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Why fabric softener is a waste of money

Fabric softeners are unnecessary and expensive, and some don't do much more than plain water. 

Cuddly Concentrate Care  Protect Antibacterial Fabric Conditioner performs worse than water in choic
Last updated: 05 January 2022

Who doesn't love the feeling of soft, fluffy towels? And a laundry product that promises to deliver said softness and fluffiness?

Unfortunately, in our recent test of 32 fabric softeners, Cuddly Concentrate Care & Protect Antibacterial Fabric Softener ($10/900mL) came dead last, beating plain old water by just one point.

Choice tester Ash Iredale aldi fabric softner performing worse than water

Bad for your washing machine, and worse for the environment: CHOICE expert tester Ashley Iredale says fabric softeners are a damaging waste of money.

CHOICE household expert Rebecca Ciaramidaro says: "If you're looking to save on household expenses, this is one cleaning product you just don't need. There are plenty of cheaper, better (and chemical-free!) ways to get soft, fluffy towels, such as popping them in the dryer for a few minutes."

If you need further convincing, CHOICE washing machine expert Ashley Iredale adds: "Fabric softeners aren't great for your washing machine either and are big contributors to a gunky build-up known as 'scrud', which can also be redeposited onto your clothes." 

Here's how the scores stack up

water-only_1

Plain water

  • Price: Free
  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 49%
  • Softness score: 22%
  • Absorption score: 90%

Cuddly Concentrate Care & Protect Antibacterial Fabric Conditioner

  • Price: $10.00/900mL
  • Cost per 100ml: $1.11
  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 50%
  • Softness score: 50%
  • Absorption score: 50%

Which fabric softener scored the highest?

woolworths soften fabric conditioner lavender hill

Woolworths Soften Fabric Conditioner Lavender Hill

  • Price: $2.99/2L
  • Cost per 100mL: $0.15
  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 76%
  • Softness score: 82%
  • Absorption score: 68%

Even though this bargain Woolworths product scored well for softness, the rating for water absorbency is just 68%. We test for absorbency because fabric softeners tend to reduce the water absorbency of towels or clothing as a side effect of the softness – so generally the softer your towels come out, the less useful they'll be for actually drying you. 

'Environmentally friendly' – just marketing fluff?

There are a few brands on the market, such as Earth Choice and Ecostore, which promise that their products are better for the environment because they're made from plant-based ingredients and contain fewer chemicals. However, if being more environmentally friendly is important to you, we'd advise you just to ditch fabric softeners completely. 

Ashley says: "Fabric softeners are really only good if you like smelling like your Nanna's house. Though the ingredients in the 'eco products' may be plant-based and potentially less harmful than the ingredients you'll find in other brands (although I can't definitively say that's actually the case), they're still chemicals.

Fabric softeners are really only good if you like smelling like your Nanna's house

"You're still pouring them into the waterways, and you're still creating a carbon cost for their production, packaging and transportation. All for a product you don't really need, and that we've proven doesn't always even do what it says it will."

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.