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Can You Mix Laundry Detergent With Fabric Softener? + Alternatives

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Doing the laundry can be a real drag, and the last thing anyone wants to do is prolong this chore with additional tedious steps. If you use both laundry detergent and fabric softener, you may wonder if you can skip a step and add these two solutions simultaneously.

You can’t add laundry detergent and fabric softener to your washing machine simultaneously. The cleaning agents in the laundry detergent will wash away the fabric softener during the wash cycle, rendering it ineffective.

In this article, I’ll give a more in-depth explanation for why you shouldn’t mix laundry detergent with fabric softener, which one of these you should add first, and offer alternatives to manually adding both to help save time.

What Happens When You Mix Laundry Detergent With Fabric Softener?

Most modern washing machines have separate compartments for fabric softener and laundry detergent. These compartments are designed to release the laundry detergent and fabric softener into the laundry drum at different times. 

Mixing laundry detergent with fabric softener will lower the efficacy of your fabric softener. Modern washing machines have different compartments for the laundry detergent and fabric softener because it releases them into the laundry drum at different times in the cycle. 

A fabric softener, sometimes called a fabric conditioner, is intended to soften the fibers of your clothes, reduce static cling, and alleviate wrinkles. 

It’s a gentle additive that usually includes fragrance and is intended to be added to the laundry drum in the final stage of the washing cycle. Washing machines release fabric softener in the last rinse cycle to remain on clothes when they’re removed from the washer.

Think of laundry detergent and fabric softener as shampoo and conditioner. The shampoo (laundry detergent) is designed to go on your hair first and clean it of any dirt and debris. Then, after it has been thoroughly cleaned, the conditioner (fabric softener) goes on your hair to make it soft, work out any tangles, and leave it smelling fresh. 

Do You Put Detergent First or Fabric Softener?

Now that you understand why you have to put laundry detergent and fabric softener in at different times, the question is, which one do you put in first?

You should always put laundry detergent first to your wash load before adding the fabric softener. The cleaning agents in laundry detergent are strong enough to wash the fabric softener off your clothes if it’s added any sooner than the final rinse cycle.

Fortunately, most of the guesswork is removed for you using modern washing machines. The compartments release your laundry detergent and fabric softener at the appropriate times, meaning you don’t have to watch over your laundry and determine when to add the fabric softener manually. 

Add laundry detergent first.

But if you have an older washing machine that doesn’t have a separate fabric softener compartment, you’ll have to keep an eye on your load and manually add the fabric softener at the appropriate time.

If you’re looking for an accessible alternative to adding fabric softener yourself, continue reading the next section.

Fabric Softener Goes in Your Wash Loads During the Final Rinse Cycle

Fabric softener should be added last.

You should add fabric softener to your wash load during the final rinse cycle for the best results. Adding a fabric softener at this stage ensures that it won’t get washed off by the laundry detergent, and it can be diluted by the water entering the laundry drum during the rinse cycle.

Fabric softener should never be added directly to your clothing before or after the wash cycle, or it may stain your clothing. Fabric softener is made with oils designed to soften your clothing and emulsifiers that allow these oils to become water-soluble. 

You must add fabric softener to your clothing when there’s enough water so your clothes won’t stain due to oil coming into direct contact with them.

Learn if you can mix laundry detergent and bleach here.

Alternative: 2-in-1 Laundry Detergent & Fabric Softener

A straightforward alternative to separately adding laundry detergent and fabric softener is to buy a 2-in-1 detergent and softener. These solutions are designed to clean your clothes and soften them without the laundry detergent inactivating the fabric softener.

If you’re looking to keep your laundry routine simple, you can buy one of these 2-in-1 detergents and softeners, such as Tide with Touch of Downy, from This detergent is specifically formulated with softening agents to clean and soften your clothes.

Some of these 2-in-1 solutions come in pods rather than detergents that you measure into each load. These work in the same way that the compartments in your washing machine work by putting the laundry detergent into a different section of the pod than the fabric softener.

The membranes surrounding these two solutions dissolve at different rates, meaning they’re released into your laundry drums at different times of the washing cycle.

If you prefer laundry pods to liquid detergents, consider purchasing these Tide Pods 4-in-1 with Downy from, which not only contain detergent and softener but stain remover and brightening agents as well.

Alternative: Fabric Softener Ball

Similar to a 2-in-1 detergent, fabric softener balls take the elbow grease and guesswork out of adding fabric softener to your loads of wash.

Fabric softener balls like the Downy Ball Fabric Softener Dispenser from make adding fabric softener simple. You just fill the ball with fabric softener and place it directly into the drum of your washing machine. 

The ball will dispense the fabric softener into your load of laundry at the appropriate time, triggered by the spinning of the washing machine during the last rinse cycle. 

Final Thoughts

You want your clothes to be as clean, fresh-smelling, and soft as possible. For that reason, using fabric softener in addition to your laundry detergent is ideal. 

But adding another step to your laundry routine can be tedious and potentially challenging. 

You should never add fabric softener to your laundry load before laundry detergent, or the cleaning agents in the detergent will wash away the effects of the softener.

If you don’t want to add your fabric softener manually, consider a 2-in-1 laundry detergent and fabric softener as an alternative. 

I have also written a complete guide on everything you can mix with laundry detergent that may interest you to read next.

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