11 Ways to Score Great Smelling Laundry Without Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

updated Aug 12, 2023
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There’s something luxurious about sliding into fragrant, freshly washed sheets at night or wrapping up in a fresh, fluffy towel after a hot bath. However, most scented detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets are loaded with chemicals and may not fit your household’s values or may irritate sensitive skin

“There are loads of wonderful commercials showing how fabric softener or dryer sheets can make your laundry smell so much better, says Marissa Murphy of Pioneer Linens in Palm Beach, Florida. “However, you shouldn’t use any additives on cotton. They can add a coating, which can actually prevent your laundry from getting properly clean.” Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to get your clothes smelling good without a chemical boost.

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1. Clean your machine regularly. 

If your washing machine isn’t clean, all the essential oils in the world won’t make your clothes smell fresh. At least once a month, run cleaning cycles and thoroughly scrub all the nooks and crannies of your machine. 

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2. Periodically add vinegar to your load as a fabric softener. 

Don’t worry — your laundry won’t smell like vinegar! Not only does vinegar neutralize odors and soften fabrics, but it will also make your detergent drawer less prone to mold and residue build-up. But don’t overdo it; twice a month is plenty, as elastics and delicate fabrics can be worn down by vinegar over time. 

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3. Use a smaller laundry bin. 

Smells often accumulate when damp clothing and towels spend days in a hamper. If the laundry bin can only hold one load’s worth of items, the clothes won’t languish as long. 

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4. Don’t overfill your washer.

According to Murphy, overpacking the washing machine prevents your laundry from having room to spin and move around the appliance. As a result, your detergent may not be able to get to all of your towels or pajamas, leaving some smelling cleaner than others. She advises washing a full set of sheets by itself and doing smaller loads of gym clothes at a time to ensure a fresh smell. 

Murphy also notes that washers are now more energy-efficient and require less water than older models. As a result, many people use more soap than they actually need to use. This can cause a build-up of formula, making your linens and clothing feel stiff and preventing your laundry from smelling clean. If your clothes, sheets, and towels don’t feel as sumptuous as they should, try an extra rinse cycle to help remove excess soap. 

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5. Seek out products with natural fragrances.

“The laundry detergent market really has come a long way in recent years and there are widely available phosphate-free detergents that have natural scents such as lavender or summer verbena if you still want a scented option,” says Murphy.

One of her favorite laundering brands that Pioneer Linens sells is Le Blanc, which contains fragrant linen waters to spritz on clothes before ironing and fragrance infusions to add to wash cycles that will give your laundry an elevated scent without the harsh chemicals.

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6. Use homemade citrus oils.

Mix one cup baking soda, one half cup Borax with one cup white vinegar and 20 drops of lemon or orange citrus oil. Add this mixture to your bottle of laundry detergent and use as normal.

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7. Try lavender water.

Add lavender water to a spray bottle and give your laundry a quick spritz before throwing it into the washer. Just enough scent will remain after drying to keep it smelling fresh for a long time. Don’t love lavender? Try your favorite essential oil. Rose water is another clean-smelling scent.

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8. Shop for peppermint laundry soap.

Try Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap for clean and fresh-smelling laundry without the chemicals that usually come with a scented detergent. (Always check your laundry machine’s manual to make sure there aren’t limits on the type of detergent you can use.)

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9. Get sustainable with reusable lavender dryer bags.

Dryer bags are easy to toss in and make three of four loads of nice smelling clothes. You can find them on Amazon or at Trader Joe’s.

10. Join the scented wool dryer ball trend.

Use the wool dryer balls you might already have to add a small amount of vanilla essential oil (or any other scent you love!) before every other cycle to kick up the fresh scent.

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11. Rely on scented paper towels for a budget-friendly option.

You can add a few drops of essential oil or a spritz of perfume to a sheet of paper towel and throw that into your dryer with the laundry.

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