How To Naturally Freshen Your Laundry

If you’ve read my Liquid Laundry Detergent or Powdered Laundry Detergent posts, you may be wondering how I’ve tackled the issues of fabric softener and dryer sheets. Read on to find out why I don’t use these products and how I naturally freshen my laundry without the use of harsh chemicals.

It’s easy to guess why I don’t like the liquid softeners – I hate the idea of artificial fragrances and residues left on my clothes, when it’s supposed to be in the washing machine to get washed! But what about the dryer sheets? What could possibly be wrong with dryer sheets? Well, besides the artificial fragrances (again), a quick online search returns a long list of some interesting chemicals – Benzyl Acetate, Ethyl Acetate, Chloroform, A-Terpineol, among others that are neurotoxins, carcinogens, and even listed on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste List! For a complete list of what’s actually in your dryer sheets, along with their health risks, visit this link.

There are a couple of things I do both in the washer and the dryer that work really well at getting my laundry feeling and smelling fresh and clean:

 

  1. Baking Soda: I add about 1/4 cup baking soda to the wash basin while it’s filling with water and let it dissolve before adding the clothes. Baking Soda helps to not only soften the clothes, it also regulates the pH level of the wash water. It’s is also very effective at reducing odors in the laundry. (For HE/front-loading machines, I just add it into the detergent cup.)
  2. Vinegar: Instead of using a liquid fabric softener, I use some good old vinegar in the rinse cycle of my washer. If you have a fabric softener dispenser just pour 1/4 – 1/2 cup into the dispenser and you’re good to go. If not, you can just use an old Downy ball or just manually pour it in during the rinse cycle. Vinegar helps to soften the clothes and if used during the rinse cycle, it won’t leave your clothes smelling like a salad. ;)
  3.  Homemade Dryer Sheets: So after using the vinegar and baking soda for a while and being very happy with the way my laundry felt, I still wasn’t happy with how it smelled. I knew I had to do something in the dryer but didn’t know what, until I came across this awesome way to make a homemade version of dryer sheets:
    *Take a small piece of cotton cloth (cut-up shirt, washcloth, etc.), soak it with water and wring it out so that’s it’s just damp. Take your favorite essential oil (lavender, orange, tea tree, etc.) and put about 10 drops all over the cloth. After you’ve run your clothes through the dryer using heat, throw the wet cloth into the dryer and run the dryer again on a NO HEAT cycle for about 10-15 minutes. When you take out your clothes, they’ll smell so fresh and clean but without such an overpowering scent as with commercial dryer sheets. Just keep wetting the cloth and using it over and over again until the smell runs out. Then toss it in the wash and start all over again!
    EDIT: I’ve been asked a few times if you could just add the essential oils (EO) directly into the homemade liquid laundry detergent and bypass the second drying cycle, and the answer is absolutely! For that size batch, I would try about 1 oz. of oils and go from there. The only reason I don’t do this personally is because I like to control which loads get the EO treatment, ie: our clothes – most of the time, and the baby clothes – barely ever. One day I hope to be hanging all our clothes to dry outside, then we can do away with the dryer completely!

Try these 3 methods of freshening your laundry and you’ll never go back to store-bought fabric softeners again! Just remember, if you’re looking for that really strong, chemical smell that comes from commercial products, these methods are not for you! But if you want your clothes to come out of the laundry smelling clean and fresh, there’s nothing better than natural products like vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils.

Let me know how it works out for you!

Where can you buy essential oils? You can find them at any health food store that sells natural and organic products. If you can’t find a store near you, you can always purchase them online. Mountain Rose Herbs has really good quality oils – love them!


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Sarah UmmYusuf is a former school teacher turned stay-at-home wife and mama with a passion for all things simple, natural, and homemade. She loves the natural world, and believes the solutions to many of the world’s ailments lie in nature. Her blog, , began as a way to document her family’s journey to a greener home, but has since become a thriving community and resource for those wishing to take small steps towards a more eco-friendly, natural and sustainable lifestyle. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.

Comments

    • Sarah says

      Wa’alailum Assalam sis! Thanks :) I get my oils from my nearest natural/health foods store. When I lived in the States, it was usually Whole Foods or something similar. There are also many online retailers that sell them too if you can’t find a store nearby.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

    • says

      I love doTERRA oils! They are the highest quality, purest essential oils on the market. No pesticides, herbicides, or any of that nonsense that some of the other companies allow in their oils! Definitely don’t want that on my skin! And they have an indefinite shelf life because they don’t contain any contaminants. Reply to this post if you have questions to see for yourself how awesome they are. =) I use them in all my house cleaning, not to mention their incredible medicinal/ therapeutic qualities.

