This is the very best homemade fabric softener recipe ever. Easy to make with 3 ingredients, you’ll have a batch made in just 5 minutes. Use this right alongside my homemade laundry detergent recipe and you’ll be money too.
Once upon a time, I set out to find the best homemade liquid fabric softener that could be found in the great vast land called the internet. And whadayaknow, I found there really aren’t that many variations. 2, in fact.
Sure there were some slight variations in the amounts of ingredients, but most recipes gravitated toward 1 of 2 main recipes.
So, I decided that instead of reinventing the wheel, it would be smarter to test each recipe out to see if either of them really worked, if they were cost effective, and how they compare to the other. Welcome to your local elementary school science fair.
Without further adieu, let’s meet the contestants.
Recipe #1: Vinegar & Baking Soda as Fabric Softener
- 6 cups vinegar
- 1 cup baking soda
- 15 drops essential oil (optional) — here is my favorite brand
Pour the vinegar into a large bowl. Add your essential oil, if using. I chose to use lavender since that seemed like a nice smelling fabric scent to me. Add your baking soda. When fizz has settled, pour into storage container of choice. Use up to 1 cup (depending on load size) per load. I poured mine right into the regular fabric softener location.
Vinegar: $0.66 (I buy my vinegar from Costco for cheap!)
Baking Soda: $0.50
Essential Oil: $1.01 (optional, and price will vary depending on oil and quality used)
Total Cost: $2.17
Without the essential oil, this recipe would be much cheaper. I got about 8 loads out of this recipe because I typically run larger loads and used closer to a cup per load. That’s $0.27 per load when using the essential oil.
How did it work?
On a softness scale of 1-10, 1 being super stiff and 10 being the stuff that dreams are made of, I gave this recipe a 7. Softened well enough, but not as much as a typical store bought softener. I doubt my family noticed a difference. The lavender scent was very, very faint. Faint enough, that I don’t think it’s worth adding. If you’re wanting a strong scent, this isn’t the recipe for you. If that isn’t an issue, just use the vinegar and baking soda and you’ll be great!
Do You Have to Use Essential Oils in this Recipe?
The essential oils provide fragrance, but are totally optional. If you don’t already have them on hand, you can leave them out and save money. Your clothes will still be super-soft.
NOTE: Prior to adding the baking soda, the oil might sit on top of the vinegar. After pouring in the baking soda and letting it dissolve, the oil no longer sits at the top. Voila!
Also, I’ve had no issues with getting any essential oil spots on my clothes.
Recipe #2: Hair Conditioner for Making Fabric Softener
- 5 cups hot water
- 3 cups vinegar
- 1 cup hair conditioner
Mix hot water and conditioner together in medium bowl. (The hot water helps smooth any clumps from the conditioner). Mix in vinegar and pour in container of choice. Use the same amount as you would a store bought softener and add to the regular softener spot in your washer or during the rinse cycle. Note: I used a regular cheapo conditioner from the dollar store. The higher quality conditioners won’t make any noticeable differences, so don’t waste your money!
Conditioner: $0.71 (I bought a large size from Family Dollar for $2)
Total Cost: $1.04
This provides anywhere from 30-40 loads worth, depending on load size. That works out to be $0.03-$0.05 per load. SUPER CHEAP.
This recipe would also work great with any organic conditioner as well. If you use organic, make sure you price compare to a similar type softener like 7th Generation. The price will definitely be more than our regular recipe, but will still be much cheaper than buying regular organic softener.
How did it work?
On the softness scale from 1-10, 1 being super stiff and 10 being the stuff that dreams are made of, I give this recipe a solid 8. Very close to what a regular fabric softener does. When it comes to smell, the scent was light but still there. It’s definitely not overpowering, but when you take a big whiff it’s definitely there. This may also vary depending on your conditioner. Maybe other scents will come through stronger/softer?
What Kind of Conditioner Should I Use?
I used a low-priced conditioner from the dollar store. The higher quality conditioners won’t make any noticeable difference, so don’t waste your money!
Some of my favorite conditioners in terms of fragrance are Clairol Herbal Essence, Dove, Wella Balsam, and Breck.
How To Make Your Clothes Smell Like Downy?
If you can’t bear to part ways with the scent of Downy, you could add some of this Downy copycat fragrance oil (Amazon.com) to your homemade fabric softener. I haven’t tried it myself yet, because that just costs more money, haha! But I would love to hear your experiences if you try it out (share in the comments section below).
Conclusion for which Homemade Fabric Softener works Best
Overall, I preferred the conditioner based recipe. It was much cheaper per use and worked better than the straight vinegar and baking soda. Clothes were softer and I like having a gentle scent to my clothes as well.
Below you’ll find the full printable version of this conditioner version since it was the best of 2 fabric softner recipes.
How Much Homemade Fabric Softener Should I Use?
Use up to 1 cup (depending on load size) per load. I pour mine right into the regular fabric softener location in the washing machine and it works perfectly!
Use a Sponge to Make a Dryer Sheet
Yep… this will make your fabric softener recipe go even further! All you need to do is take a clean sponge, dip it into the make it yourself fabric softener, wring it out very well and toss it into the dryer with your clothes. Then repeat.
Homemade Fabric Softener
- 5 cups hot distilled water
- 3 cups vinegar
- 1 cup hair conditioner
- In a medium bowl add very hot water and the conditioner. (Water doesn't need to be boiling, but hot enough that it helps smooth any clumps from the conditioner).
- Whisk together until smooth and clump free.
- Add in vinegar and whisk to combine.
- Pour into containers of choice such as wide mouth quart mason jars. Store in air tight container at room temperature for up to 5 months.
- Use the same amount as you would a store bought softener and add to the regular softener spot in your washer or during the rinse cycle. Usually for me this is around 1/2 cup to 1 cup softener per load.
- No need to spend extra money on expensive conditioner for this recipe, cheap vs quality conditioners had no noticeable differences. Dollar store conditioner works fine.
- Some of my favorite conditioners in terms of fragrance are Clairol Herbal Essence, Dove, Wella Balsam, and Breck.
- Use this recipe as a DIY dryer sheet by dipping a sponge in the solution, wringing it out very very well and tossing it into your dryer cycle.
- If you don’t have conditioner you can make the other style of homemade fabric softener I shared in the blog post by mixing together 6 cups vinegar, 1 cup baking soda and optionally 15 drops of essential oil. Whisk together and add to machines. Doesn’t produce as soft as results but it’s better than nothing.
This recipe was first posted March 2014, but has been updated with new photos and better detailed instructions & tips on 12/8/20.