

There are all sorts of bold statements — both for and against — using liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets these days.

Of course, those who advocate living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle typically avoid using fabric softeners and dryer sheets altogether, or they may advocate using only those that are made from all-natural products instead — like these natural fabric softeners and these natural dryer sheets.

Besides the eco-friendly reasons to stop using fabric softeners and dryer sheets, there are also a number of misconceptions about these 2 popular laundry aids.

The fact is: fabric softeners and dryer sheets do indeed make your clothes feel softer and smell better. And they reduce wrinkles too — especially if you line dry your clothes.

So, if you’re like most Americans, you’ve probably been using them for years without thinking twice. At this point, you may even find it difficult to live without them. (I know I do.)

If you’ve recently heard some warnings about the downsides of using fabric softeners and dryer sheets, then it’s time to sort out the facts from the myths.

Following are some of the most common warnings about the use of fabric softeners and dryer sheets, combined with the facts — so you can make your own decision about whether you want to continue using them or not.


#1  Fabric softeners and dryer sheets lessen the life of your clothes dryer.

This isn’t entirely true.

It’s only true to the same extent that simply using your dryer lessens the life of your clothes dryer. That’s right, time itself is your dryer’s biggest enemy, not the fabric softener you use.

Due to its mechanical nature, dryer parts simply become worn out and eventually break down over time. This happens faster than the time that would be needed for you to notice the effects of longterm use of fabric softener on your dryer. Any residue that might accrue from fabric softeners and dryer sheets can simply be removed with a brush or soap & water, without causing any damage to your dryer.

As for a buildup from fabric softener or dryer sheets burning out the heating element in your dryer and/or causing dryer fire, there’s just no validity to this.

The takeaways:


#2  Fabric softeners and dryer sheets shouldn’t be used with microfiber towels.

This is true.

Liquid fabric softeners as well as dryer sheets will significantly damage the delicate fibers in microfiber.

In fact, few people realize that microfiber towels should not be subjected to heat at all. Thus, not only are dryer sheets a problem, but the heat itself can wreak havoc on your microfiber towels. If you must dry them quickly, then choose a low- or no-heat option.

Take it from me, if you happen to use a fabric softener or dryer sheet with your microfiber towels, you will be left with regular ‘ol towels (or rags!) rather than super-absorbing microfiber ones you started with. Most of the unique microfiber properties will be lost, and you cannot restore them once they’re gone.  I know. I’ve done it… more than once. (Others have tried to restore the microfiber properties with mixed results.)

Therefore, even though it can be difficult to remember to wash (if you use liquid fabric softener) and dry your microfiber towels separately from your other towels, it’s imperative that you do. Some even recommend washing your microfiber towels separately from your cotton towels, though I’ll admit I don’t do that. Perhaps the super-absorbent properties in my microfiber towels would be even better if I did though.

The takeaways:


#2  Fabric softener and dryer sheets shouldn’t be used with athletic sportswear, spandex & nylon garments.

This is true.

Fabric softener can reduce the ability of certain fabrics to manage moisture and breathe — including sportswear, swimsuits, shapewear, undergarments, and athletic gear with wicking properties intended to keep you dry and cool.

The waxy softening agents in fabric softeners interfere with the garment’s ability to wick away moisture to keep you cool & dry (which is probably what you bought the garment for in the first place), so you should avoid using softeners with most sportswear.

A word to the wise…

More and more clothing manufacturers are incorporating spandex (or elastane) into garments these days. It’s what gives your clothes some “stretch” (like leggings and jeans) and “control” (like shapewear and undergarments). So don’t think that because an item isn’t considered “athletic wear” that you’re in the clear.

Think beyond the “sports & outdoor” label when you’re deciding which of your garments can be rinsed with fabric softener and which ones cannot.

Bras and underwear also have stretchy components (typically consisting of nylon or spandex) that are likely to be weakened by the use of fabric softener.

The takeaways:


#4  Fabric softeners can stain your clothes.

This is true.

That’s why most fabric softeners state right on the bottle that you shouldn’t pour fabric softener directly on your clothes.

The fact is: when liquid fabric softener is used on certain fabrics (or fabric blends), oily looking spots or discoloration could result. A fabric softener stain looks blue-gray and greasy.

While the risk of stains occurring is relatively small, it’s still a possibility.

The takeaways:


#5  Fabric softener can exacerbate — or even cause — body acne.

There appears to be some truth to this one.

