Fabric Softeners And Absorbency


I washed my shammy and forgot and used fabric softener. Did I ruin it ?


Good question. We always recommend against using traditional fabric softeners with shammys and other cleaning cloths because it will affect ability over time. For those unfamiliar, a shammy is a non-woven, synthetic cloth known for its incredible ability to absorb moisture and lock it in. The main side effect to using dryer sheets or liquid softeners on towels and other items is a decrease in absorbency. The good news in this case, is that a single exposure will not render the cloth ineffective, but with continued use, it definitely will not work as well. Don’t go tossing it in the trash just yet, because that shammy should still be able to suck up incredible amounts of water.

Why This Happens

Traditional fabric softeners contain a mix of chemical compounds and perfumes, along with other ingredients. When added to your laundry they will completely coat the fabrics, in order to soften them and add that familiar pleasant scent. Much will be eliminated by rinsing, but some will always remain. For materials like microfiber and viscose shammys, this action will result in clogged pores, blunted ends, and residues that linger. When the material can’t function as intended, you end up with a tool that is less absorbent, or less able to pick up dirt. As previously stated, a single dose will not cause much harm, but build up over time is guaranteed to make your shammy, bath towel or cleaning cloth noticeably less effective.

What’s In It

More that your ability to soak spills, or dry your body, you should be concerned with the ingredients you are exposing yourself to on a regular basis. The substances in liquid softeners and dryer sheets can absorb into your skin, or be inhaled into your lungs. Because there is some pretty dangerous stuff in there, you should think twice about adding it to any load, not just towels. Safe and natural alternatives such as dryer balls or vinegar, can soften fabric just as well, but they will not effect absorbency ever. You won’t get any of the perfume scent, but for many people that is another benefit.

If you take a look at the list of stuff inside that bottle or infused into those sheets, you will discover a list of timer release chemicals, and many have been linked to different forms of cancer. It smells really nice, but you may want to limit exposure for health reasons. Formaldehyde, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, chloroform and other nasty stuff is lurking within the fresh mountain scent that you are adding to your laundry. These are known irritants and carcinogens, and have been linked to various diseases in study after study. Less serious side effects are often the first to arise, and prolonged exposure can lead to more serious complications. If you have unexplained headaches, disorientation, mod swings, numbness, memory loss or irritability, it could be from your fabric softener.

What’s The Alternative

There are a handful of legitimate alternatives out there, and they will allow you to soften fabrics without exposing yourself to dangerous chemicals, or worrying about side effects like decreased absorbency.  Regular white distilled vinegar is a good choice to add to your washing machine, and dryer balls are ideal for softening stuff in the dryer. Neither has any fragrance, but they also lack toxic ingredients that can lead to trouble. As far as how the fabrics feel, both will offer similar results when compared to regular products, minus the flowery scent.


Most people have this around the house already, but few realize that it can be poured in as an alternative to liquid softener during the rinse cycle. It has a similar effect, but it rinses off completely, and will not leave any sort of residue. You may think that it will cause your clothes to stink, but they actually come out smelling just like your detergent, not the vinegar. To use it, simply add in a 1/4-1/2 cup when the rinse cycle starts, or add to the dispenser labeled fabric softener. It costs less that traditional products, it’s made from renewable resources, it is totally safe to touch your skin or inhale, and it will not coat fabrics to reduce absorbency.

Dryer Balls

Don’t want the hassle of running to the washing machine at the exact right time? toss a set of these into your dryer, and never worry about fabric softeners again. These little balls will tumble around as your clothes dry to separate and massage fabrics. Clothing will be softer, static will be reduced, and drying will take less time because the air will flow between garments more effectively. This method is by far the least expensive, and it is totally hypoallergenic and non-toxic. Your laundry will feel as good or better than it did with regular products, but you won’t have to worry about affecting performance of cleaning cloths, or adding dangerous residues to clothing and bed sheets.

Why Go With An Alternative

  • No side effects. – One of the most obvious reasons is that it will solve your absorbency problem. No chemical residue means towels, shammys and other cloths will continue to work just like new.
  • Healthier. – Who wants to increase exposure to carcinogens and other dangerous stuff? Not many people. We sleep in or wear laundry all day long, so if you are addicted to that sunshine scent,l and also wondering why you always have headaches, maybe take a look at what you are putting into your laundry.
  • Eco-Friendly. – Vinegar is renewable, and dryer balls never wear out. You could continue buying the product you use now, but the production and ingredients involved are resource intensive, and the introduction to ground water is questionable
  • Cheaper. – With dryer balls it is a single purchase, and with vinegar it is still several, but each one costs way less. You are guaranteed to save money when you choose one of the alternatives mentioned above.

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