Is There Silicone in Fabric Softener?

Most people reach for the fabric softener when doing the laundry but do you know what’s used to make fabric softener? It might surprise you to learn that silicone is often one of the chemicals used to make fabric softener.

In this article we take a close look at fabric softeners and also look at why they use silicone to make it as well as look at whether silicone is harmful to us or the environment.

What Is Fabric Softener?

Fabric softener, or fabric conditioner as it is also known, is a conditioner applied to laundry after it has been washed in the washing machine. As the name implies, fabric softener makes the fabrics feel softer as well as adding anti-static properties to the fabrics and making them smell fresh.

There are 2 types of fabric softener; A liquid which is added during the washing machine’s rinse cycle, or as a dryer sheet which is added to the drum of the tumble dryer before drying the clothes.

Liquid fabric softeners are typically poured into the dedicated fabric softener dispenser on the washer or poured into a dispenser ball if there is no dedicated dispenser drawer.

Back in the early days of fabric softeners, they were made using simple ingredients like water, soap and oils. Typically corn oil, olive oil or tallow.

As clothing manufacturers as well as consumers began to see some sort of value in fabric softeners a brand new industry was formed. They started adding scents, dyes and other ingredients with the ability to reduce creases and wrinkles which reduced the need for ironing.

Why Use A Fabric Softener?

When natural fibres like wool and cotton are washed in a washing machine, they are placed under considerable stress. The fibres on or near the surface of the fabric get frayed or squashed and this damage hardens as the items dry, especially if they’re air dried.

Fabric softeners contain chemical compounds that coat the fibres at the surface of the fabric and cause them to stand up from the surface giving the fabrics a softer feel to the touch.

There are other chemicals in fabric softeners that make the fibres less likely to catch with other fibres from other items as they tumble around the drum. This lubricating effect also helps to reduce any static buildup in the fabrics which all makes the clothes feel better after washing and drying.

Why Is Silicone Used In Fabric Softeners?

person using fabric softener on laundry

Many brands of fabric softener use silicone as one of the ingredients because of its properties. Silicone has a low melting point, is non-flammable and non-toxic. 

The silicone also increases the surface tension of the fabric which makes it more flexible and less likely to become damaged.

This makes it ideal as an additive to fabric softeners without hindering the performance of the softener. Silicone is also water resistant and doesn’t evaporate at a fast rate. 

This means that fabric softeners that contain silicone help fabrics stay softer, static free and lubricated for longer than fabric softeners that don’t contain silicone.

Silicone based fabric softeners are also less likely to cause any contact dermatitis or skin allergies than other types of fabric softener. This is one of the reasons why many people prefer these silicone based fabric softeners.

Is Silicone Found In All Fabric Softeners?

Most fabric softeners nowadays contain silicone in one form or another. This is because of all the qualities listed above, namely the way it makes clothes feel softer and reduces static cling.

Not all fabric softeners contain silicone; however, if you don’t want to use a fabric softener which has silicone in the ingredients, look for those that say “green” or “natural” on the label.

These typically use natural alternative ingredients like vegetable oils or minerals to soften fabrics. However, you should always check the ingredients to make sure if you feel strongly about not using softeners which contain silicone. Or if you’re still unsure, you could contact the manufacturer.

How Is Silicone Listed

When checking the list of chemicals and other ingredients used in the composition of the fabric softener, you’re unlikely to see silicone listed. You’re more likely to see the following;

  • Siloxane
  • Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)
  • Trimethylsiloxysilicate/Dimethicone Crosspolymer

However, the absence of the word silicone, polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), trimethylsiloxysilicate/dimethicone crosspolymer or siloxane is not a guarantee of the softener being silicone free.

What’s The Problem With Using Silicone In Fabric Softeners?

laundry room with pile of clothes

There have been some concerns raised about fabric softeners containing silicones. These state that once the silicone gets introduced to the human body (which happens if you wear clothes that have been subjected to fabric softeners which contain silicone), it can lead to your immune system being compromised which can be toxic.

Added to which as all laundry products eventually find their way into natural water courses any buildup can be detrimental to aquatic, plant and animal life. This leads to environmental problems which could potentially affect us all.

A build up of fabric softener containing silicone can make clothes more difficult to iron because of its oil-like texture.

This is why many people avoid using any products that contain silicone and opt for more natural products.

Is It Good to Use Fabric Softeners?

There are many people who are opposed to using fabric softeners in their laundry. Softeners might make our clothes feel and smell great but at what cost?

Over the course of an average year, we use our washing machines around 250 times. That means we use detergents and fabric softeners around 5 days every week.

Sadly, many of the more popular detergents and fabric softeners contain chemicals that can be harmful to the environment by causing water pollution. The problem is that many fabric softeners contain chemicals which are known to damage aquatic life.

One in particular is dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride (DHTDMAC) which is a fatty material used to combat static cling and is one of a group of compounds known as quaternary ammonium compounds or quats for short. They are found in detergents, fabric softeners and other household cleaners.

Added to which the chemicals used in fabric softeners can cause skin irritation and build up in the fabric over time. This can make the fabrics feel slimy and prevent the fibres from absorbing moisture.

If the fabric cannot absorb moisture, it’s not likely to get properly cleaned, this is particularly true for towels. Plus the chemicals in the fabric softener that buildup on the fabric over time can also prevent any flame retardant chemicals present in that fabric from working. This is most likely to affect baby clothes etc.

