Conventional wisdom suggests that you should use fabric-softener sheets in the dryer to lessen static cling, but we found that liquids you use in the washing machine reduced the static charge in a load of synthetic clothing slightly better than sheets did.
Our tests of 12 liquids, eight sheets, a dryer ball, and a reusable dryer cloth revealed one excellent product, Ultra Gain Joyful Expressions liquid, and debunked the belief that fabric softeners, especially liquids, leave towels far less absorbent. (See our Ratings of fabric softeners, available to subscribers only.)
The loss of absorbency was very noticeable with only Snuggle Concentrate and liquid Snuggle Exhilarations. (More laundry detergents are being formulated with a softener. But in past tests, we found that they left clothes less soft than those laundered with separate detergent and softener.)
Other findings from our tests:
• Products differed mainly in their ability to soften clothes. Some liquids were very good; the dryer sheets were so-so at best.
• The reusable Method Softener Infused Dryer Cloth and the Dryer Max Dryer Balls scored just fair overall. Testers said that laundry dried with them felt more scratchy or stiff than most.
• Costs range from 2 cents per use to 26 cents; we rated some of the lower-priced products very good.
• Past tests have shown that even the best fabric softeners can build up over time, especially on fleece and flannel, which can reduce the flame resistance. Most products warn against use on flame-resistant clothes or kids' sleepwear.
The Consumer Reports take. The best overall softener was Ultra Gain Joyful Expressions liquid (9 cents per load). The manufacturer claims that its package has recycled content and that its ingredients are biodegradable. If you prefer dryer sheets, consider Bounce (5 cents), Gain, (4 cents), or Kirkland Signature (Costco), just 2 cents per load in the 492-sheet pack.
Among the best fabric softeners we tested, many liquids do one load per ounce; Touch Liquid weighs 64 ounces but delivers just 21 loads. The Ultra Gain Joyful Expressions, Ultra Downy with Febreze, and Ultra Downy concentrated liquids give you a few more loads than regular products for the same weight.
If scent bothers you, try Ultra Downy liquid or Bounce sheets, the only conventional products we tested that come in an unscented version.
Essential information: Visit our washing machine page for expert advice on buying and using this appliance. See the full list (in alphabetical order) of tested fabric softeners below.
Ecover • Final Touch • Great Value (Wal-Mart) Everyday Elegance #7250 • Method • Mrs. Meyers Clean Day • Nice n Fluffy Escape • Purex Ultra Soft (Plus Renuzit) • Snuggle Concentrate • Snuggle Exhilarations • Ultra Downy • Ultra Downy With Febreze • Ultra Gain Joyful Expressions
Arm & Hammer Essentials • Bounce • Cuddle Soft • Downy Simple Pleasures • Gain Joyful Expressions • Kirkland Signature (Costco) #177806 • Snuggle Exhilarations • Suavitel
Dryer Max Dryer Balls • Method Softener Infused Dryer Cloths