Liquid fabric softener, which is added to a washing machine during the final rinse cycle, has been shown to surpass dryer sheets when it comes to eliminating static cling and softening clothes. Some fabric softeners are available in dye-free, fragrance-free or all-natural versions (chemical-free with biodegradable ingredients) as well. Dryer balls -- spiky plastic spheres that don't contain fabric softener -- are designed to eliminate static, reduce stiffness and speed drying time. Dryer bars attach to the inside of a dryer's drum, releasing small amounts of fabric softener over time.

Here are some things to bear in mind when you buy a fabric softener:

  • Never use fabric softeners on flame-retardant clothing, such as children's sleepwear. Experts say the compounds in all fabric softeners can accumulate and coat fabrics over time, reducing their flame-resistant properties.
  • Fragrance is important. A wide variety of scents are available among fabric softeners but some can be overwhelming, long-lingering or unpleasant. Consumers who desire fragrance-free clothing may be interested in free and clear versions of fabric softeners. These products, which don't contain dyes or perfumes, typically contain the same ingredients as their scented counterparts.
  • Concentrated fabric softeners require less liquid per load. Most fabric softeners require about an ounce of liquid per load, but some concentrated versions use slightly less, giving you more for your money, depending on price. Product labels typically indicate the number of loads you can expect, on average, out of a bottle, so a quick comparison between the ounces and number of loads will give you an idea of whether you'll be using an ounce or less per load.
  • Consider dryer balls if static isn't a big issue. Dryer balls are spiky rubber balls meant to massage fabrics in the dryer without using chemicals. Reviewers are split on how well they work. Most say they work pretty well for softening fabrics, but don't do a great job controlling static.

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