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How to use fabric conditioner: your essential guide

Follow these top tips on how to use fabric conditioner for cloud-soft, beautifully fragranced clothes and towels.


By Cleanipedia Team

A bottle of fabric conditioner alongside folded towels and a laundry basket

Fabric conditioner has been a staple laundry product for many years now. But recently there’s been some debate over how to use fabric conditioner, if it should be used and whether there are any downsides. So why use it, what does it really do for your clothes and is fabric softener bad? Let’s take a look at the facts.

What is fabric conditioner?

Fabric conditioner, or fabric softener, is a popular laundry product that’s added to your wash and designed to help keep clothes soft, delicately fragranced, and your towels fluffy. In the same way we might put conditioner on our hair to enhance its feel and manageability, fabric softener is widely considered as a type of after-care for your clothes. Find out how to make your clothes soft without conditioner.

Fabric conditioners can be used both in the washing machine, where they are added to the washing machine drawer (read on for advice on which correct compartment to put fabric conditioner in), or in the basin when hand washing.

Why use fabric conditioner in your wash?

How concerned are you about disinfecting while cleaning?

Unsure about the benefits of using fabric conditioner? There are many upsides to using this laundry product, so we’ve picked out the top reasons you should add this to your wash – you won’t look back!

Fabric conditioner makes clothes last longer

Especially in the case of woollen fabrics and other delicates, fabric softener keeps each fibre smooth and soft, coating it with a light film that helps retain the shape, and colour, of each garment. With the integrity of your clothes preserved, your clothes will stay looking new for longer.

Fabric conditioner protects sensitive skin

Laundry detergent can dry out and stiffen your clothes and towels, particularly if you live in a hard water area. This leaves you with rough, scratchy fabrics that can irritate delicate skin, especially in young children. Fabric conditioners will help keep clothes soft against sensitive skin – but make sure you use a gentle laundry detergent along with it.

Fabric conditioner leaves clothes and linen soft

Using fabric softener alongside your detergent makes your clothes feel softer, bouncier, and more comfortable. This is because it adds a coating to the clothing fibres, which also helps reduce the static clinginess of your clothes.

Fabric conditioner saves time

Fabric conditioner can be particularly useful if you, like most of us, would prefer to spend as little time on ironing as possible. Clothes washed in fabric conditioner generally come out of the machine less crumpled – the smoother fibres make creases fall out more easily, and so ironing requires less effort!

Fabric conditioner infuses a fresh scent to clothes

And fresher-smelling clothes, sheets and towels just feel better to wear, sleep in and wrap around us. It’s all about the feel-good factor!

How to use fabric conditioner in 3 easy steps

Fabric softener is easy to use – simply add the specified dose to your laundry alongside your favourite detergent.

Where exactly you add the fabric softener will depend on the type of washing machine you have, either a top-load or a front-load machine. Follow these simple steps to learn exactly how it’s done.

1. Look for the flower symbol

Not sure where to put fabric softener in the washing machine? Look for the flower symbol on the detergent drawer of front-load machines. For top-load machines it goes into the dispenser, usually found in the central column.

2. Use the correct amount

Most fabric softeners are available in liquid form and generally come with a measuring cup to help you measure the correct dose. Your washing machine's detergent drawer or dispenser should have a max. line too.

You can adjust the amount of fabric conditioner you use according to the size of the load of your laundry. Check the instructions on the packaging for extra guidance.

3. Let your machine do the rest

Pour the fabric softener from the cup into the relevant drawer and the machine will automatically add the softener into the wash during the rinse cycle.

Check your washing machine usage instructions if in doubt about how to use fabric conditioner in your machine.

How to use fabric conditioner when hand washing

Fabric conditioner isn’t just for washing machines, it can work it’s magic on your hand washed garments too (just be sure to check the care label before you use it).

  1. Once the clothes have been washed with detergent, drain away the water and refill with clean rinsing water.

  2. Mix one tablespoon of fabric conditioner with a cup of water and add the solution to the water (don’t pour it directly on the clothes).

  3. Stir the garments, letting them soak for a few minutes before wringing them out and drying as directed.

How to keep towels soft with fabric conditioner

Nothing beats a freshly laundered, fluffy towel. But while using fabric conditioner might seem like an obvious solution to keep them soft, overuse can actually reduce the absorbency of towels by coating the towel fibres with an oil-based film.

