Research by an international team of scientists could speed up manufacturers' assessment of fabric softeners' efficiency and potentially help get newer, more environmentally friendly products to the market faster.
The researchers, based in France and Singapore, set out to devise a new method to look more closely at the interaction between cotton fabric and fabric softeners as a first step toward developing more eco-friendly products.
Fabric softeners' main ingredients are surfactants, which are compounds that stick to clothing during the rinse cycle and make them feel softer.
Scientists have been studying fabric softeners for decades, and many believe surfactants work by forming a lubricating layer on clothing. However, no-one had established exactly how the softeners work on a molecular level.
The researchers studied how a double-tailed cationic surfactant, which is often used in commercial fabric softeners, would combine with natural cellulose nanocrystals - a stand-in for cotton - using multiple techniques including light scattering and optical and electron microscopy.
The study appears in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B, an organ of the American Chemical Society.