While there is no scientific proof to validate this claim, a number of people have experienced body acne as a result of using fabric softener. Even some doctors have experienced body acne after using fabric softener on their clothes.

The waxy softening agent in liquid fabric softener effectively clogs your pores. It appears to only be a problem with those that are super-sensitive.

There is evidence that fabric softener can cause body breakouts – the waxy substance that makes your clothes soft also is what can clog your pores. Detergents probably vary more, but some of the ingredients can irritate skin, leading to rashy breakouts (and maybe acne flares too). Best to use something that is free of perfumes/dyes. Source

The takeaways:


#6  Bounce dryer sheets repel mice.

This one is false.

While certain smells will indeed annoy mice for a very short time, odoriferous things alone won’t keep them away.

Therefore, the Bounce dryer sheets might work for a day or two, but then you’re just likely to have chewed up dryer sheets!

Mice are attracted to places where light comes through. Period. That’s where they’re looking for food or a place to nest. Block holes and spaces that let light in, and you’ll be rid of your mice problem.

The takeaways:


#7  Dryer sheets should not be used with flame-retardant fabrics (like children’s clothing).

This is true.

The ingredients in fabric softeners and dryer sheets apply a thin, waxy coating to all fabrics — thereby reducing the flame resistance of  fabrics which have been treated with a flame retardant.

This commonly includes children’s pajamas, baby clothing, Halloween costumes and such.

My dad is a fire fighter and I went to fire school while trying to join the fire department. If you read the labels on clothing and on the dryer sheets/dryer balls, it says NOT to use them on children’s or baby’s clothing. It degrades the flame retardant that is layered in the clothing. (provided it’s not organic). Even the dryer balls say not to use them on baby clothing.  Source


The truth is fabric softener and dryer sheets aren’t necessary items that you must have in your arsenal of laundry cleaning products. They’re merely a convenience.

In the end, everyone has to make up their own mind regarding the use of dryer sheets and fabric softener. As we move toward a more eco-friendly world, environmentally-friendly alternatives are definitely becoming more and more popular.

And finally, be sure to read the label whenever you buy a new item of clothing. You might be surprised how many times it says Do Not Use Softeners!

Lynnette Walczak

Lynnette Walczak

I like to help people find unique ways to do things in order to save time & money -- so I frequently write about "outside the box" ideas that most wouldn't think of. As a lifelong dog owner, I often share my best tips for living with and training dogs. I worked in Higher Ed several years until switching gears to pursue things I was more passionate about. I've worked at a vet, in a photo lab, and at a zoo -- to name a few. I enjoy the outdoors via bicycle, motorcycle, Jeep, or RV. You can always find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun websites).

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  • http://www.myfavoritebedding.com Myfavoritebedding
  • mads

    I really just use fabric sheets to get rid of static in some of my clothes

  • kimberlie robinson

    I have been reading online that with the new he washers the loads have been occasionally coming out smelly. A few sites where I read this at claim the fabric softener as the culprit and claim that fabric softener can actually trap dirty smells in your clothes. Is this true or false?

    • http://thefuntimesguide.com/ FunTimesGuide

      kimberlie – I’ve heard it’s more about the seal around the door of HE front-load washing machines being the culprit. Most people don’t leave the door open after each load — so moisture… and mildew… and smells just build up there. You should leave the door open after each load until everything’s 100% dry inside (and around the seal), and wipe that seal clean with 50/50 water/vinegar mixture rather frequently.

      Mine is an HE top-load machine. I absolutely LOVE it. I keep the door open after each load until everything is completely dry inside. And since I don’t have a seal around the door, I use vinegar (instead of “Affresh”) when I run the “clean machine” cycle each month. No smells linger.

  • “MaxxFordham”

    I don’t understand the contradiction between that heat will damage microfiber towels and that you can supposedly boil them (there’s a lot HEAT!) to revive them! Heat can do the opposite things to the same thing? How does that work?

    • http://thefuntimesguide.com/ FunTimesGuide

      MaxxFordham – I use “low heat” with my microfiber towels. Here’s why you shouldn’t use high heat from a clothes dryer (which is a much more intense heat than boiled water): “High heat will literally melt the fibers” source: http://www.autogeek.net/mi101.html

      • “MaxxFordham”

        Okay, thanks, that’s interesting. But then that doesn’t tell us how hot the high setting on most clothes dryers is. How hot is that supposed to be (in degrees F) than boiling, which is between about 196 and 212 F (depending on things like altitude or humidity or something like that, I’ve heard)?

  • dan

    Try dispelling this one