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softener is one of those things we don’t think much about, but use frequently. How does it work? How is it used?
Fabric softener is essentially a chemical
cocktail that helps soften the fibers in textiles. It makes them feel less harsh and has anti-soiling and anti-staining properties. With such names as Diethylenetriamine, Aminoethylethanolamine and Triethylenetetramine, these chemicals sound like something out of a science-fiction movie, but they are mostly byproducts of animal fats.
Fabric softeners come in two types: liquids and dryer sheets. The liquid softeners are added to the rinse water
for each load of clothes. Dryer sheets are paper or sponge-like pieces that are coated with the dry softener and are added to the dryer for every load.
Some liquid softeners tout that they will leave clothes brighter and prevent discoloration from chlorine. These claims must, of course, be evaluated by each person.
Fabric softeners are used in any form to help make clothing feel softer and to prevent static cling. Anyone who has unloaded a batch of towels from the dryer in winter knows exactly what static cling is. Dryer sheets lubricate the textile fibers to reduce static electricity generated by the drying process. Liquid softeners serve much the same purpose.
There is a great amount of information about fabric softeners on the Internet, and while browsing, a person will undoubtedly come up on Web sites saying the chemicals in fabric softeners are dangerous and can cause a whole host of illnesses and allergies
. There is no doubt that some people are allergic to the chemicals and/or dyes in fabric softener. They can cause rashes or upper respiratory distress. Some manufacturers have started producing dye and fragrance-free liquid fabric softeners in response to this problem. Some small companies also produce a vegetable-based, dye and fragrance-free softener that is biodegradable and less likely to cause allergic reactions.
There are also some ways of softening the laundry
without using any kind of commercial fabric softener. Vinegar and baking soda soften the fibers naturally. A person can add one-fourth cup baking soda to the load at the beginning of the wash cycle, and then a half-cup of white vinegar during the rinse cycle.
Another home recipe suggests diluting 1 cup of glycerin in a gallon of water
and using one-half cup of the mixture per load of laundry. Still another method uses three parts water to one part commercial hair conditioner.
Fabric softener should only be used with standard fabrics. Fine washables such as linen or silk should not have any kind of fabric softeners used on them, if they are machine washable. The chemicals can destroy the look and feel of a fabric like linen, and dull colors in silk. However, most standard cotton and polyester blends are safe with the use of fabric softener. Dryer sheets are a blessing for socks and towels, since these items seem to be most susceptible to static cling. Liquid fabric softener can also usually be diluted to one-fourth strength in order make it last. There is usually no discernible loss of softness or increase in static cling when the softener is diluted.
Each person needs to decide whether using a commercial fabric softener is appropriate. Those with allergies
or very sensitive skin may want to consider a home recipe, since they are made of ingredients that are readily available. People also need to remember to keep the fabric softener from their fine or delicate washables, especially linen and silk.