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Fabric Conditioner vs Fabric Softener: What Is the Difference?

I went looking for fabric conditioner at my local store recently. They hadn’t got any. All I could find was fabric softener. Are they the same thing? Do they do the same job? Fabric softener vs fabric conditioner, what is the difference?

Fabric conditioner and fabric softener are the same product. They are both terms used to describe a laundry additive for softening clothes. The only difference between the two is where they are sold. In the US, the product is known as fabric softener. At the same time, people in the UK know the softening liquid as a fabric conditioner.

Both fabric softener and fabric conditioner are terms that can be used interchangeably. But what do they do? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at fabric softening liquids, from their pros and cons, to whether they are necessary.

Fabric Conditioner vs Fabric Softener

What Is Fabric Softener?

Snuggle Liquid Fabric Softener, Dye Free for Sensitive Skin, 2X Concentrated, 200 LoadsA fabric softener is a liquid laundry additive. Used in partnership with your usual laundry detergent, it can help keep your clothes smelling clean and fresh for days after being washed.

As we all do with our clothes, washing fabric regularly can leave the fibers rough and twisted. Water, particularly warm water, can also cause color loss in garments and the dreaded bobbling. Bobbling is when fabric fibers become damaged, leaving little bobbles of lint all over a garment’s surface. This unsightly downside of doing the laundry is also known as pilling.

Adding fabric softener to the final rinse of your wash protects the fibers in the material. Lessening the risk of bobbling, pilling, color fading, and scratchy clothes. A fabric softener will also strengthen, protect, and condition fabric fibers. Helping your clothes last longer.

What Does a Fabric Softener Do?

A fabric softener can make your clothing and bedding feel super comfy. Your bath towels will feel fluffy and soft against your skin. Not only that, but the added fragrance included within the softener can leave your laundered items smelling fresh for days.

As a bonus, the fabric softener reduces static cling. This is great news for those who hate those tiny electrical shocks you can get from garments. They can give you quite a jolt, especially if you’re taking clothes out of the dryer. Fabric softener will help reduce the static build-up and eliminate the ouch factor.

Better still, the fabric softener removes friction. This is when clothing rubs roughly against your skin. The rougher the material, the more likely you will suffer from a bad case of chafing. Fabric softener turns the friction into a more fluid, delicate motion that enables the fabric to glide across your skin. Rather than snag on it.

What Is Fabric Conditioner?

No products found.A fabric conditioner is a product used in the laundry to soften clothes, bedding, and towels. It comes in a liquid form and is added to the final rinse of the wash cycle.

While your laundry detergent gets your clothes clean, a fabric conditioner will strengthen the fibers within the material, making your clothes feel super soft. It makes towels feel fluffy and luxurious and a pleasure to wrap up in after a shower.

A No products found. also reduces the risk of friction between your skin and the material in your bedding and clothes. Material can feel a lot like cardboard after washing particularly if it’s allowed to air dry. The roughness can lead to chafing and stiff garments that are difficult to move in.

By untwisting roughened fibers and smoothing them out, fabric conditioner eliminates the discomfort caused by friction and static cling. Instead of rubbing your skin the wrong way, your clothes will move with you and feel like a little piece of luxury next to your body.

That’s not all a fabric conditioner can do. Protecting and conditioning the fibers within a garment or your bedding can help extend the life of the material. Pilling, color fading, and feeling scratchy can all impact the longevity of your garments.

Fabric conditioner will stop the damage in its tracks. Helping you protect your garments, bedding, and towels from the rigors of laundry and day-to-day life.

Is Fabric Conditioner the Same as Fabric Softener?

If you’ve got this far into the article, you’ll have noticed me mentioning the same kind of benefits for both fabric conditioner and fabric softener. The reason for that is simple.

Fabric softener and fabric conditioner are the same product. When it comes to fabric softener vs fabric conditioner, you’re putting a Bic pen against a ballpoint pen. Although Bic is a trade name, both terms are used to describe a particular style of pen.

The same can be said for a spool or a reel of thread. Both names refer to the device on which the thread is wound. Which one you use depends on your preference and the term you are most familiar with.

So, regardless of whether the liquid laundry additive is called a softener or a conditioner, both are generic terms that can be used interchangeably to describe fabric softeners.

What Is the Difference Between Fabric Softener and Fabric Conditioner?

Difference Between Fabric Softener and Fabric Conditioner

You’re probably wondering what the difference is between fabric softener vs fabric conditioner. There has to be one, right? Or why else would the product have two different names?

