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Why It May Be Time to Ditch Your Favorite Laundry Products

Using these laundry staples may be harming your clothes and skin. Here's what to replace them with.

laundry in basket with detergent
Fabric softener and dryer sheets may be doing more harm to your clothes than good.
Getty/Jamie Grill

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

There's nothing like the clean smell and luxurious feeling of fresh laundry after you've used fabric softener and dryer sheets. But those laundry staples could actually be hurting your clothes, your towels and your dryer.  

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Here's why it may be time to get rid of some of your favorite laundry products. You can also check out our other top laundry hacks, and how to do laundry so you save money on your energy bill

Read more: Best Washing Machine for 2022

Dryer sheets can do more harm than good

Dryer sheets are woven sheets of fibers coated with stearic acid or fatty acids, combined with different scents and other chemicals. The heat from the dryer melts the stearic acid onto the clothing which makes them soft and less staticy.

Unfortunately, this film coats your entire dryer in addition to your clothing. This is particularly problematic when it comes to the dryer's lint filter. The residue from the sheets eventually builds up on the filter and makes removing lint difficult.

This can also lead to a buildup of lint on your clothing. Since no air can make it through the filter to pull the lint away from your clothes, the lint adheres to your clothing.

Here are some other problems with dryer sheets:

  • Make towels less absorbent: The coating makes your towels less absorbent, so avoid using dryer sheets with any towels or rags.
  • Reduce fire resistance: If you have children, avoid washing their pajamas with dryer sheets. The coating can make pajamas less fire-resistant.
  • Disable wicking capabilities: Stearic acid coatings can disable the wicking capabilities of active wear and socks.

Use this homemade replacement for dryer sheets

To replace your dryer sheets, make aluminum foil balls for your dryer. You just need two or three foil balls made with 3 or 4 square feet (0.28 to 0.39 square meter) of aluminum foil each, mashed into a ball that is around 2 to 3 inches (5.0 to 7.6 centimeters) in diameter. Just toss them in the dryer with your wet clothes to fight static buildup on clothes -- no chemicals needed. 

aluminum foil balls going into laundry

Aluminum foil is actually a great alternative for traditional dryer sheets. 

Taylor Martin/CNET

Fabric softener has fewer problems

Fabric softener is another popular laundry product that comes with its own set of problems. Since fabric softener works by depositing a layer of electrically charged chemicals on fabric, which causes the fibers to fluff up and makes the fabric feel softer, that residue can irritate sensitive skin, reduce the absorption of your towels and lessen the effectiveness of kids' flame-resistant clothing, as well as lessen workout clothes' ability to wick away moisture, according to Consumer Reports

Here's what to use instead of fabric softener 

To replace fabric softener with a homemade option that won't harm your clothes, add a quarter-cup of baking soda or a half-cup of white vinegar to the wash during the rinse cycle. Your clothes will feel softer and look brighter without any irritating chemicals. 

Disclaimer: don't mix vinegar with bleach. It creates noxious fumes. Also, don't use vinegar if you have a front-loading washer, since it can corrode the door seal. 

For more tips, check out how to clean your yoga mat and the right way to clean your fridge

More laundry and cleaning tips