is fabric softener the same as detergent
Kristina Davis

Both detergent and fabric softener are necessary for clean and fresh clothing, but is fabric softener the same as detergent?

Can you use them interchangeably?

Most people have used both fabric softeners and detergents from time to time. And they never care to learn about the difference between the both.

In fact, many people are under the impression that both of these products are identical.

So, are they right? Is there any difference between detergent and fabric softener?

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No, a fabric softener is not the same as a detergent and each performs a different role during the washing process. 

Is Fabric Softener The Same As Detergent Or Not?

fabric softener same as detergent

When it comes to doing laundry, the combination of detergent and fabric softener is unbeatable.

Together, they maintain the cleanliness and odor-free quality of your clothing. 

But the burning question is, “Is detergent same as fabric softener?”

No, these two products are not the same.

✔️Detergent is used to clean laundry. Using a combination of chemicals and enzymes, it cleans and deodorizes laundry.

✔️Fabric softener, often known as a conditioner, is used to soften and preserve textile fibers.

What it means is that your fabric softener does not come with any detergent of its own, which is why it is unable to clean laundry. 

Are Fabric Softeners and Detergents Interchangeable?

softener and detergent interchangeable

Both fabric softeners and detergents are laundry room essentials. They serve different purposes or roles.

Fabric softeners are used to improve the feel of washed items such as clothing, linens, and curtains.

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Conversely, a detergent can clean and deodorize washable textiles while eliminating stains and odors

Though both are essential to the process of laundering, they are not interchangeable. You cannot clean garments using a softener.

Detergents cannot be used to soften fabrics like clothes or towels unless they contain a separate fabric softener.

Tip: Avoid using automatic dishwasher detergents too often because they contain harsh chemicals that can cause fading. 

Can You Do Without Fabric Softeners?

without fabric softener

You sure can.

When doing laundry, the only thing you really need is some kind of washing detergent. The use of fabric softener is recommended but not required.

Detergents are essential for washing clothes because they break down dirt, filth, and odors. But a softener is not always necessary. 

In fact, the washing instructions for some fabrics specifically state that softeners should not be used. 

How Should You Use Fabric Softener and Laundry Detergent?

If you are hand washing your laundry, you may have to consider a thing or two when using both these products.

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Using water and detergent, wash the garments before proceeding with the handwashing process. 

softener and detergent bottles

Once the detergent has been removed, fill the washing machine with clean water and add a few drops of fabric softener before giving it a final rinse.

It does not have to be very tricky, so long as you know how to operate your washing machine correctly.

You may have to be a bit careful, though, when using old machines.

Using Automatic Washing Machines

Cleaning clothes with fabric softener and detergent is a breeze with today’s high-tech washing machines.

Typically, there is a designated space for each product, and all you have to do is place it inside the appropriate box. 

automatic washing machine

What to Consider?

Verify the labels on the drawers to ensure the correct dispensing of detergent and softener.

The detergent will be activated during the washing process, and the softener will be released during the final rinse.

Tip: Never go for dishwashing liquid or shampoo when you do not have laundry detergent because it would be difficult to get rid of bubbles during the rinse cycle. 

Using Old Washing Machines

If you have an older washing machine that requires you to manually add laundry products, start with the detergent.

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And then, you should stop the load during the final rinse cycle to add the fabric softener.

fabric softener ball

A fabric softener ball is an alternate solution.

Just fill the ball with your preferred fabric softener and throw it in the washing machine with your clothes.

You do not have to stop the load at any stage because the fabric softener will be released by the spinning action of the rinse cycle and the ball.    

How Do Fabric Softeners And Detergents Work Differently?

You may have gathered the fact that you should not use your fabric softener if you run out of detergent.

They both work differently, and here is how.

How Do Laundry Detergents Work?

how do detergents work

Your clothing bears the brunt of daily chores.

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As a result, your clothes can pick up a wide variety of contaminants during the day, including dirt, food particles, dead skin cells, perspiration, hair, and more.

All of this may be removed with the help of laundry detergent during a wash, mainly because it serves a similar purpose to shampoo in terms of cleansing your clothes.

Detergent is effective not only in washing away common dirt and grime, but also in removing more difficult stains like blood, mud, and makeup.

Tip: Never use household cleaners when you run out of laundry detergent because they are damaging to your fabrics and cause skin irritation as well. 

How Do Fabric Softeners Work?

how do fabric softeners work

The same way that hair conditioner shields your locks, fabric conditioner does the same for your garments.

While detergent removes dirt and grime, fabric softener fortifies fabrics to prevent shrinkage, fade, and bobbling while washing. 

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So not only will your garments be protected, but they will feel incredibly soft and, of course, have a lovely fragrance.

When used in tandem, detergent and fabric softener produce superior cleaning results and extend the life of your clothing. 

Should You Use A Fabric Softener When You Have No Detergent?

use softener with no detergent

Even if you are looking for a quick solution, you should not use a fabric softener as a substitute.

A fabric softener is no substitute for your detergent, as it contains stain- and dirt-removing enzymes and alkalies.

While using fabric softener alone will not hurt your garments, it will not clean them either.

If you find yourself without detergent, washing your clothes by hand is the next best thing.

Tip: Softener alone will improve the feel and scent of your laundry, but it will not do anything to get rid of stains, oils, or grime, so combine it with the right detergent. 

When Should You Avoid Using Fabric Softener?

avoid fabric softener

It is generally safe to use fabric softener on cotton and linen because these materials are specifically targeted in the formulation of fabric softener.

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Fabric softener is generally safe to use, however there are a few exceptions.

You should skip it if you are:

  • Cleaning microfiber towels
  • Washing moisture-wicking fabrics
  • Washing delicate baby clothes
  • Handling fluffy fabrics, such as velour, fleece, and terry cloth 


You should always pay attention to the label on your clothing to confirm whether it is okay to use any fabric softener. 

Will You Damage Clothes by Accidentally Using Fabric Softener?

damage clothes accidentally with softener

Because of their oftentimes visually identical containers, fabric softener and laundry detergent are frequently confused with one another.

Do not freak out if you use fabric softener in the detergent container when doing laundry; it will not ruin your clothes or the machine.

An hour or so of your time, a few drops of fabric softener, and a few gallons of water will be all that you may lose.

After that, you can just rewash your garments, but this time put the detergent in the right spot.

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What Else Can You Use In Place Of Detergent?

what to use in place of detergent

When you do not have detergent, you know using fabric softener will not do any good. So, what else can you use?

You can put your money on oxygen-based bleach.

When all other options have been exhausted and you find yourself without laundry detergent, you can use half a cup of powdered oxygen bleach.

The washing machine’s drum should be empty when the powder is added, followed by dirty clothes and water.  


Is fabric softener the same as detergent? Though they look like it, they are not. The difference is quite evident, and you cannot use one in place of the other. 

In fact, it is better to avoid using fabric softeners, especially when you find no information on clothing labels. 

So many times, using fabric softener is a waste of money, especially when your clothes lack visible fibers.