The Difference Between Fabric Softener And Laundry Detergent

Here’s the thing, it is pretty clear that fabric softener and laundry detergent are vital in the clothes washing process, but it can be difficult to know what exactly fabric softener and laundry detergent does.

You might be wondering about all the properties that fabric softener has – is it something that can clean your clothes, or is it something that just freshens them?

Here, we can talk through what exactly fabric softener is and what exactly laundry detergent is and how they both work. We will talk about how they work together and also how they work separately in a laundry cycle.

The Difference Between Fabric Softener And Laundry Detergent

What Does Laundry Detergent Actually Do?

First thing’s first, we really need to establish the role that laundry detergent plays when it comes to washing your clothes – and it is arguably the most important role in the clothes washing game.  

How does laundry detergent actually work? Well, it helps you to get rid of all the gross stuff that your clothes have collected, making them nice and clean and fresh for you to wear again.

Think of laundry detergent as the clothing equivalent of shampoo for your hair. What do we mean by this analogy? Well, just in the same way that shampoo washes your hair – laundry detergent really helps you to clean or wash your clothes. 

Naturally, laundry detergent needs water to work, just like shampoo for your hair, so laundry detergent will work best in your washing machine.

In addition to this, laundry detergent can also really help you to eradicate the tougher stains – it doesn’t just get rid of your typical everyday stains. Laundry detergent can really help you to get rid of make-up stains or even really intense mud stains.

Why do we need laundry detergent? Well, when we wear our clothes they will naturally pick up sweat along with skin cells, and they can even be susceptible to picking up hair, dirt and even food particles – yeah that last one depends on just how messy you are.

This means that we need a little more than just hot water to get them clean again.

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What Are The Key Components Of Laundry Detergent?

There are naturally some key elements that make laundry detergent as strong and powerful as it is. Your laundry detergent will be a mixture of different chemicals that will allow it to perform sufficiently.

Laundry detergent is made up of alkalies and these are a dissolvable salt along with a base compound. This is what works hard at getting rid of dirt and stains on your clothing.

Laundry detergent also contains sulfates or alcohol compounds. These are surfactants that are suspended in dirt, preventing the dirt and water mix from reattaching to the clothes once the soiling has been removed from the fabric.

Laundry detergent also contains catalytic enzymes and these are what target dirt specifically and break it down. There are also pH modifiers, water conditioners, and also preservatives that are for functional purposes.

These purposes are preventing hard water damage to textiles.

Let’s Talk About Fabric Conditioner And Fabric Softener

Navigating the laundry world can be super daunting and intense – and knowing exactly how things work can be tricky. But, now we can explore what the uses and differences are between fabric conditioner and fabric softener. 

Well… You will be pleased to know that you do not have to fear this aspect of the laundry world anymore. Why? Because fabric conditioner and fabric softener are the same.

Unfortunately, some brands just decide to call it fabric conditioner and others have decided to call it fabric softener – either way they are both exactly the same.

What Are The Key Components Of Fabric Softener?

Fabric softener is the component of your wash that works really hard to protect your clothing when it is being washed. Fabric softener does this by giving the fabric fibers extra strength through the reduction of friction when the washing process is going on.

The main components of fabric softener are the conditioning agents. This is what helps to reduce static and create the more slippery feature that is what maintains the fabric’s softness.

In addition to this, fabric softener also contains emulsifiers and these are what really help make the oils within the product water dissolvable. 

There are also preservatives within fabric softener, and these are what keep the formula especially stable – and the fabric softener will also be fragranced to help boost the scent of your laundry.

However, if you are not a fan of your laundry being heavily fragranced, then there are fragrance free options that you can invest in too. 

You might be wondering whether or not fabric softener is absolutely essential for washing your clothes effectively. It might not be deemed absolutely essential, but it is true that without incorporating fabric softener into your laundry routine – you will notice the difference.

Fabric softener can really help to prolong the lifespan of your clothing. It will make your clothes much smoother and fresher than if you were to wash them without fabric softener.

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How Does Fabric Softener Work? 

We can now revisit our hair washing analogy when it comes to thinking about fabric softener. So, when you’re thinking about laundry detergent as the equivalent of hair shampoo but for your clothes, we can also make the connection between fabric softener and hair conditioner. 

Using fabric softener will ultimately help you to protect your clothing. Of course, laundry detergent will help you to keep your clothes clean but using fabric softener can really help protect your clothes during the washing process. 

What does fabric softener protect your clothes from? Well, using fabric softener reduces friction that might occur during the clothes washing process.

This is important because it really ensures that clothes maintain their original shape and their original style. In addition to this, using fabric softener can reduce the risk of the color of your clothing fading, and it can also reduce the risk of your clothing bobbling.

In addition to fabric softener protecting your clothes, it can also make your clothes feel really soft – and fabric softener also makes your clothes smell pretty great too.

