More Wearer Comfort Desired
Fabric softeners came on the market around half a century ago. This was due to higher consumer demands on the wearer comfort of laundry and was facilitated by the fact that manufacturers had been changing the formulation of their detergents since the late 1950s. Soaps that had previously been used were replaced by anionic and nonionic surfactants. These surfactants are very powerful and, unlike soap, they do not leave residues of calcium soap and unsaponified fats on textile fibers. However, while this makes fabrics extremely clean, they remain hard and scratch. So, as a sort of “balancer,” the fabric softener must contain cationic surfactants.
Fabric softeners are added in the final rinse cycle. Not only do they impart on laundry the softness and wearer comfort that consumers are looking for, they also accomplish many other tasks. For example, fragrances give laundry a fresh smell. In addition, fabric softeners reduce friction between textile fibers, thus protecting the fabric during the spin cycle and making it wrinkle-resistant. Moreover, they decrease the static charge in synthetic fibers. During ironing, the friction between fibers and the metal of the iron is also reduced, which makes for faster ironing and reduces energy consumption.