Which are the best fabric softeners: sheets, liquids or dryer balls and bars? Which work best to soften clothing and control static? These are the questions we sought to answer for this report. In short, we found that they all have pros and cons.
Overall, ConsumerReports.org offers the most comprehensive review of fabric softeners. Editors compare 12 brands of liquid fabric softener, eight brands of dryer sheets, a dryer ball and a reusable dryer cloth. Editors compare the softness of laundered articles, measure static (with the use of a specially built, humidity-controlled room) and test towels for absorbency. Absorbency is a key issue in this article, since editors say there's a myth that liquid fabric softeners can hamper absorbency.
To evaluate eco-friendly fabric softeners, we turned to GoodGuide.com. This website offers detailed ratings, ingredients and informative product certifications for several green fabric softeners. Scientific American magazine and GreenCupboards.com, an eco-focused retailer that provides product reviews, are also helpful resources. We also found some good information on environmentally focused blogs.
Consumer reviews of fabric softeners are also helpful. Amazon.com and Viewpoints.com provide valuable insights about everyday experiences -- comments about a fabric softener's scent, softness and static-eliminating abilities are discussed by users. ExpoTV.com, a consumer-review site where users can post video reviews on various products, also provides a considerable number of fabric softener reviews.
Lastly, many budget-conscious consumers wonder about the effectiveness of generic or store-brand fabric softeners. Do these money-savers offer a satisfying result? We found little feedback to build a solid case for these products compared to the name brands. In one of the few tests we found (conducted by one well-known consumer organization), 22 fabric softeners were evaluated. In this test, Walmart's Great Value Everyday Elegance liquid softener (*Est. $7 for 40 oz.) was found to do only a fair job of shedding static and softening clothes. Costco's Kirkland Signature dryer sheets (*Est. $10 for 492 sheets) scored a bit better, receiving a rating of "excellent" for static control and ability to maintain the absorbency of towels, and it received a rating of "good" for softness. Overall, it seems that store-brand fabric softeners can be a mixed bag. We found more support for name brands, but there's little risk in trying a generic brand.