So, should you use fabric softener on towels? It’s advised that you only add it every other wash to keep your towels fluffy, soft, and absorbent. For optimum results, you should also do the following:

  • Use the right amount of laundry detergent Read the dosing instructions on the label, and be sure to compensate properly for the water hardness of your area – both hard water and too much detergent can make towels a little stiff.

  • Wash hot This helps to break down soapy residue and other bath products that may be making your towels feel rough. Check the label on the towel to find out the highest temperature it can withstand.

  • Use a cool dryer setting Overheating your towels to dry them could damage the cotton fibres and undo all the good work your conditioner has done in the wash.

When to avoid fabric softener

The benefits of fabric softener mean it can be used as part of your normal laundry routine as an easy, convenient addition that helps you care for your clothes. While it can be used on most materials, there are a few exceptions which we outline below. It’s advised to always check the care labels of your clothes before washing them with fabric conditioner.

  • Microfiber cloths

Fabric conditioner creates a thin, protective layer over each fibre. While this is usually a good thing when it comes to helping care for your clothes, microfiber cleaning cloths and towels are specially made to be as absorbent as possible, so covering these fine fibres in a layer of conditioner will make them less effective.

  • Sportswear

Most sportswear has sweat-wicking properties to keep your skin dry. Just as with microfiber, the protective properties of fabric softener can interfere with the fabric’s breathability and absorbency.

  • Flame-resistant material

Fabric softener can make these fabrics less flameproof, so it’s best avoided. Some children’s nightclothes are formulated to be flame-resistant, so it’s recommended you always check the label before washing these with fabric conditioner.

Getting the best results from your fabric conditioner

Now that you know how and when to use fabric softener, we’ve put these top tips together so you can enjoy great results every time with softer, fresh-smelling clothes.

  • Always use the correct dose

Read the instructions on the label to check how much you should be using – too much or too little will affect your results – and check the garment care label to make sure that it’s suitable for your fabric.

  • Add to the correct compartment of your washing machine

Make sure not to add softener to the detergent drawer or you won’t get the optimal results. If you’re not sure which compartment is correct, check the manual of your machine.

  • Use within three months of purchase

Storing fabric conditioner for long periods of time can cause the product to become too thick for use.

  • Store at room temperature and out of direct sunlight

Avoid extremes of heat or cold, and never let fabric conditioner freeze. These will all compromise the quality of the product.

  • Never use the cap to dose any other detergents

Cross contaminating the cap with just one drop of a liquid laundry detergent can cause your fabric conditioner to become too thick to use.

  • Avoid direct contact with clothes

There’s a risk it could stain them, so never apply it neat to your clothing

  • Avoid direct contact with skin

If you do spill some, wash immediately in case of irritation.

Your top questions on using fabric conditioner

Is fabric conditioner the same as fabric softener?

There is no difference between fabric softener and fabric conditioner – they are just two names for the same thing.

Fabric softener and fabric conditioner is exactly what the name suggests – it is a product designed to help keep your clothes and towels soft and fluffy, conditioning the fibres of your garments to make them feel smooth, soft and comfortable against your skin.

Where do I put the fabric conditioner?

If you’re wondering where to put fabric conditioner in your washing machine detergent drawer, a general rule of thumb is that the compartment is usually indicated by a flower symbol. It can, however, vary depending on the type of washing machine you have, so if you still have the manual, it’s best to refer to it.

If you haven’t got the manual, it’s actually well worth searching the model and manufacturer on YouTube for advice – plenty of brands (and helpful enthusiasts) have videos to help you figure out where to put fabric conditioner and other laundry products.

How do you use fabric conditioner in a washing machine?

For front-load washing machines, the fabric conditioner goes in the detergent drawer, in the section with the flower symbol.

Measure out the required amount of fabric conditioner using a measuring cup and add to the drawer. The machine will then add the softener automatically, during the wash.

For top-load machines, measure out the correct amount of fabric conditioner and add to the dispenser, which is usually found in the central column.

Again, your machine will dispense the softener automatically. As each washing machine can vary, we suggest checking your washing machine usage instructions with your manufacturer.

Read other articles from the Clothing Care category

How to get colour run out of clothes

What do the symbols on washing machines mean

How to remove static from clothes

How to stop clothes bobbling

How to make clothes smell good and stay fresh

Originally published