  1. Kristen says

    I just use a tennis ball in my dryer. I cannot tell a difference between this and when I used to use actual fabric softener.

    • Sarah says

      A tennis ball, now that’s interesting! I’ll have to try that :)
      I also just recently came across another idea on Pinterest: throw in a couple balls of aluminum foil to get rid of static cling!

    • Melissa says

      I just made felted wool yarn balls for the dryer and you can scent them too. NO cemicals as I get the yarn right from the farm. They also (unscented) leave no smell or residue behind. And if you have little ones in diapers they do not deposit anything to inhibit absorbsion.

  2. says

    Hey, I found your site via Pinterest. I’ve been using vinegar as a fabric softener for several years with great results. I have a front loader and often drop a few drops of EOs right into the vinegar for a very slight scent. I mostly use it on towels and sheets. We don’t miss the smell of fabric softener and when we wash our clothes at other’s home and use commerical products, they smell too strong to us!

    • Sarah says

      Hi Laura, welcome!

      Ooh, thanks for the tip on putting the EOs right in with the vinegar! I never thought to do that! I guess I thought the scent would wash away with the vinegar, but I guess not? I’m definitely going to try it next time I want to freshen up a load of laundry :) And I know what you mean about not missing the smell. I can’t even stand to smell that laundry smell wafting through my neighborhood when others are washing! or the laundry aisle at the supermarket? Forget it! …it’s funny, because I used to LOVE all these scents before I became more green, and now I cringe at them LOL. Once you untrain your nose, it becomes so sensitive to those chemicals.

  3. Teresa says

    Hi Sarah! Thanks for the tips- I wasn’t searching for ideas on going green but ideas for alternatives to traditional laundry chemicals. When you’re a college kid, paying $11+ for laundry detergent seems crazy. I figured the chemical-y smell was something I would just have to deal with. Sounds like I’ll have to deal with it no more!

    One question though- is this as effective with stains as the commercial laundry detergents?

    • Sarah says

      Hi Teresa, welcome! I’ve been using the homemade detergent, as well as the baking soda and vinegar routine mentioned in this post ever since my son was born almost a year ago, and I’ve found that it does a pretty good job with stains. If it’s a really big stain, I usually pretreat when the stain is still fresh. But other than that, I couldn’t be happier! I actually cringe at the smell of commercial laundry products now! Good luck :)

  4. Emily says

    Hi, I came across your blog via Pinterest as well. I have a question about the vinegar use in the wash… does your clothes come out smelling like vinegar? That’s my only concern…

    Also, I’m wondering why y’all don’t try the fragrance-free/dye-free detergents, softener, and dryer sheets? Pretty much every brand now has them, even the generic from the stores.

    • Sarah says

      Hi Emily, welcome! For the vinegar – as long as you use it in the rinse cycle, it doesn’t leave your clothes smelling vinegar. I promise! ;)

      As for your other question, there’s a few reasons why we don’t just buy the commercially available products. Even if they’re fragrance/dye free, we still don’t know what other chemicals are in them, and we don’t want that on our clothes, our skin, and more importantly, running off into the water supply. Secondly, let’s face it, laundry products are expensive, and even more so when you go with the natural brands; so making your own makes more sense financially too. We’re all about being frugal here :) And lastly, and I think most importantly, is the concept of sustainability. How long are we willing to continue buying these same single-use products, at their high prices? If we can make homemade versions of them, that helps us out in the long run both financially, and so that we’re not constantly dependent on commercial products.

      Does that make any sense or was I just rambling? Lol ;) Hope that helps!

    • Sarah says

      Glad you enjoyed the post! There’s no reason for no essential oils for the baby clothes, really. I just don’t like his clothes to be scented. Sometimes I do it, but not regularly. :)

  5. DebbyeS says

    I also just found you through Pinterest and can’t wait to try some of these ideas. Just wondering – do you have any favorite essential oils or blends. I love the scent of Lavender on sheets, towels, etc. but I would like to have a “brighter” fragrance for my clothing. Any suggestions?

