Detergents and fabric softeners are common household products typically found in every homeowner’s laundry room. While both products are commonly used for laundry, we don’t recommend combining them. 

This is because detergent is formulated to clean laundry by removing stains, while fabric softeners are designed to make clothes feel softer. Combining them in the same wash can reduce the effectiveness of both products, cause discoloration, and also lead to residue buildup.

This article will provide insights into why it is important to use detergent and fabric softener separately and which of these you should use first. We’ll also provide an in-depth analysis of what happens if you mix detergents with fabric softeners and answer some frequently asked questions.

Why You Should Not Mix Detergent and Fabric Softener When Washing Your Laundry

In summary, it’s recommended that you don’t mix detergent and fabric softeners. Instead, use detergent to clean your laundry by adding it at the beginning of the wash cycle. Then, use fabric softeners to make clothes feel softer and reduce static in the final rinse cycle. Below, we’ll explain some of the reasons why should shouldn’t combine them.

Less Effective Cleaning

When mixed, the chemical properties of detergent and fabric softeners can interact with each other in a way that reduces the effectiveness of both products. Therefore, instead of dissolving as they should, these substances end up floating in the washing water instead.

This makes the detergent less effective at removing dirt, stains, and odors from your load. You may notice that your clothes aren’t being cleaned properly, with common signs like persisting stains and a lingering odor.

Potential for Laundry to Get Stained

Mixing fabric softener and detergent can also lead to unnecessary staining of clothes. In fact, the dyes or pigments used in some fabric softeners to add color and scent can easily transfer onto clothing when combined with detergent. 

This can be especially problematic for lighter-colored garments, as the transferred color can be difficult to remove. Moreover, the sticky residue created by mixing fabric softener and detergent can also cause stains and discoloration on clothing.

Leaves a Sticky Residue in Your Washing Machine

As mentioned above, when fabric softener and detergent are mixed, they create a combination that can leave behind a sticky residue. Over time, this layer accumulates inside your washing machine, making it difficult to remove. 

Not only can this buildup also lead to discoloration and unpleasant odors, but it can also affect the performance of your machine. If left untreated, this sticky residue could cause irreversible damage.

What Is the Difference Between Detergent and Fabric Softener?

Detergent is typically added before starting your wash cycle, as it’s formulated for cleaning your laundry by removing dirt, stains, and odors from clothing. It commonly contains surfactants, enzymes, and sometimes bleach to ensure a thorough cleaning process.

Most detergents can be used on all types of fabrics and in any type of laundry machine. However, while it effectively cleans clothes, it may not necessarily make them feel softer. This is where fabric softeners come into play. 

Alongside softening certain materials, fabric softeners also reduce static and add fragrance to your clothing. Off-the-shelf softeners are known to contain fatty alcohols, amphoteric surfactants, and positively charged cationic polymers with numerous nitrogen atoms and scents. 

They are commonly used during the rinse cycle and can be used in any laundry machine as well. Nevertheless, it may only work on certain materials and should not be used on fabrics that are water-resistant for example. 

Which One Goes in First?

Detergent should be added at the beginning of the wash cycle. There are two ways to do this, you can either pour it inside the drum along with your clothes or add it to the dedicated detergent compartment of your washing machine (if it has one). 

Only during the final rinse cycle should you add fabric softener to the washing machine. It’s usually poured into a designated container in the washing machine before starting the entire washing process. Your washing machine will then automatically release the softener.

What to Do If You Mix Both Products by Accident

If you’ve unintentionally mixed detergent and fabric softener, here are a few steps you can take to undo any potential damage to your laundry and washing machine.

  1. Run An Empty Cycle – First, run an empty cycle in your washing machine to help eliminate any residue left by the mixed products. This will ensure that the next load of laundry isn’t affected by the residue.
  2. Use Hot Water To Rinse – Next, use hot water to rinse your machine to remove any remaining traces of detergent and fabric softener. This step is especially important if you have a front-loading washing machine, as residue can build up in the rubber gasket and cause unpleasant odors over time.
  3. Inspect And Treat Clothing Lastly, inspect your clothing for any visible signs of residue or staining. Then, treat these areas with a stain remover or rewash the garments in clean water to remove any lingering traces of the mixture.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, we’ll address some frequently asked questions that we’ve received from our readers. If you have any further questions, simply reach out to us and we’ll have them answered and added. 

Which Is Better: Detergent or Fabric Softener?

The better product depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If you require a product that cleans and effectively removes stubborn stains from your clothes, then detergent is the ideal choice. This is because detergents are formulated with powerful cleaning agents that penetrate deep into the fabric to lift dirt and grime. 

On the other hand, if you want to enhance the softness of your fabrics and reduce static, then a fabric softener is the way to go. Fabric softeners work by coating the clothing fibers with a thin layer of lubrication, making them feel smoother and more comfortable against your skin. It’s also best to use both of these products separately, as they serve different purposes.

If Detergent and Fabric Softener Don’t Mix, Why Are There 2-in-1 Products Available in Stores?

Traditional detergents and fabric softeners are generally not chemically compatible. However, 2-in-1 products have carefully selected ingredients that are specifically designed to work together harmoniously.

These innovative products offer convenience and efficiency by combining detergent’s cleaning ability with fabric softener’s softening properties. They eliminate the need for separate washing and softening steps, saving time and effort for busy individuals. 

There are various examples of 2-in-1 products available in stores. One popular option is laundry pods containing detergent and fabric softener in a single capsule. These pods are easy to use as you simply toss them into your washing machine and let them work their magic. 

Do I Need to Use A Fabric Softener?

The answer may not be a straightforward yes or no. It ultimately depends on your personal preferences and specific laundry needs. While fabric softeners can provide benefits such as softening laundry, reducing static, and minimizing wrinkling, they may not be essential for every single load of laundry.

Skipping fabric softeners might be a viable option for those who prioritize cleaning their clothes and have sensitive skin. Additionally, if you’re looking to cut down on monthly expenses, eliminating fabric softeners can be a practical decision.

Ultimately, the choice of whether or not to use fabric softener rests with you and what you value most in your laundry routine. If you decide to use a fabric softener when washing your laundry, just remember not to mix it with detergent.

What Should I Not Use Fabric Softener On?

It’s important to avoid using fabric softener on specific materials like wicking sportswear, synthetic fabrics, water-resistant clothing, and towels. This is because fabric softeners can break down these materials. 

Other than those fabrics, it should generally be safe to use on most clothing. However, it’s advisable to read the labels of these materials before using fabric softeners on them. This prevents any irreversible harm or damage. 

About Sirinan

Sirinan is a self-proclaimed cleanaholic and the editor-in-chief of Cleaney. Apart from coming with up creative ways to keep her living spaces clean and tidy, she loves to read on rainy days.