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Fabric softeners are washing aids that are used to prevent the dry stiffness that occurs when laundry is drying. In most cases, fragrances and optical brighteners are also added to the laundry . A side effect is the reduction of electrostatic charges on synthetic fibers. Some products also contain cyclodextrins , among other things , which bind undesirable odors.

Mode of action

Fabric softeners are added to the laundry in the final machine wash cycle . They should counteract the effect that the laundry feels hard after washing in the machine and then drying in static air. This phenomenon, known as dry rigidity , is caused by the formation of electrostatic hydrogen bonds between the cellulose fibers . The cationic surfactants in the fabric softener penetrate the fiber, combine with the negative charges and thus weaken the interactions.

Environmental sustainability

The cationic esterquats used today are made from animal and vegetable fats and are more easily degradable than the distearyldimethylammonium chloride ( DSDMAC ) used in the early 1990s . The German Federal Environment Agency points out, however, that "harmful effects on aquatic organisms can only be ruled out if biological wastewater treatment is guaranteed and direct penetration into the water is excluded".

According to the EU detergent regulation EG / 907/2006 of 2006, all surfactants, i. H. also surfactants in fabric softeners, be fully biodegradable .


Due to their chemical structure, fabric softeners can have a water-repellent effect, but this can be avoided by the choice of chemicals. The water-repellent reaction can cause “soft-rinsed” towels, wool sweaters, underwear, nightgowns, bed linen, etc. to absorb moisture more slowly or less. Down sleeping bags should therefore never be washed with fabric softener, sleeping bag manufacturers usually recommend using simple curd soap in softened water. In the case of functional clothing made of synthetic fibers , which are often used in sports, fabric softeners can seal the surface of the clothing. The removal of sweat from the body to the outside is no longer guaranteed.

Ingredients such as fragrances and solvents can cause allergic reactions.

Cationic surfactants react with washing-active anionic surfactants to form a hydrophobic compound that has to be washed out with additional surfactant use. The use of fabric softeners therefore results in a correspondingly higher consumption of detergent the next time you wash.


According to a study by the Federal Environment Agency , fabric softeners are at the top of budget funds with questionable benefits, although this finding is not justified. In addition, fabric softeners are mainly used in households with low social status.

In early 2011, cases of abuse of fabric softener as an intoxicant via nasal spray became known. Some fabric softeners contained the substance γ-butyrolactone (GBL), a precursor of the anesthetic γ-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB).

See also

Web links

Commons : Fabric Softener  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: fabric softener  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Regulation (EC) No. 907/2006 of the Commission of June 20, 2006 amending Regulation (EC) No. 648/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council on detergents for the purpose of adapting Annexes III and VII , accessed on April 7 2016
  2. Fabric softener: Soft laundry - at any cost? (Text) In: Federal Environment Agency . September 22, 2015. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  3. Right: Is fabric softener bad for laundry?
  4. Environmental Justice - Environment, Health and Social Situation UMID Issue 2/2008. ISSN  1862-4111 (print), ISSN  1862-4189 (Internet)
  5. ^ Die Welt online: Prisoners have recently started sniffing fabric softeners. February 24, 2011
  6. Drugs: nasal spray with fabric softener . In: Pharmazeutische Zeitung 09/2011 . Retrieved April 7, 2016.