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.
Comments & Reviews
Can I use vinegar and baking soda in a HE washer?
jannie fair says
thanks for the tips i will enjoy all of them
The reason I quit using liquid fabric softener is almost all brands contain animal fat (tallow). That has shown to leave a thick coating inside the washer which can cause a smelly mess. I have seen this in my old top loading washer when I took it apart to clean.
The recommendation is to use hair conditioner in the recipe, well guess what is one of the ingredients in most hair conditioners? Yep it’s animal fat. Kind of defeats the reason why I stopped buying liquid fabric softener. If you don’t believe me, just Google animal fat in fabric softener or animal fat in hair conditioner.
Not sure how well this will work. I’ve read that baking soda and vinegar cancel each other out. I’ll probably only add vinegar and essential oils to the wash. Thanks.
Lol I must have missed something. I put my vinegar in jar, added my On -Gaurd essential oil and then added my baking soda. It was a literal explosion of the vinegar and baking soda fizzing waaay up out of the jar creating a nice smelling mess! Haha! I needed to mop my laundry room anyway but how did I not remember this from science? How are you ladies not making a mess? I was making a large batch and used 6 c of vinegar sand 1 c baking soda, and about 8 c water. Hahaha! Lesson learned. Thank you!
Ive made this mistake as well. What Ive found helpful is to make the solution up in a bucket and it fizz away a lot and then transfer it to the bottle I use to dispense it into the washing machine. I too had been covered in eucalyptus oil, vinegar and baking soda as well as my laundry got a nice wipe over!!!!
Anyone else got a better solution to tame the fizz explosion?
Carla Jaynes says
Just a tip…. if you have the coffee creamer bottles, wash and fill your fabric softener in these. Attached lid, easy to give a quick shake before adding to the washer. I buy the gallon of conditioner from Sally’s Beauty Supply for $11. I have done this for over 2 years now, I couldn’t imagine how much money I have saved!
Do I have to use the distilled water?
Yeah, it works best with distilled water.
Do I need to add preservative?
How well does the conditioner/vinegar solution on static???
It works I have used this stuff forever with even shampoo or dish liquid soap Gain. When you’re broke. Soap is soap. Even a regular bar of soap with vinegar baking soda and yep your epsom salt. I’ve even used table salt. Listen when your broke and all you have is what you can through together. Hard as a single mom. 36-38 yrs ago. I think mom has even had to this before when I was growing up as a kid I am 55 yrs old and my clothes were clean it’s called hard times and a survival kit. Mom do amazing things . Yeppers funny how we all are the same page. Well that’s camera’s and action.
Ransford APPIAH says
Thank you for sharing these powerful wisdom .
Iam about to try it but l trust it will work
Melissa marcou says
I just made a typo. It’s sauce see typing issue. It’s s. A u. B. E. Shampoo and conditioner. And no. Your clothes don’t smell like vinegar at all. I have tried vinegar for yrs with baking soda and my laundry detergent with salt. My dad always used table salt and dish liquid soap on his greasy hands
He worked at general motors for ever
Melissa marcou says
The truth about hair conditioner. I’ve used to many times in the last 30-40 yrs. Started because I was broke and had no laundry soap
I had sauce shampoo and conditioner. It works out. And ad far as vinegar goes it’s the best. Use a downy ball in your washing machine it works great with the homemade recipe. I’ve been monkey around with fabric softener in my bathtub for a few dozen yrs. Had no essential oil so I used expensive or cheap perfume. Like the french do. Nothing to over the top. Or rose water. It’s a ok deal. Do what you need to do when broke. Rose petals
Melissa Green says
Does the vinegar not leave the clothes smelling like vinegar? I will ad vinegar to the washer many times to help clean. If I ad to much, the clothes come out smelling like vinegar.
No, haven’t had a problem with it!
Alisa Lyles says
How much vinegar do you add for your clothes to come out smelling like vinegar? I add vinegar and baking soda to every load and I still use store bought softener but I pour 1/2 the bottle into another bottle and add vinegar to the softener and yeah it works great only gripe I might have is that baking soda and vinegar both cleans and removes sent from the clothes so my clothes never smell like softener ok ok maybe a very very faint smell sometimes but my clothes are clean n soft n that’s what matters bonus when I put on a sent my sent is all you smell and that’s really nice .
Vinegar and baking soda 👍🏽
I’m want to try this but I’m worried the clothes are gonna come out smelling like vinegar
It never ever does, believe me. I tried it first on the rags and towels I use to clean up around the house and even if I put a few cups of vinegar into the washer with a load of towels or clothes, there is no vinegar smell. Go ahead and try it first with something you are not super attached to, like a few old towels if you have some 🙂
In the search for a fabric softener I could actually use I tested several recipes also. This is my winner for sure. I am very sensitive to fragrances, even scents that I find pleasing seem to make me ill if they are too strong or last for too long. I also have very sensitive skin and cannot use many laundry products. This recipe works for me!!! I use warm scented conditioner like shea butter and vanilla during the winter and fruity or citrus during the summer!
Diane Lane says
I can’t believe I waited this long to make homemade fabric softener! This stuff is incredible
My clothes smell and feel so soft and fresh. My friends and family
ask me everyday ,..”what kind of laundry stuff do you use”?
I’m so glad I finally decided to try this using your recipe.
Oh this makes me so happy!!
Angela C Handly says
What conditioner did you use?
I can’t seem to get mine to make my clothes smell good and I’m bummed.
I’ve made the vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and essential oil a few times now. The bicarbonate of soda sinks to the bottom of the liquid, is that how it should be? If so are you meant to spoon some into the washing machine each time with the liquid?
Pretty sure the chemical reaction that takes place between the vinegar and baking soda produces something of an enhanced water that helps to exposed the fiber of fabric and thus improving the feel but actually deteriorating the fabric over time. I feel like I read that somewhere in an article elsewhere about the baking soda/vinegar for hair treatment. So it might be why it sorta works but sorta doesn’t.
Anyhoo, the conditioner, vinegar, and hot water recipe seems to work like a charm. The best thing about this recipe was the ability to control what conditioner is used, thus what ingredients go in, and what scents, if any, are in my laundry products, However that being said, because of my selectiveness there wasn’t much money savings to make my own fabric softener. About 6 for one from the store and half a dozen for the other I made myself, figuratively speaking. Again, not necessarily a negative thing, just not an incentive.
D. IRVING says
GREAT SITE! I can’t wait to try the fabric softener and dryer sheets. Thank you for all the information and ideas.
Forget everything 1 cap of hair conditioner and it’s done