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When To Use Bleach, Detergent, Fabric Softener, & Soap

The key to stepping up your laundry game begins with understanding laundry detergent ingredients. Find out more about the different types of enzymes in laundry detergents like the Signature Detergent and how they work to remove stains, odors, oils, and pesky lint and fuzz.

Ever wonder which laundry detergent to use? What's the best laundry detergent? When to use fabric softener? Is fabric softener necessary? Or, why use fabric softener at all? What are fabric softener's uses? Want to get your whites whiter, but have doubts about using bleach or detergent with bleach?

Discover the All Purpose Bleach Alternative a gentle, non-chlorine bleach alternative and other fabric care products that set themselves apart.

What's the difference between detergent and soap?

Detergent is simply a fabric soap that includes enzymes. In some countries, detergent may be referred to as a "bio" or "biological" formulation. Examples of detergents are Tide and Signature Detergent.

Enzymes are an important part of the cleaning process when washing fabrics. However, enzymes cannot be used on wool, and certain enzymes cannot be used on silk. That's why you can't wash wool or silk with detergent.

A laundry soap that does not include enzymes is not considered to be a detergent. Instead, it may be called "soap," "wash," or go by another name. In some countries, soap is referred to as "non-bio" or "non-biological." Two examples of laundry soap are Woolite (a petroleum-derived soap) and Wool & Cashmere Shampoo (a plant-derived formula specifically designed for the best care of woolens).

How does detergent work?

Detergents contain various enzymes, depending on the detergent brand. Each enzyme has a specific target, the same way enzymes work during your digestive process. During the cleaning process, enzymes grab, break down, and remove various particles, which are then suspended in the water by the surfactant system. During the rinse cycle, the particles are washed away.

Unlike most other brands, The Laundress detergents are very sophisticated, containing a high concentration of four different enzymes: protease removes protein stains, amylase removes starches, lipase removes oils, and cellulose removes soil particles like lint and fuzz.

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Fabric Softener & Dryer Sheets

Fabric softener adds a coating onto fabrics that makes fibers feel smooth (and nice!). When washing cottons and linens only, use fabric conditioner (also called fabric softener) or dryer sheets to add scent, reduce static, decrease drying time, and ease ironing. While some detergents may have some conditioner in their formula, fabric conditioner is not the same as detergent.

Which is better: fabric softener or dryer sheets?

The properties and function of fabric conditioner and dryer sheets are the same. Dryer sheets consist of dry, non-woven material coated in fabric conditioner. It's generally more effective to use liquid softener, which is more concentrated.

Do not use fabric conditioner/softener or dryer sheets with:

Flame-retardant items (e.g., children's sleepwear), silk, wool, or synthetics. Fabric conditioner coating reduces the absorbency of fibers. Therefore, we do not recommend using softener with towels. If you prefer the feel of towels after using softener, use it only with every other wash.

Is fabric softener made from animal byproducts?

Most grocery store-brand softeners are made from tallow (animal fat). Fabric Conditioner Classic, however, is made from plant-derived ingredients and does not include any animal products. We're tallow-free, using canola instead.

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Chlorine Bleach & Oxygen Bleach

Chlorine bleach:

The Laundress does not recommend using chlorine bleach with laundry.

Here's why:

  • Chlorine bleach laundry detergent's ingredients are not safe!
  • Laundry bleach weakens and deteriorates fabrics over time and can cause yellowing.
  • Chlorine detergent cancels out detergent in the washing cycle by deactivating the cleaning enzymes.
  • It can produce harmful acids or poisonous gases when mixed with other (non-Laundress) cleaning products.
  • Laundry detergent with bleach cannot be used on certain stains (e.g., rust stains).
  • It cannot be used on certain fabrics (e.g., silks, woolens, or synthetics).

Oxygen bleach (or bleach alternative/detergent without bleach):

In place of chlorine bleach, The Laundress uses a bleach alternative called sodium per carbonate. This gentle, color-safe, chlorine-free oxygen bleaching system is ideal to whiten and brighten both laundry items and the home. We love our All-Purpose Bleach Alternative product. We love using oxygen bleach (especially our bleach alternative product).

Here's why:

  • It is color-safe!
  • It doesn't weaken or deteriorate fabrics and never causes yellowing.
  • It enhances the detergent during the washing cycle.
  • It removes most stains and odors.
  • It successfully fights dinginess and brightens colors.
  • It has antibacterial, deodorizing, and sanitizing properties.
  • It's nontoxic and doesn't emit toxic gases.

Caution: Our All-Purpose Bleach Alternative product is safe for all fabrics EXCEPT silk, wool, and leather.

When should I use oxygen bleach/bleach alternative or laundry booster?

Oxygen bleach/bleach alternative is also known as "laundry booster." Use this product to combat dull colors, dingy whites, and odors. Add to wash loads of cottons, linens, and durable synthetics. Never use with wool, silk, or leather.