Ultimately, using laundry detergent and fabric softener is going to make your clothes clean and also fresh – which will prolong the lifespan of your clothing and ensure you smell nice and clean to others. We’d say that’s a pretty big win.

Getting To Know Your Fabric Softener Preferences

We can all agree that clean laundry is one of the small joys in life – be it pulling on your favorite freshly-washed hoodie, or be it snuggling up in your clean bedsheets, we all love fresh washing.

As we mentioned before, fabric softener plays a pretty critical role in ensuring that your freshly washed garments are kept in pristine condition. However, it is key to mention that fabric softener does a whole lot more than just ensure that your clothes are clean and fresh.

It is true that even the best laundry detergent can’t leave your clothes feeling as great as the times when you use fabric softener alongside your detergent. This is due to the fact that water hardness and also generally washing your clothes using a washing machine can make cloth fibers lose their integrity. 

How can this affect your clothes? Well, after a couple of washes, your clothes could become rough and you could also get really annoying static from them – this is why fabric softener is super important.

It is clear that fabric softener works really hard to protect our clothes by means of reducing the friction via lubrication of the fibers – and as a result of this, you will find that fabric softener softens your clothes as well as imbues them with a great scent.

What Is The Best Fabric Softener For Your Clothes?

The Difference Between Fabric Softener And Laundry Detergent

You might be unsure as to what exactly the best fabric softener that you can use is – after all, you want to make sure that you are using the right kind of fabric softener for your clothes.

The reason why it is important to pay so much attention to this is because when your clothes are being washed, the fibers will actually become agitated as they are spinning, which may cause abrasions in the fabric.

How does fabric softener really work to prevent this? Well, the fabric softener will help to detangle clothes fibers and it will ultimately protect them.

When the clothes dry, we can then really feel the softness because there will be significantly less friction between the material and also our skin. The fabric softener will also work hard to fill your clothes with perfume bubbles, and this is what gives your clothes that super long-lasting freshness.

Fabric softener can really help you to keep your clothes super soft, and your fabric softener will help reduce the wrinkles that are caused by your washing machine.

Where Will Your Fabric Softener End Up In Your Washing Machine?

It is vital that you know where exactly your fabric softener will end up when you use it in your washing. For a front-loading washing machine, you will put your fabric softener in your machine at the same time as your detergent. You should do this before you start a wash. 

You will find that your washing machine will have a special compartment within the dispenser drawer, and you will usually notice this as it is marked with a star or a flower icon.

You should be sure to consult your washing machine’s manual just to confirm this is indeed the right compartment for softener, and you should not under any circumstances put fabric softener directly in the drum of the washing machine.

Alternatively, if you have a front loading washing machine then you can put your fabric softener in your machine at the very same time as the detergent. This needs to be done right at the start of the washing cycle, or you can actually just put a cap of fabric softener in your machine tub during the final rinse cycle.

Can You Use Fabric Softener Instead Of Laundry Detergent?

No, you really should not be using fabric softener as an alternative to laundry detergent. It’s important to note that fabric softener does not actually remove the dirt and the stains from your clothes.

Fabric softener works as a way to prolong the lifespan of your clothing. As we explored earlier, it is clear that fabric softener does not contain the same kind of components as laundry detergent – and this is because they have two very different functions.

Fabric softener does not have the enzymes or the alkalies that laundry detergents have. This is what is needed in order to get rid of dirt and stains. Ultimately, using fabric softener on its own when you put your clothes in the wash won’t cause your clothes any harm – but it won’t really do all that much.

It will make your clothes smell nice, sure, but it won’t actually wash them. 

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What If You Have Run Out Of Laundry Detergent?

If you are in a situation where you have run out of laundry detergent then you would be better off hand washing your clothes rather than just putting them in the washing machine with fabric softener.

We say this because using just fabric softener will give your clothes a softer feel and a much nicer smell – but you will not be able to get rid of dirt or stains or even oils. 

Alternatively, you could try using baking soda in your washing machine if you run out of laundry detergent and need to put a wash on urgently. This will actually work really well as a means of removing stains, but you would definitely want to use fabric softener too, or your clothes might smell a bit funky… 

It is key to mention that you should never try any crazy methods in order to wash your clothes – for instance, you should not use dishwashing liquid or hair shampoo to try and wash your clothes.

Even if you are at a last resort, this will actually make your life significantly harder in the long run. Trying one of these methods will cause your washing machine to have some serious problems and it can also end up ruining your clothes.

On the whole, we recommend sticking with the winning combination of laundry detergent and fabric softener. One should not be substituted for the other – after all, you would not substitute your shampoo to wash your hair with your conditioner, would you? 

Making Sure That Your Clothes Stay Fresh For As Long As Possible

It is true that being as smart as you can be when it comes to your laundry is super important. This means that you need to take care of your washing at every single stage! You need to make sure that you pick the laundry detergent and fabric softener that is correct for your garments.

