Fabric Softener vs Detergent: Differences and Comparison (With Table)

Fabric softeners and laundry detergents are common to see in daily laundry work. Do you ever wonder which should you buy, fabric softeners or detergents, when you stand by the laundry aisle? Fabric softeners vs detergents, what are the differences? And when should you use them?

The key difference between fabric softeners and detergent is that they play different roles in the laundry. Fabric softener protects clothes from being damaged and keeps them smooth and soft, plus, eliminates static electricity. While detergents clean stains of clothes and keep them shiny.

fabric softenter vs detergent
fabric softenter vs laundry detergent

However, to keep our clothes fluffy and smell fresh, fabric softener and detergent often work together. Let’s walk through more differences between fabric softener and detergent, and make sense of when to use them.

Fabric Softener vs Detergent: Comparison Table

The following chart lists the key differences and properties of fabric softener and detergent.

Fabric SoftenerDetergent
NicknameFabric conditionerLaundry detergent, washing powder
Product FormLiquid, powder or dryer sheetsLiquid, power or laundry beads
Main IngredientConditioning agent, lubricant, emulsifiers, preservatives, fragrance, etc.Surfactants, bleach, builders, enzymes, foam regulators, soil antideposition agents, etc.
Main functionSoften clothes and reduce damage, pilling and fadeClean clothes
Common brandsDowny, Snuggle, Tide, Breezeo, etc.Tide, Arm & Hammer, Biokleen, etc.
Fabric Softener vs Detergent

What Is Fabric Softener?

Fabric softener is used to reduce harshness in clothes during machine laundry. Adding fabric softener can make your family’s clothes softer, smell fresher, and less staticky. Besides, fabric softener also can keep your clothes from fading. Softer fibers of the clothes are better to retain their absorption levels and keep color.

You may have such experience, your clothes become coarse and rough after being washed in machines. The reason is that repeated friction in the washing process damages the fibers of clothes. Fabric softeners often contain lubricating ingredients, which are beneficial to soften and smoothing out material fibers. Therefore, your clothes using fabric softener will be more comfortable to wear.

Usually, the time of adding fabric softener when washing clothes depends on your washers. And there are two ways to use fabric softeners. The first one is to add it directly to your washing machine disperser, and the washer will add it to the wash cycle at the right time. The second one is to add softeners after washing your clothes with laundry detergents. Keep your cleaned clothes in water added with fabric softeners for about 10 to 20 minutes. And then rinse and dry them.

What Is Laundry Detergent?

Laundry detergent is a type of cleaning household that can remove various stains, odors, and dirt. And there are diverse types of detergent in the market, some are suitable for high-end clothes, and some are for the toughest stains. Customers can choose the suitable one for their different types of clothes.

Today, laundry detergent comes in the form of liquids, power, or detergent beads. But at the first time, laundry detergent also known as soap just mixes lye and animal fat. And its only purpose is to clean clothes and remove stains. Different from that type of detergent, today’s laundry detergent contains enzymes and bleach, which can make your clothes brighter and protect their color to some degree.

The use of laundry detergent is much simpler than that of fabric softeners. What you need to do is to add it to your dirty clothes appropriately, and then let your washer do his work.

Fabric Softener vs Detergent: What’s the Difference?

The key difference between fabric softeners and laundry detergent is they play different roles in clothes laundry. Get more details in the following comparisons.

Functions & Ingredients

As its name shows, the main functions of fabric softener are to soften your clothes and keep them in an ideal condition as they were just bought. Therefore the main ingredients of fabric softeners are lubricant, which ensures it performs their task. And the fragrances and dyes in softeners are petroleum derivatives.

While the main job of laundry detergent is to make clothes fluffy, soft, smooth, and shiny, and clean the surface stains. The composition of laundry detergent is similar to that of washing powder. Non-ionic surfactants are often used in laundry detergents, which are nearly neutral and mild to the skin. And the detergents degrade faster than washing powder, making them more popular than washing powder.

People Who Use

Both fabric softener and laundry detergent are full of several additives after all. So they are not suitable for everyone, especially those who are allergic. Besides, clothes often get a fragrance smell because today’s fabric softeners and laundry detergents contain fragrance. Therefore, if you or your family are sensitive to strange smells, maybe you should use those products carefully.

FAQ about Fabric Softener vs Detergent

Should I Use Fabric Softener All the Time?

The answer is No! Not all fabrics can bear fabric softener even if the softener is beneficial to keep your clothes in a good state at most times. Before you use fabric softener, please keep in mind that make clear the material of your clothes. Generally speaking, do not use fabric softeners when washing the following several types of materials.

●Do not wash your towels with fabric softeners often, or it will reduce their ability to water absorbency and make them stiff.

●Do not wash your sportswear with fabric softeners often. Because the fabric softeners will leave a coating on the sportswear and weaken its wicking ability.

●Do not wash kids’ sleepwear with fabric softeners often, because the use of fabric softeners will impacts the flame-resistant of the sleepwear, which is important security factor for kids.

Is Detergent the Same as Fabric Softener?

Detergent is not the same as fabric softeners. As mentioned above, laundry detergent and fabric softener are different purposes. The detergent is mainly to clean your clothes and remove stains, while softeners are to soften your clean clothes and freshen their smell. Therefore, knowing this difference is necessary when buying the correct products.

Which is Better Laundry Detergent or Fabric Softener?

There is no need to tell which is better because the detergent and fabric softener are produced for different purposes. Detergent performs well to remove various types of dirt and grime. While softeners are good at to keep your clothes in a nice state and give you a comfortable wear experience.

What Happens if You Use Fabric Softener Instead of Detergent?

There is no matter if you use fabric softener instead of laundry detergent only for few times. The only impact is that the stains or dirt can not be cleaned well. However, if you always use fabric softeners to clean your clothes, not laundry detergent, the excess fabric softenters may build up in your clothes over time, which can ruin your clothes easily.


The differences between fabric softenters and laundry detergent mainly lies in their functions and ingredents, which has explained clearly above. Knowing their differences can help you get clear to what type of product you need, and use them in a proper way. If you have any question, please leave it in the comment area.

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