  6. Mrs. H.C. says

    I found your blog through your comment about this idea on Our Homemade Happiness. I can not wait to try this! My sheets & towels are the only thing that goes through the dryer & this would be the nice little oomph they need after their vinegar rinse.

    • Sarah says

      They really do come out smelling wonderfully. It’s a nice, light scent. Not at all as strong or overpowering like the commercial stuff!

  7. Ellen says

    Hi! This blog definitely inspires me to not use store-bought laundry stuff anymore. My reason being more financial and second only to the environmental factors. We are a single income family and my kids are going to start private school this coming SY so I need all the money-pinching tips I can get. My only question, what kind of vinegar do you use? Distilled vinegar?

    I will try your floor cleaner as well :) Thanks.

    • Sarah says

      Hi Ellen, thanks for stopping by! I’m so glad you’re gotten a little inspiration! I’m humbled :) I just plain old white vinegar. Distilled works fine. Just as long as it’s not like a cider or wine vinegar, you should be fine.

      The floor cleaner is amazing! Works great for everything – more like an all-purpose cleaner :) Hope you like it!

      • Mrs. H.C. says

        Just wanted to add a tip.

        This is the time of the year to stock up on vinegar. Watch your grocery store sales papers. Here it is pickling season, so a couple of our stores will run the gallons of distilled vinegar buy one get one free.

        The jugs are also great to re-purpose into containers to store some of the cleaners that I like to make by the gallon – like window cleaner & foaming hand soap.

  8. Brittany says

    I’ve spent the morning reading over a lot of the posts on your blog, (found you on Pinterest, love your blog!) and I wanted to join the fabric softener discussion. :)
    We are recent converts to making our our cleaners and detergents, (we made our first batches of everything just over a month ago, and we’ll never go back!) and I’ve been adding cinnamon or peppermint EO with the vinegar for the rinse cycle. There is a very faint scent when I take the clothes out of the dryer, and I was happy to see your suggestion of using a piece of cotton cloth for a bit of a stronger scent.
    We’re making our first batch of liquid laundry detergent this weekend, (we made a powdered one last time) and I can’t wait to try that out in our next load of laundry!

  9. Obapplepie says

    My husband and I are live in care takers for my in-laws, all of whom are incontinent and or have regular ‘accidents’.
    I just took my first wobbly little steps toward a green household by making our own laundry detergent. Does vinegar and baking soda help with the stronger scents that I may be faced with? I hate to think of having stinky laundry after it’s washed… It can end up that way even with the commercial stuff.
    Have any tips or tricks that could help me? links? It seems everywhere I look tells me to try ‘green’ chemical cleansers, I would rather have a home remedy and avoid the cost, waste plastic, etc.

    • Sarah says

      Hmm, I really have no experience with stronger scents like you mention, but I would definitely recommend at least trying the baking soda and vinegar. Also, hanging the laundry out in the sun can do wonders! It’s great for stains and disinfecting too :) And after they’ve dried, you can spruce them up with a quick tumble in the dryer using the homemade dryer “sheets” I’ve mentioned in this post. Good luck!

  10. Lysa says

    Thank you for posting this information! Now I can remove the baby laundry soaps from my baby registry. With a family of 6 (5 until January) this is a true money-saver.

  11. Megan C says

    Thank you for the article. I will try using baking soda. I have been using homemade fabric softener in the washer (all natural hair conditioner mixed with vinegar and water) and adding a piece of cotton cloth with essential oil to the dryer but my husband’s work clothes still don’t smell fresh. We have a HE washer too and I have tried just about everything. I am also hoping that when the weather is warmer and I can line dry my clothes, it will help with the smell. However, I was hoping to get a few more ideas from this article :( If I have any luck finding something new, I will post it! Thank you!

Trackbacks

  1. […] NOTE: Never use fabric softeners or dryer sheets when washing your microfiber cloths because they’ll affect their ability to absorb liquids properly. I don’t use either of these products on any of our laundry anyways; instead, I just use some vinegar in the rinse cycle to keep our laundry fresh and soft. […]

  2. […] I’m so excited to bring you today’s sponsor, but first, let’s talk about laundry, shall we? One of the very first things I did when I started my journey to a greener, more eco-friendly lifestyle, was change up my laundry routine. I went from using commercial laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets, to making homemade liquid laundry detergent, powdered detergent, and using natural products to freshen our laundry. […]

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