Need to know:
- The Aldi Anco Soft Sensitive Jasmine Fabric Softener received a score of 47% in our test, scoring worse than plain water (48%)
- Fabric softeners are largely unnecessary, expensive and have a number of downsides
- If you must use one, Huggie Easy Iron Fabric Conditioner received our highest score at 82%
Who doesn't love the feeling of soft, fluffy towels? And a bargain laundry product that promises to deliver said softness and fluffiness?
Unfortunately, in our recent test of 31 fabric softeners, the budget Aldi Sensitive Fabric Softener ($2.79/2L) came a dramatic second-last, receiving a lower score than plain old water.
Even worse was Cuddly Concentrate Soft & Sensitive Fabric Conditioner which scored a dismal 46%, despite the fact it's one of the most expensive products we tested.
Another Aldi product didn't fare very well in the tests either – the Aldi Anco Soft Lavender Fabric Softener Concentrate, which scored just 59%.
Our experts advise that fabric softeners are generally an unnecessary expense, and are even proven to reduce the moisture absorbency of your washing (kind of a problem for your towels – they may come out soft but they're drying capacity will be reduced).
Fabric softeners also leave your clothes coated in chemicals, as they contain a variety of silicone and petrochemical ingredients that can also end up in our waterways and cause damage to marine life.
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 also says: "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
CHOICE expert rating: 48%
Softness score: 22%
Absorption score: 88%
Aldi Anco Soft Sensitive Fresh Jasmine Fabric Softener
Cost per 100ml: $0.14
CHOICE expert rating: 47%
Softness score: 29%
Absorption score: 75%
Cuddly Concentrate Soft & Sensitive Fabric Conditioner
Cost per 100ml: $0.90
CHOICE expert rating: 52%
Softness score: 37%
Absorption score: 37%
Which fabric softener scored the highest?
Huggie Easy Iron Fabric Conditioner Lavender
CHOICE expert rating: 82%
Softness score: 90%
Absorption score: 69%
Even though this Huggie product scored well for softness, the rating for water absorbency is just 69%. 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.
All the fabric softener bottles also carry warnings about reducing the effectiveness of flame retardant treatments on clothing. So be mindful of how much you use if you've purposefully chosen clothing with low-fire danger labelling for your child (as advised by the Child Health Promotion Unit at NSW's Children's Hospital at Westmead, for example).
"Environmentally friendly"? Or just marketing fluff?
There are a few brands on the market, such as Earth Choice and Eco Store, 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.
"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."