And, you also need to make sure that you find a fabric softener and laundry detergent that is not going to aggravate your skin.

This is pretty uncommon, but if you are worried about using heavily-fragranced fabric softener in case it wreaks havoc on your skin, then you can purchase unfragranced fabric softener just to be on the safe side.

Why Should You Use A Fabric Softener?

Do you enjoy your laundry smelling really clean and fresh? And, do you like your laundry to feel super soft and fluffy? Well, a fabric softener will be your best laundry friend for sure.

The truth of the matter is that there are a whole lot of benefits to using fabric softener, the main benefit being that it gives your washing a super long lasting scent.

You will most definitely find that fabric softener will give your clothes and bedsheets an amazing scent, and you can purchase a whole host of different scents to suit your personal preference.

In addition to this, using fabric softener will ensure that your clothes and bed linen stay as soft as possible. Ultimately, using fabric softener helps prevent friction between fibers when you wash your clothes – and your fabric softener will keep your clothes feeling super soft.

Using fabric softener will also help you to reduce the way that your clothing wrinkle. Ultimately, you will find that using fabric softener will smooth and flatten the fibers when the wash cycle is occurring.

This is what really helps creases fall out of your clothing, and this makes ironing super straightforward

In addition to this, detergent will protect your clothing from stretching, as well as prevent the color from fading, and it will also prevent the clothing from bobbling too. Fabric softener will also really help hasten the drying process – and this is beneficial because it will save you time and energy in the long term.

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What Happens If You Use Fabric Softener Instead Of Laundry Detergent?!

You might be surprised to know that mixing up fabric softener and laundry detergent is actually kind of easy to do. They can sometimes have packaging that are similar colors, and the packaging can even be of a similar size.

This can make it easy to slip up and reach for the wrong one. 

If you put fabric softener in the laundry detergent component on accident when you are washing your clothes, then this is not something you need to worry or get stressed about. This will not cause any damage to the laundry or to your washing machine. Phew!

Unfortunately, you will have wasted your fabric softener, and some water, and also some time – which is not massively ideal.

But, we would expect that you’d assume there to be a much worse outcome than this. However, we do recommend that you rewash your clothes, and when you do this, you should take extra care to add your laundry detergent in the correct compartment. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How Does Laundry Detergent Actually Work?

Laundry detergent is a key aspect of washing your clothes, and it works to eradicate dirt and stains from your clothes.

Laundry detergent works best in the washing machine because the warm water will help melt away oils, and this is what allows the detergent to eradicate dirt.

It is true that detergents are very similar to soap, but they are much less likely to create soap scum and are not as influenced by the presence of minerals in water. 

How Does Fabric Softener Actually Work?

So, fabric softener ultimately ensures that your clothes or any other kinds of washing that you do stays as fresh and as clean as possible. The fabric softener does this through its diffusive perfume bubbles. These are what release freshness when you touch your clothing.

When it comes to keeping your clothes and linen soft, this is all to do with the way that the fabric softener works in the washing cycle.

So, during the laundry cycle, you will find that the fabrics will have a negative charge on their surface – and the fabric softener will have positively charged softening actives. These work hard to lubricate the fibers when it’s time for the final rinse, which is what makes your clothes feel super soft and super smooth.

Where Do You Put Your Fabric Softener?

Fabric softener should be added to a separate compartment in your washing machine and then when you reach the very last rinse of your cycle, the water will go in the compartment and suck the conditioner into the drum of the washing machine.

This is what then mixes in with the laundry.

What Can’t You Use Fabric Softener On?

You will find that fabric softeners are especially useful when it comes to your laundry, however, they are not suitable for some things. For instance, fabric softener should not be used on kids’ sleepwear, or clothes that are made from especially fluffy fabric.

Fabric softener should not be used on sportswear or garments that are labeled as being flame-resistant because this could reduce exactly how flame resistant the garments are.

In Conclusion

So, overall it is pretty clear that fabric softener and laundry detergent are by no means interchangeable. They both serve to provide different benefits to your laundry – and you should not substitute one for the other.

After all, when you put it against the whole hair washing analogy – you wouldn’t condition your hair without shampooing it, nor would you shampoo your hair and then avoid using conditioner.

Don’t get us wrong, you would get some benefits from the use of one and not the other – but you would not reach the full potential of the product without its companion.

The way that fabric softener and laundry detergent differentiate is pretty easy to understand. This is because laundry detergent is used as a means of cleaning garments – its main job is to ultimately remove dirt along with stains and sweat.

However, fabric softener is formulated as a means of protecting, softening, and also freshly scenting your clothing. 

Using fabric softener is the best way of ensuring that your clothes stay in pristine condition when you wash them. It is true that both laundry detergent and fabric softener have vitally important roles when it comes to caring for your clothes

Amanda Brown
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