4 Ways to Naturally Soften and Freshen Your Laundry

4 Ways to Naturally Soften and Freshen Your Laundry - Clean Mama copy

Most conventional fabric softeners and dryer sheets are not only toxic (read more here from the Environmental Working Group or EWG.com), but they also coat fibers making clothes and towels harder to clean because they build up with the fabric softener.  If you love your fabric softener and dryer sheets and love that scent that’s associated with clean laundry, you probably don’t want to make the switch to something natural if it’s unscented.  I have 4 natural alternatives that are not only inexpensive, they’re natural, non-toxic AND they work.  Combine them to suit your needs or just use one – you’ll be a natural fabric softener user in no time.

VINEGAR (soften) – Simply add 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser or one of those fabric softener balls.  I love this for sheets and towels – it will make your towels unexpectedly soft and fluffy.  If you need a little scent, feel free to add 20-30 drops of your favorite essential oil(s) to about 16 ounces of vinegar.  Shake before each use because the oils will separate from the vinegar and you don’t want any oil on your laundry.  I keep my white vinegar in a glass bottle (this is the same bottle that comes with my spray bottles if you’re interested.)

White Vinegar Fabric Softener - Clean Mama

WOOL DRYER BALLS (reduces static and can lightly scent if you use essential oils) – Wool is naturally antibacterial making it awesome for using in the laundry.  Place  3  wool dryer balls in with each load of laundry.  Wool dryer balls will last up to 1,000 uses making this an inexpensive dryer sheet alternative.  Put a couple drops of essential oil on each ball if you’d like a little scent.

Wool Dryer Balls - Clean Mama

DIY LAUNDRY SCENT BOOSTER (adds scent) – if you love those commercial scent boosters this is the recipe for you!  It’s definitely more subtle but I’ll take subtle and safe any day.  (You can see more instructions on this post.)

Laundry Scent Booster - Clean Mama

Add 1 tablespoon of the Laundry Scent Booster directly to the washer and wash as usual.

Add Laundry Booster to Washing Machine - Clean Mama

DIY FLANNEL MINI DRYER SHEETS (adds scent to the dryer) – If you need to use a dryer sheet, this is the perfect alternative.

Flannel Dryer Sheets - Clean Mama

  • 20 or so small pieces of flannel or cotton (I used these bamboo cotton ones – they are fabulous!)
  • 20-30 drops essential oil
  • mason jar (available in Clean Mama Home)

Add the ‘dryer sheets’ to a container and add essential oils.  Keep the lid off until the ‘sheets’ have completely dried – at least a day or two.   Add a sheet or two to each dryer cycle – wash and refill when the scent has dissipated.

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I purchased the chalkboard sticker label and pen set from Amazon here if you’re interested.


If you love essential oils or are just getting started, here are a couple of my favorite combos – try one for your laundry, you’ll love it!  (I typically use doTERRA essential oils but I also recommend Plant Therapy and Now brand as well.

Essential Oils for Laundry - Clean Mama

What do you think?  Ready to hop on the DIY fabric softener train?  I bet you’ll never look back!

More posts in this series – just click on the image to go to the post and check out my books, Simply Clean, and The Organically Clean Home:

One Ingredient Odor Absorbers - Clean Mama

Nightly Sink Scrub - Clean Mama

Marble + Granite Cleaning Spray - Clean Mama

Soft Cleaning Paste - the perfect scrub - Clean Mama

All-Purpose Spray - Clean Just About Anywhere Spary - Clean Mama

The Perfect DIY Glass Cleaner - Clean Mama

DIY Cleaners Ingredient Storage - Clean Mama


  1. Are thes specific woolen dryer balls you use in the dryer, or do regular tennis balls work as well?

    • Woolen balls. Many brands out there. Tennis balls have toxic glue holding them together. A no-no when coupled with heat in the dryer. Yes, in a pinch when you need to thoroughly dry down comforters, etc. but imho, I would not use it daily on my clothing.

      • Tightly wind and tie off a ball of woolen yarn if you don’t want the expense of buying the purpose made wool balls.

