Cheap and Natural Homemade Fabric Softeners

by Reader Contributors

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You can get simple fabric softener savings without the chemicals. Try these recipes from our frugal readers to keep your laundry soft for less.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
Could you ask your readers if anyone knows of a way to make a clothes softener without using a bunch of chemicals? Downy is not cheap but I love the feel of it on my wash I hang out side. Trying to find a cheaper way. Thanks.

Recipes for Natural and Cheap Homemade Fabric Softener

We asked out frugal readers how they save keeping their laundry soft. Read on for the many tips and recipes we received for homemade fabric softener solutions on the cheap.

20 Mule Team Borax

A 1/4 cup 20 Mule Team Borax in your rinse water will do the trick.
Mary Sue

Environmentally Friendly Glycerin

I was looking for an alternative myself a number of years back and found it in an environmental home renovating magazine (sorry, it’s name escapes me at the moment).

Mix 1 cup of Glycerin (available at your local natural market) and 1 gallon of water. Add 1/2 cup of this mixture to the wash or rinse cycle to soften clothing. Not only is it cheaper, but also it is much safer for the environment!

Plain Vinegar

Vinegar is a natural fabric softener (1/2 cup a load usually works). We use this for our baby’s cloth diapers because fabric softeners take away their absorbency and it works great.

The vinegar also helps to remove soap residue.

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A Downy Dilution System

If you like to hang your clothes out, try this and see how it works for you. Hang them out first to dry almost completely then throw them in dryer for just about 5 minutes. This will soften them.

To save money on the Downy, instead of putting the capful in the washer when washing the clothes, try it this way:

I make a mixture in an old butter tub with a lid, of approximately 1 part fabric softener to 4 parts water. I cut a large wash cloth into fourths and throw those pieces in the Downy mixture. Wring your Downy cloth out well so as not to leave marks on the clothes. Bring your clothes in off the line and throw in dryer for about 5 min. with one of the cloths.

This should make your clothes soft, save you money because you only used your dryer 5 minutes instead of 45, and save you money because a bottle of Downy will last a really really long time.

A hint I learned is to not make a large amount of the Downy/water mixture because it will get slimy as it sits for a few weeks. Probably a good amount to start with is 1/4 cup downy to 1 cup water or even dilute it a little more if you find you can and it will still soften clothes. I think I probably do 1/4 cup to 2 cups water and it works fine. For the money you save, it’s worth the hassle of wringing out a washcloth.

Use Hair Conditioner

Buy one of the jumbo jugs of cheap hair conditioner, and dilute approx. 3:1. (water – 3, conditioner – 1) This works just as well as any fabric softener I’ve ever used, and you can get those big jugs of conditioner for very cheap, you can even choose your own scents!

Dilute Cheap Fabric Softener

Buy the cheapest store-brand liquid fabric softener (the refill size is usually the best deal) and a spray bottle. Mix 1 part fabric softener with 3 parts water in the bottle. Spray inside your dryer before putting in the clean, wet clothes.

I’ve been doing this for over a year and have only gone through 1 1/2 cartons of fabric softener. My investment has been less than $10 so far (including the spray bottle) which is a LOT cheaper than the amount of boxes of Bounce fabric softener sheets I would normally have used in the same length of time.
Terri B. in MD

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A Simple Fabric Softener Recipe

I found that recipe for fabric softener in an issue of Tightwad Living:

Mix ingredients and store in a plastic or glass container in your laundry area. Label the container and keep it out of the reach of children. To use: Shake the mixture and add 1/4 cup to the final rinse in your washing machine. If you have hard water, use 1/3 cup.

Reviewed May 2023

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