Well, there is a slight difference. Only it’s not in the product or what the conditioners and softeners do. Both items are liquid-based fabric conditioners designed to soften fabric during washing. They have similar ingredients. You may find there’s a variation in fragrance, but other than that, the contents in the bottle are relatively the same.

The difference between fabric conditioners and softeners comes down to who makes the product and whereabouts in the world they are most popular. As with most things, different countries have different words for the same item.

Take overlockers and sergers, for instance. Both terms are used to describe a gadget designed for sewing knit fabrics. A serger is a term heard most in the US, while the term overlocker is heard more in the UK and pretty much everywhere else.

In the manufacturing business, it pays to know about language differences between different areas. Otherwise known as semantics, these small variations in wording can be used to a manufacturer’s advantage, regardless of the product being produced.

Let’s delve a little deeper into this for a moment. Top brand names for laundry softeners and conditioners include Lenor, Downy, Comfort, and Gain. There are others. Whether you have heard of those brands is down to where you are.

If you do a quick google search on those names, you’ll see an interesting fact. Lenor, for instance, is a top brand in the UK. Their product is called fabric conditioner. Gain is a product found in the US. The wording on their packaging is fabric softener.

There’s a simple explanation behind this difference in terminology. Manufacturers tend to call their products by the term more recognizable to their customer base. If we look at the USA for a moment, the target audience knows the product as fabric softener. Skip across the Atlantic to the UK, the product is known as fabric conditioner.

So, any brand hoping to sell fabric conditioner in the US will call it fabric softener. Branding in the UK will go for fabric conditioner. That’s it in a nutshell. The only difference between the two is as simple as the product’s location!

Do You Need a Fabric Conditioner?

No, you don’t need a fabric conditioner or softener. Unlike laundry detergent, fabric conditioners are not an essential part of the laundry process. Whether you use a softening product or not is down to your personal choice.

That hasn’t always been the case. Historically, washing garments could be fraught with danger for the clothing. The process could be harsh on fibers in the material. Fabric softeners were used to protect the clothes against hard water, harsh washing products, and rough treatment in a washing machine. Even hanging clothes out on the line to dry could feel like cardboard.

These days, laundry detergents have improved a lot. With more options available, it’s easier to pick one that can be gentle on delicates yet tough on stains. Washing machines have adapted too! They have settings for different fabric types, from heavy-duty or bedding settings to gentle or cool washes.

The improvements in laundry products and devices have all but eliminated the need for a separate fabric softener. Although, it has to be said that many of us continue to use a fabric conditioner because it leaves our clothing smelling fresh for days.

But should we? A fabric softener can make your towels fluffy, reduce static cling, and stop your clothes from feeling scratchy. However, there is some debate about whether or not you should use one. There is a high chance that doing so could be causing more harm than good.

Fabric softener and conditioner contain some nasty chemicals that are bad for you and the environment. Not only that, but there has been some speculation that using a fabric conditioner shortens the lifespan of your washing machine.

The risk of damage is so high for some fabrics that garment care labels specifically state you shouldn’t use the product with that item of clothing. Fabric softeners can strip the waterproof coating from your hiking jacket. Conditioners can also be damaging to synthetic materials. Especially the synthetics used in athletic wear.

With that in mind, it may be safer to skip the fabric softeners and conditioners altogether. I’ll cover the products you can use instead later in this article.

Does Fabric Softener Cause Allergies?

Yes, fabric softener can cause allergies. Although, it’s more likely to be the contents of the softener causing existing allergies to flare up. Either way, as the ingredients are in the fabric conditioner, you could say the product has caused an allergic reaction.

As we looked at in the previous section, fabric conditioners and softeners contain chemicals. These chemicals perform various tasks, from acting as a preservative, a colorant, or even a fragrance. Any one of those items, or all of them, can result in skin irritation.

Many of the chemicals used have been linked to respiratory issues like asthma. They can cause other health problems too. These can be as far-reaching as reproductive issues, dermatitis, and an exacerbation of existing conditions like eczema. It’s bad news for acne sufferers too!

It’s not restricted to in the home either. Washing machines expel water into the sewer system. Dryers vent hot air out into the atmosphere. This can lead to a build-up of chemicals outside your home. Not just in the immediate area either.

Chemicals in fabric softeners can be harmful to marine life and as most of our sewage waste ends up in the ocean, this could be catastrophic for sea animals. Venting air from your dryer can lead to your neighbors coming into contact with the chemicals, causing health issues for them.

Is Fabric Softener Detergent?

No, fabric softener is not a detergent. They are two separate laundry products with different jobs. You can’t replace your detergent with a fabric softener. Although you can get a laundry detergent with a built-in fabric conditioner, there is no such thing as a softener with a built-in detergent.

