Using Fabric Softener To Prevent Your Sheets From Pilling

Last Updated on March 30, 2023

Recently we spoke about how to remove pilling from sheets. But how can you prevent it from happening altogether?

Cotton is a natural fiber, and just like your skin or hair, it needs a little TLC to keep it looking and feeling its best. Pilling is the fabric version of split ends in your hair.

When you have split ends, it’s usually because you haven’t taken care of your hair right?


a strand of hair with split ends


In the same way that your hair needs conditioner to feel soft and silky, so do your sheets!

When the cotton fibers in your sheets develop split ends, those loose fibers ball up in your washing machine and dryer – and you’re left with fuzz balls and pilling.

So to prevent fuzz balls and pilling on your sheets, you really just need to maintain them better!

Pilling can be caused at various points in the maintenance cycle. Let’s analyze how you do your laundry and maintain your sheets, and figure out where your issue is.


First Step – Fabric Softener

The strands of cotton that make up your sheets are no different than your actual hair. They need a little TLC to prevent splintering.

With your hair, you use conditioner. With your sheets, you use fabric softener. Both products work in similar ways.

Fabric softener does more than just keep your fabrics soft – it actually strengthens the cotton yarns, reduces static electricity, and makes your fabrics more durable, which adds durability.

So it’s important to use a good quality fabric softener – not just the cheap stuff that you find at dollar stores.

What is a good quality fabric softener? We like the Ultra Cool Cotton Liquid Fabric Conditioner from Downy.


a container of Downy Ultra fabric softener


How Fabric Softener Plays A Role – Part 1

Even if you don’t add conditioner to your hair care routine, your hair is constantly renewed, and grown by your hair follicles.

The cotton in your sheets is a final product – it doesn’t regenerate, or self-maintain. It’s completely dependent on you. Fabric softeners contain materials that lubricate the cotton fibers in your sheets. This lubrication provides body and elasticity to the cotton fibers.

This makes them stronger, less prone to splintering, and allows the fabric to bounce back when pulled or stretched.


infographic comparing detergent alone vs detergent + Downy



How Fabric Softener Plays A Role – Part 2

Fabric softener has another job. It also reduces static.

The detergents that you use to wash your clothing are negatively charged to help loosen soil and stains. Fabric softener contains a positive charge to neutralize everything.

How does static build-up affect your sheets?

Think about how your hair stands up or gets frizzy when staticky. Individual strands of hair go rogue and separate from the overall group right?

The tiny fibers in cotton act the same way.


static making a woman's hair stand up


When these tiny little fibers stray, the agitation and tumbling from the washing and drying process pulls on them, causing them to unravel from the main cotton yarn, and ball up – or pill.

The positive charge provided by fabric softener prevents this static build-up.


Second Step – Using Fabric Softener Correctly

You might have been doing your laundry wrong this entire time. Maybe.

It all depends on how and when you use your detergent and fabric softener. If you add them to your washing machine together – at the same time – you’re doing it wrong.

FYI – If you use a fabric softener, you don’t need to use a dryer sheet when drying.


Front-loaders And Top-loaders

If you have a newer machine, which has dispensers, then you can disregard this, as your machine knows when to add the appropriate product, during the appropriate cycle.

Go ahead and add the fabric softener to the dispensing tray, or the cup in the column as you normally would.

a capful of Downy being added to a washing machine


Older Style Machines

If you have an older washing machine – one where you add the detergent and fabric softener directly on top of your laundry, there’s a right way and a wrong way.

Adding them together completely neutralizes the fabric softener – it’s as if you never even added it in the first place!

The detergent is supposed to remove stains, soil, and the previous fabric softener’s residue. It also prevents the fresh fabric softener from conditioning the current load.

So, you’ll have to add your fabric softener during the rinse cycle, once the detergent has been washed out.

Measuring fabric softener in the cap


What And When Is The Rinse Cycle?

After you load your dirty laundry into the machine and add your detergent, choose your temperature and time settings, and close the top. Then press start.

The column will start to spin to agitate the dirty garments to remove your stains. This is the wash cycle. After the wash cycle is done, the machine will stop, and the dirty water gets pumped out – the spin cycle.

When the spin cycle stops, you’ll hear the machine start to fill up with water – this is the rinse cycle, and now is the time for your fabric softener.

Open the top door, add the fabric softener, and wait for the machine to finish.


Is There An Easier Way?

If waiting for the different cycles sounds like a bit of work – and admittedly it is – there is an easier way. You can just use the Downy Ball automatic dispenser!


a Downy ball used for dispensing fabric softener


Here’s How It Works:

  1. Fill the ball with the appropriate amount of fabric softener
  2. Drop the ball into the washing machine at the same time as the detergent
  3. Pull the ring to seal the ball

That’s it!

During the wash cycle, the ball will just float around, and hold the fabric softener inside itself. The spinning of the rinse cycle jars the ring loose, allowing the liquid inside to flow out.

the ring of a Downy ball being pulled and sealed



Third Step – Repeat Every Week

Most people simply don’t wash their sheets often enough.

Would you wear the same shirt every day for a few weeks without washing it? Probably not right? But most people go for weeks – sometimes months – before they wash their sheets.

Besides the fact that your sheets get dirty, there’s another reason to wash them more often. Sheets endure a lot of abuse.

They are used daily – for about 8 hours by most people. While you’re in bed, you are constantly rubbing against the fabric. This constant rubbing accumulates wear and tear, which weakens the cotton fibers.

This friction also removes the protective layer provided by the fabric softener.

To keep your sheets looking new, smelling fresh, and feeling soft, wash them once a week (or even every 4 or 5 days).

You add conditioner to your hair just as often, so why not care for your sheets as frequently?


Why Not Just Use Dryer Sheets?

There was an emphasis in this article towards fabric softener – whereas most of us these days are used to using dryer sheets.

And you could very well skip the fabric softener entirely, and just use a dryer sheet when you dry the laundry.

While dryer sheets work perfectly to reduce the static, they don’t actually condition your garments as well as a good quality fabric softener.

They are the microwave version of softening your fabrics.

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