The importance of fabric softeners involves a matter of personal preference: some people prefer not to use them and others do use them. To understand their potential importance, you need to know the characteristics of fabric softeners, such as purpose, cost and their effects on the materials laundered using them.
Fabric softeners serve two basic purposes. Fabric softeners work in the laundry primarily to soften clothing, making it more comfortable to wear. They also work to reduce static cling in clothing. According to the article “Laundry and Cleaning” at ConsumerReports.org, the separate liquid fabric softeners worked best of the different types in removing static cling from synthetic clothing.
Basically, you can use any one of four different types of fabric softener: a separate liquid softener, dryer sheets, fabric softener balls or a liquid detergent product made with softener combined into the detergent.
According to the article “Laundry and Cleaning” at ConsumerReports.org, despite the general belief that using fabric softener left towels less absorbent, this was observable only with two products made by the same company.
The ConsumerReports article also found that even the best fabric softeners built up over time, reducing flame retardancy in flame-retardant materials, particularly flannel and fleece. As described in the article "The Truth About Fabric Softeners," this build-up is an oil-based residue and an important consideration for consumers when using fabric softeners.
Fabric softeners range in cost from 2 cents to 26 cents per use, depending on the brand and specific product. Importantly, this is a quite reasonable price range for the effects on clothing comfort and the reduction of static cling.