Is fabric softener necessary for your linens?

June 17, 2019

Providing fabric softener to your laundromat customers can have many benefits, it can make clothes and linens feel softer, reduce static, assist with relaxing creases and above all it makes your linens smell great! But when considering this for your customers there are a few advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered.

What are fabric softeners?

One of the main ingredients of fabric softeners are fatty compounds which are a kind of tallow (or wax). These compounds serve a number of purposes. One is that they reduce static cling. Because these compounds have a positive charge which binds to the negatively charged fabric fibres, an electrostatic reaction helps to disperse the electrical build-up which causes static. This reaction also causes the fabric fibres to ‘stand up’ so the fabric feels softer and fluffier. The fatty nature of these compounds also lubricates the fabric which helps to create a soft texture.

More modern fabric softeners contain silicone-based ingredients. Apart from lubricating fibres and improving softening, they also reduce wrinkle formation during the wash and assist in ease of ironing.

Fragrances and colour are often added to fabric softeners to make them aesthetically pleasing.

When to use fabric softener

There is no doubt there are many benefits to using fabric softeners, as mentioned above. That’s why they are popular.

But should fabric softeners be used for all of your fabrics? The short answer is no. The reasons outlined below may surprise both you and your customers.

When not to use fabric softener

Sportswear and stretchy materials

The fatty compounds of fabric softeners work by binding to the fabric and so form a waxy coating. This coating blocks fibres and reduces the fabric’s ability to absorb moisture. Therefore, it is not a good idea to use fabric softener on clothes which are designed to manage moisture and breathe. This includes items such as sportswear, swimsuits, and underwear.

Sportswear, in particular, is designed to draw moisture away from the body and keep you cool. The coating that fabric softeners leave on fabrics not only locks sweat into the fabric and stops it from drying, but also locks in the bacteria. This can leave to permanent odours in the fabric.

Fabric softener should also be avoided for swimwear, bras, underwear and other clothing which has stretchy fibres such as elastin, nylon and spandex. These materials are weakened by fabric softener.

Towels

Even though fabric softener makes towels feel soft and cosy, it also reduces the towel’s absorption capabilities. On the other hand, not using fabric softener can leave towels feeling a little scratchy and stiff. So what should you do?

Whether you are providing a laundry service for your customers, or your customers are laundering towels for their own use, this is a point that you may choose to discuss with them or advise them on.

Cleaning items

For the same reason, fabric softener should not be used on cleaning items where absorbency is needed such as mops, cleaning cloths, wipes, sponges or chamois cloths.

Microfibre and fleece

Of particular note here, it is recommended to never use fabric softener with items made from microfibre or fleece. Microfibre has small, intricate threads, and once they absorb the waxy residue of fabric softener it effectively waterproofs them.

This residue also affects fleece. Fleece is full of little air pockets to keep you warm. Fabric softener can ‘block’ these air pockets and therefore reduce the warmth of the material. Fleece can also feel somewhat greasy after using fabric softener.

Children’s clothing and pyjamas

Most infant and child sleepwear contains fire-resistant chemicals. The fats from fabric softener can not only reduce the fire-resistant qualities of the fabric, but actually increase its fire hazard since fat burns more readily. For the same reason, fabric softener should also be avoided in children’s clothing which is not fire-resistant.

Extra caution should be taken with fabric softener on baby items. Babies’ skin is very sensitive and may react with the chemicals found in some fabric softeners.

Cost

There is obviously an additional financial cost to the laundromat if you are supplying or using fabric softener for your customers. However, less obvious costs are also involved for laundromats. Many people use too much fabric softener. This can leave a gluggy residue in the washing machine. Due to its fat content, this residue can be a breeding ground for bacteria which can lead to an unpleasant odour in the machine. Time (and money) must be spent cleaning and maintaining the washing machines.

On front-loading washing machines, fabric softeners can erode the rubber seal. In time this is an additional cost to the laundromat.

Conclusion

If you provide laundry services for your customers, you may wish to discuss some of the pros and cons of using fabric softener with them. You may also consider putting some of this information on display in your laundromat. Sharing the knowledge provides benefits for both you and your customers.

The message here is not to stop using fabric softener, but rather how to use it wisely. If you would like further information or advice on your laundromat operation, Aqualogic can help. Call us on 1300 222 119 or contact us online.