  2. You already know how much I love both the Laundry Scent Booster ( mine’s Lavender- childhood memories of my grandmother in England) and Lavender Scented Vinegar. Have not used the artificial stuff in 3 months. I am anxious to try the diy fabric softener squares and I have seen the wool dryer balls a number of times. I want to get the wool ones but I already have 4 of the blue rubbery ones so I keep coasting.
    Truly love your ideas and recommendations. Thank you Becky/ Clean Mama

    • You can make your own dryer balls out of an old woolen sweater. Cut in strips, wind into a ball, soak in hottest water and throw in the dryer. Voila – cheap dryer balls!

  3. Michelle says:

    Any tips for top loaders without the typical “agitator”? I have a king size top loader and I find my clothes isn’t coming out clean! If my son’s sock is inside out, I find (after a load) that that sock is still hard and crusty and smelly!! As if!
    Any suggestions would be much appreciated! Thanks!!

    • K.s. Pierce says:

      I found the same thing when my old faithful washer kicked the bucket. I had two different brands delivered and sent them both back. I now have a front loader that I’m not in love with, but at least it gets the clothes clean most of the time. If I could have found a washer with an agitator I certainly would have bought it.

  4. Lisa P. says:

    I just started using your laundry scent booster since you posted it. I mixed mine with peppermint and love it. I can’t wait to try these other natural alternatives, too. Thank you for sharing your endless ideas and helping me create a healthier environment for my family!

  5. When I stopped using fabric softener I found most of our clothing has a musty odor. Do you have any suggestions on getting rid of the musty odor? Thank you so much! Love all your advice!

    • Add Vinegar to your rinse cycle and don’t let anything stay piled when damp (including a pile in the washer or dryer). I have also had really good luck with using oxy-clean odor busting powder (add to the drum before clothes). Good to get the initial smell out, then maintain with the vinegar as above.

  6. Such an interesting article, Becky! I already use vinegar for my towels and whites, but you’ve convinced me to expand my natural laundry horizons a bit. The scented laundry booster is next. I already have the ingredients on hand, so no excuses. And I really want to try those wool dryer balls, too. I’m adding those to my Amazon wish list. Pinning this article to my laundry tips board and sharing on my Facebook page. Thanks!

    • Debbie D says:

      We winter in Mesa, Arizona, where typical humidity is less than 20%, causing everything including my hair to have ferocious static. The wool dryer balls really work to prevent that static on all our laundry; towels, sheets, clothes. That alone, along with being “green” is worth the price and they last a really long time, versus 1 dryer sheet per load at any cost. Once in a while I’ll add 2-3 drops of essential oil to each ball. Hope you’ll try them and like them,

  7. Thanks for the great tips! I’m excited to try them:) Do you use equal amounts of the essential oils for the laundry scent combinations you suggested above? For example, equal parts lavender and eucalyptus? Thanks!

  8. If you use white vinegar directly in washer without oils, does the smell linger, I just got a new LG washer that has compartment for fabric softener, I’m afraid oils with stick to the tub and damage something in the long run that will void warranty.
    Also do you add booster directly to sheets and towels or do you add it in compartment also.

    Thanks you

  9. Thanks for the tips, tried this recently with washing my work cloths and they smell amazing.

  10. Nancy Blskemore says:

    Do any of the diy fabric softeners bother micro fiber cloths?

  11. I was wondering why you use Epsom salt instead of baking soda? Does it work better or is better for clothes? What’s the difference between the two? Thank you!!

    • You can use baking soda in the laundry but for this purpose, Epsom salt is the best method – it’s just a vehicle for the scent. Baking soda will soften which you may/may not need 🙂

  12. Doesn’t the essential oils get on the clothes?

  13. A question about vinegar fabric softener, if i don’t have a dispenser in my machine and we have just been pouring laundry detergent directly to clothing, should i just directly pour this softener on clothing as well? Im just beginning to make a move to all natural cleansers at home. Thank you

  14. Candice says:

    Are these safe for baby’s/children’s clothes as well?

  15. Hi , i wanted to no if anyone happen to no of any Room Spray/ Air Freshener Recipes made with Essential Oils

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