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Can Fabric Softener Stain Clothes?

white fabric in a drawer

Have your white clothes become gray and dingy? It could be from using fabric softener. Find out more about fabric softener stains and what to do about them.

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I have a Maytag Bravo washing machine that is not quite 2 years old. Up until recently I have had white whites. For some reason, my whites are slowing getting this gray, dingy color. I have used the same detergent for years with no problem: Tide for the detergent , Clorox and Downy fabric softener in the rinse cycle. The only change I have made in the last few months is the HE Clorox. What do you believe is causing the dinginess?


Thanks for your question; this is intriguing. Usually the new HE washers do a pretty good cleaning job. Your washing regimen may be the issue. I don’t think your use of Clorox® HE Bleach contributed to the observation as it was specially formulated for HE machines with a little higher bleach active level, slightly thicker consistency for easier pouring and special ingredients for extra whitening.

My best guess would be that the continual use of fabric softener is the culprit. The softener active deposits on the fabric leaving a slightly greasy material that provides a better “feel” after drying. Unfortunately, not all the softener is removed in the next wash. This is why the towels sometimes don’t seem as absorbent over time, as the fibers are coated with the active and can’t pick up as much water. Worse, this leftover residue can attract and hold dirt and body oils which the detergent can’t remove. You might back off the softener and continue the hot water washes for a period to test this hypothesis.

Washing in hot water will get the maximum cleaning, so if you were washing in warm or cold, I would expect to see the problem even more. Lastly, it could be a change in water quality has occurred. Sometimes hard water and liquid detergents can lead to poorer cleaning.