Fabric conditioner: what does yours smell of? Which? sniff test reveals bizarre smells

23 November 2015


Fabric conditioners can smell of different things, from 'lightly floral' to 'musky and dank'

From 'freshness and daises' to an 'unhealthy burp', our blind sniff test of fabric conditioners revealed that what people think fabric conditioners smell of doesn't always match the label.

While we were rigorously testing fabric conditioners in our lab to find out which will make your laundry the softest, we also wanted to have a bit of fun at Which? HQ. With the fabric conditioner bottles hidden, we asked our researchers to say what they thought each fabric conditioner smelt of.

We were surprised by the range of comments – from ‘overpowering chemical assault’, ‘cheap aftershave’ and ‘cough medicine’, to more pleasant ‘bubble bath’, ‘sweet berry’ and ‘marzipan’.

Find out which fabric conditioner came top in our lab tests, go to our fabric conditioner review.

Fabric conditioners

For both our lab test and our office sniff test, we looked at big brands Comfort, Lenor, Ecover and Fairy, plus supermarket own-brands from Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Tesco and Waitrose. 

In our sniff test, we were amazed by the differences between people's opinions. Not only between the brands, but also for individual fabric conditioners. For example, one fabric condition's smell was likened to 'fruit, herbs, fresh', while someone else called the same conditioner 'really disgusting, like smelly feet.'

'Really disgusting, like smelly feet.'

Because people’s preference and interpretation of smell varies so widely, when we tested fabric conditioner in the lab we scored strength of smell - not whether it was nice. We rated it in the bottle, then on both wet and dry laundry, and then after seven days. 

All of the conditioners smelt stronger in the bottle. So if you like the smell of a conditioner, you'll need to look for the ones that scored three or more stars for strength of smell and long-lasting smell in our Which? test. 

You can see which ones scored higher by clicking to see our full fabric conditioner results.

Fabric conditioner softness

A lot of manufacturers make bold claims about how soft a fabric conditioner will make your clothes. In our lab test, we got 20 assessors to judge the washing after one wash and then again after five washes. They graded each result on a five-point scale - from no softness at all, to very soft.

This was the most important factor when scoring the conditioners overall - 60% of the score was attributed to softness, compared to 25% for strength of smell and 15% for long-lasting smell. There were big differences between the top scoring fabric conditioner (74%) and the fabric conditioner that came last in our test (48%).

To see which two fabric conditioners made the grade to become Best Buys, and to see our laundry experts' top tips on how to make your washing soft, visit our Best Buy fabric conditioners. 

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