A laundry detergent cleans dirt from items made with fabric. It contains stain removers and enzymes designed to eat away dirt, debris, and grease picked up throughout your daily activities.

Laundry detergent is an essential part of wash day. You can live without a fabric softener, but you can’t get your clothes clean without some form of laundry detergent.

On the other hand, fabric softeners or conditioners don’t clean clothes. They don’t contain any stain removing properties and can’t remove dirt. All they do is soften fabric fibers and add fragrance. While doing so, they protect the fibers in fabric from pilling, bobbling, and color fading.

As modern-day laundry detergents can also protect fabric fibers, reduce the risk of color fading, and help lessen the risk of bobbling, you can skip the fabric conditioner.

Fabric Conditioner vs Dryer Sheets: What’s the Difference?

Snuggle SuperCare Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets, Lilies and Linen, 200 CountThe main difference between fabric conditioner vs dryer sheets is how you use them. Fabric conditioner or softener goes in the washing machine. It’s added either during the final rinse or into the fabric softener section of your washing machine drawer. Usually indicated by a little flower symbol. Dryer sheets go in the dryer. They work slightly differently to fabric softeners as they are designed to be used dry. You put them in the dry with your wet washing. As the heat from the dryer increases, fabric softeners and fragrances are released from the dryer sheet. These are then absorbed by the clothing as it tumbles in the dryer’s drum.

Otherwise, dryer sheets and fabric softeners are pretty much the same. They contain many of the same chemicals and are used to perform the same task, which is to condition fabric fibers, reduce static, and add fragrance to your laundry.

How to Protect Clothes Without Using Fabric Conditioner

As mentioned earlier in this article, fabric conditioners can be problematic. They can cause health issues and damage to washing machines and the environment. The good news is that there are other ways to add softness to your washing.

There are several alternatives to using fabric softeners and conditioners as part of your laundry routine. Let’s take a closer look at some of the tried and trusted methods you can use as a fabric softener.

Using Laundry Wash Bags

Ideal for synthetic fabrics and delicate items, a laundry wash bag can protect your clothing from other items. It can also take the knocks from the washing machine drum preventing rips, tears, and fraying.

It’s a mesh bag, usually made from polyester that you put your clothes into. Then you put the bag into your washing machine. The great thing about laundry wash bags is they protect your clothing and the environment.

Not only do they keep garments separate so they can’t tangle together, but they also catch microfibers. Those little bits of synthetic material rub off in every wash, causing problems out at sea. Laundry bags can trap these fibers, preventing them from entering the water.

Drying in a Dryer

Dryers are great for getting clothes dry. They also have another added benefit. The heat from the dryer helps fluff the fibers in the fabric. This is particularly pleasing when you are drying bath towels.

Better still, as dryers work faster than leaving a garment to air dry, there’s less chance of odor build-up and no wet washing hanging for hours on the back of your doors. You can also protect your garments from sun damage. It reduces the need for ironing too, which, if you’re like me, is a win-win!

Don’t Use Too Much Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergent gets clothes clean, which is a good thing. But, too much of a good thing is not always as good as it sounds.

The problem with using too much laundry detergent is it can build up on the fibers in the fabric. This can be an issue, particularly if it’s a short wash cycle. If there isn’t enough water to wash the detergent out, it will stay in the material.

As the fabric dries, the detergent will dry, making the clothing feel rough and scratchy. Always make sure you follow the instructions on the laundry detergent packaging. That way, you can add the right amount to your wash for the level of dirt you are dealing with.

Wool Dryer Balls

Adding dryer balls to your dryer can help soften your clothes. Wool dryer balls are particularly useful as they are eco-friendly and made from a natural, sustainable product.

As the dryer tumbles the clothes, the dryer balls fall between the clothing creating air spaces. These pockets of space keep the clothing separate and prevent tangles and clumps from forming. Better still, the extra air provided by the balls reduces drying time.

Distilled White Vinegar

Vinegar is an underrated substance in both the kitchen and the laundry room. It is a tasty addition to food, but it also acts as a natural stain remover and fabric softener.

Adding 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the final rinse will help condition and soften your garments. It will also remove any soap residue left over from the washing cycle. As a bonus, vinegar will also take away any residual build-up in the pipes of your washing machine, cleaning it out in the process.


Fabric softener and fabric conditioner are different names for the same product. You don’t need to use either in your washing regime. Although adding a softener to your clothing can help condition the fibers in the fabric. Leaving your garments soft, friction-free, and comfortable to wear.

Let me know in the comments if you liked the article. Do you call it fabric conditioner or fabric softener? Do you like using it? Or are you going to try one of the alternatives mentioned above?