Fabric conditioner, also known as fabric softener, is added towards the end of the wash cycle at the rinse stage and is designed to soften the fibres of fabrics to make them softer to the touch. They do this by reducing static electricity and making the fibres stand up. They are usually heavily fragranced to provide a freshly laundered smell.
There are also sheets that can be added to the tumble dryer to give a similar effect.
Many modern washing detergents offer a 2 in 1, with conditioning agents added. Some people believe that the effect isn't quite as marked as a dedicated conditioner as much of it will be washed away in the rinse.
The Disadvantages of Fabric Conditioners
Ironically, fabric conditioners can actually make certain items, like towels and bathrobes stiffer over time as the deposits clog the fibres. For this reason, micro-fibre cloths should never be washed with fabric softener. Tumble drying, particularly with the help of dryer balls (or 2 tennis balls) in the drum can help keep fabrics softer, even though this uses more energy overall. Hard water can also leave deposits on clothes, hence why you should soften the water with a dedicated product or following the relevant hard water dosage on your washing product.
When NOT to use fabric conditioner
It's advisable to avoid the use of fabric conditioner for:
- Flame retardant fabrics
- People with skin sensitivities such as dermatitis - particularly conditioners with fragrances. Perfumes are one of the most common skin irritants.
You can use white vinegar in place of fabric conditioner as it has no known allergens. It works in a similar fashion by reducing static electricity, but it also helps ensure that laundry product residues are removed. It also helps protect the machine from limescale build up. The vinegar odour will not be left on your clothes.
How to make towels fluffy again
It may be possible to restore towels to their original 'fluffiness' by soaking them in a hot strong Soda Crystals solution.
Wash as normal, with some Soda Crystals in the detergent drawer or the drum, as well as white vinegar in the conditioner slot.
They can be line dried, but you'll get even better results in the tumble drier, especially with drier balls to help plump up the fibres.
It may take more than one attempt, but the aim is to remove traces of residual laundry product.