I grew up in a house that faithfully relied on Bounce dryer sheets when washing clothes. I never really questioned the habit as I was taught load the clothes, add the detergent, put in a dryer sheet, put the clothes in, start the dryer. At various times, the laundry detergent we used varied, but it always Bounce dryer sheets... always! As I aged and started buying my own laundry stuff, I had to switch to the cheaper sheets. The clothes didn't smell Bounce awesome, but they were static free-- well mostly.
In fact, the Bounce sheets and smell are such a part of my parent's house that my dad washed and returned to us a blanket we left at his house that still smelled like Bounce months later. Although I'd had to switch the cheaper, not-so-long lasting sheets that usually reduced static, getting that awesome smelling blanket back reminded me of the house I grew up in, the warm, nice smelling clothes fresh out the dryer.
So, as I've shifted to DIY-ing, I've been trying to replace soaps and whatnot that have bad chemicals and provide cheaper yet efficient alternatives. My DIY missions are typically at least three-fold: ease, reduce chemicals, and save money. So, what to do about having softer clothes, reducing static clean, AND possibly having a nice smell?
Enter vinegar, aluminum foil, and essential oils.
After washing with my homemade liquid detergent, I set out to use the next three ingredients to make my clothes softer, static-free, and smell nice.
Vinegar as softener: I've added 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar to the last few loads of clothes I've washed. I put it in the fabric softener cup that sits atop the agitator after loading the clothes--while the water is still filling the machine. It could also be added to those Downy balls and tossed in with the clothes.
Outcome: The clothes are soft. And NO they do NOT smell like vinegar.
You should, however, be cautious not to add too much because vinegar is a form of acid.
I've read other websites that suggest adding the vinegar to machine during the rinse cycle. Since I grew up using dryer sheets only and have never added liquid softener to the wash during the rinse cycle and have NO desire to watch the machine and wait for the rinse cycle (aren't washing machines the ultimate set it and forget its?), I'll stick to adding it in the beginning. ;-)
Aluminum foil to reduce static: Take 1 sheet of clean aluminum foil, ball it up to create a ball between 2 and 3 inches big and toss in dryer with wet clothes. You can use 2 to 3 balls depending on the size of the load you're drying. These balls can be used for up to 6 months OR until they start tearing.
Outcome: No static cling!
If you're like me, when you first read that you thought, "HUH? Won't it catch fire?"
Trust me, I've read pages and pages and pages about this and researched it for weeks and weeks, and the only negative thing I've read is that the balls didn't really reduce the static cling as much as the person wanted. After drying my own towels and testing it for myself, I can say I'm happy with the lack of static and no, there wasn't a fire. The balls weren't even warm when I took them out of the dryer.
And as one commenter on this page stated, "foil is non-combustible" and "dryers use indirect heat." So, when I thought about the indirect heat, I thought about foil going in ovens and on grills. I'm not a science whiz in any way, but that's what I considered.
Essential oil for smell: Put 6 to 7 drops of essential oil (I used lavender) on a damp rag and toss into dryer with wet clothes. If you're washing towels, just drip the oil onto one of the wash cloths. If you're NOT washing towels, keep one or two go-to rags in the laundry area to dampen and drip essential oil on.
Outcome: With only 6 to 7 drops of the essential oil, the clothes have a very mild nice smell. I suppose if I want a stronger smell, I'll just increase the number of drops.
My first foray with using the essential oil to make my clothes smell good was with towels, so I just dripped the lavender oil onto one of the damp wash cloths. However, my plans are to cut up old towels and use these regularly.
So, yeah, I now have to do three things to have softer, static-free, great smelling clothes, but 1) I had all these things at home anyway, so it wasn't like I had to go out and buy new stuff; 2) vinegar and foil are staples that everyone keeps in the house and are relatively cheap even if I had to buy them; and 3) my quest to get the chemicals out of my laundrying might just be conquered.
Number 3 alone is worth the few extra steps.
Happy DIY-ing. :-)