Fabric softeners were introduced way back when washing machine technology was in its infancy. Nowadays, with better less harsh wash cycles, and many synthetic fabrics, we don’t really need to use fabric softener to prevent our clothes from becoming harsh and scratchy.

Are There Any Alternatives To Fabric Softeners?

The idea of a fabric softener is to make your clothes feel softer and smell fresh. However, to achieve this they use many chemicals that can be detrimental to the fabrics, our skin, as well as the environment.

There are a few natural alternatives that achieve the same results without costing the earth. These include;

Distilled White Vinegar

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White Vinegar for Cleaning, Pickling, Marinating & Cooking - Distilled White Vinegar- 5 Litre Bottle - Produced in The UK,5 l (Pack of 2)
  • PERFECT FOR COOKING - Use in vinaigrettes, sweet-and-sour dishes, marinades, pickles, chutneys, and butter sauces. Or infuse with fresh herbs to make flavoured vinegar. Whatever the occasion our Fresh White wine vinegar will be perfect.
  • FABRIC SOFTENER - This white vinegar is perfect for households that have pets and children around as well as commercial premises where health and safety is of paramount importance

To naturally soften your fabrics and remove any foul smells from your laundry, add 1 cup (240 ml) of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washer.

Don’t worry about your laundry smelling like a chip shop because the vinegar smell will get rinsed away as the machine runs through the rinse cycle.

Bicarbonate Of Soda

Bicarbonate of soda is another natural substance that is effective for softening fabrics. Simply add 1 cup of bicarbonate of soda directly to the drum before washing your laundry.

Soap Nuts

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Ecozone Soap Nuts Natural Laundry Detergent, 100% Organic Biodegradable Washing Machine Pellets, Plastic Free, Effective Cleaning for Clothing & Fabrics, Hypoallergenic Vegan & Eco Friendly (1kg Bag)
  • Ecozone Soap Nuts: Naturally and sustainably sourced. Organic, allergy-friendly, economical, great value and highly effective nuts are an ideal alternative to laundry detergent, liquid, powder or pods
  • 100% organic, hypoallergenic, biodegradable pellets: Encased in fully compostable plant-based wrap. Easy to use, removes dirt and stains even at cold 30° wash; outstanding clean for whites or colours

Soap nuts are 100% natural and contain saponins which not only clean clothes, but also works as a fabric softener too. Simply place 4 or 5 soap nuts in a cotton bag and add to the drum of the washer.

Epsom Salts

To soften fabrics using Epsom salts just add 2 cups to the drum before washing your laundry. Epsom salts can also be used in conjunction with ½ a cup of bicarbonate of soda to increase the softening effect.

Vegetable Glycerin

Vegetable Glycerin 1 litre Food Grade and Cosmetic Grade
  • Vegetable glycerin is a clear liquid used in cosmetics
  • Food Grade

To make an effective fabric softener simply mix ½ a cup (120 ml) of vegetable glycerin into 1 gallon (4.54 litres) of water. Then add ½ a cup of this mixture to the rinse cycle either in the fabric softener dispenser, or in a fabric softener ball.

Wool Dryer Balls

Nooril Tumble Dryer Balls Pack of 4 - Handmade Reusable Organic Wool Laundry Balls for Fabric Softening, Reduce Drying Time, Noise, Static-Cling & Wrinkles with No Bad Odor (Upgraded Pack of 4)
  • Prime Built: 40g 7cm extra-large handmade laundry dryer balls spun tightly for extra rounds of drying
  • Retain New Look: Wool dryer balls leave no fluff on clothes and instill a natural refreshing scent

Wool dryer balls are 100% natural and can reduce drying times by 25 to 30%. To use wool dryer balls, they should be placed in the drum of the dryer along with the laundry.

As the drum rotates, the balls collide with the fabrics reducing static, wrinkles and softening fabrics. The wool dryer balls also help to reduce lint and collect pet hairs.

They’re especially good with towels and terry nappies as they don’t adversely affect the absorbency of the fabric.

Should You Use Fabric Softener?

Whether you should use fabric softener or not is a personal choice and one only you can make. On the plus side, fabric softeners can help to make your clothes feel softer, smell fresher and help reduce static cling.

Having said that, fabric softener is also relatively expensive, and often contains chemicals that can be harmful to people and the environment. If you decide you still want to use a fabric softener, be sure to always follow the manufacturer’s directions to the letter to prevent any damage to your clothes.

Alternatively you could try using a natural fabric softener either in the washer or dryer. These natural alternatives will save you money, be less damaging to your fabrics and have far less environmental impact as well.

SEE ALSO: Is Fabric Softener Bad For Wool?

Frequently Asked Questions

Does fabric softener contain silicone?

Many modern fabric softeners do contain silicone because it has a low melting point, is non-toxic and non-flammable. Which makes it ideal as an additive to fabric softeners without hindering the performance of the softener.

Is there an alternative to fabric softener?

There are several alternatives to fabric softener which include; white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, Epsom salts and wool dryer balls.

Why is fabric softener not recommended?

Fabric softener is not recommended for continuous use as it can lead to a build up which coats fabrics and makes them unable to absorb water. This inhibits the fabrics from getting clean. In the case of towels it can render them as useless, as a towel that won’t absorb moisture is not very useful. Then there’s the environmental impact of fabric softeners that can pollute water courses and be harmful to aquatic life.

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