Dryer sheets are durable, gauze-like tissues that can be put into dryers to eliminate static cling, soften clothes, and add fragrance. They are usually sold at laundromats and locations where laundry products such as detergent and fabric softener are available, commonly in pull-up dispensers that release one sheet at a time. Manufacturers offer several types, including natural and fragrance-free for consumers with environmental concerns or who have sensitive skin.
How They Work
When clothes tumble inside a dryer, friction causes an exchange of electrons on the surface of the fabric. Items that acquire excess electrons become negatively charged while those that lose electrons become positively charged. The differently charged fabric attracts and clings together, which can make it hard to pull apart for folding and may also cause a mild electrical shock, commonly referred to as static cling. Dryer sheets are coated with positively charged chemicals that rub off on the clothes in the presence of heat. With the clothes positively charged, they don't stick together.
Chemicals on the sheets can also act as lubricants, which make clothes feel softer and more flexible. This can make clothing easier to iron and care for. Wrinkling can also be decreased because the items are softer and have less static cling.
Most dryer sheets include a fragrance that is released during the drying cycle, coating the fibers along with the lubricants used to prevent static cling. A variety of scents are available, including smells designed to mimic the odor of clothes dried in the sun on a laundry line and various botanicals. These scents may keep clothes smelling fresher longer. Unscented sheets are also available for people who are sensitive to fragrances, or who simply prefer to avoid them.
Types of Dryer Sheets
In addition to the variety of scents available, there are several other basic types of dryer sheets. Those designed for sensitive skin often do not include ingredients like fragrance or dyes that can rub off on clothes and irritate the skin. Natural sheets typically rely on plant-based and biodegradable ingredients to soften clothing and reduce static. Cruelty-free sheets only use ingredients that are not tested on animals. These specialty sheets maybe more expensive than regular options, but may be worth it to some consumers.
Because of the anti-static, fragrance-rich properties of dryer sheets, some people like to use them for other household purposes. Both used and new sheets can be used in a variety of ways.
Some ways to reuse sheets:
- Rub them across clean mini-blinds to reduce dust build-up.
- Lightly wipe one over a TV screen or computer monitor to eliminate static cling.
- Clean soap scum off shower doors.
- Remove pet hair from garments and furniture.
Uses for new sheets:
- Place one in a drawer, closet, or garment bag to keep clothes smelling fresh.
- Insert a dryer sheet in each shoe at night to help eliminate odors.
- Put a sheet under the seats in a car to act as an air freshener.
- When pre-soaking dirty pans, stick a dryer sheet in the pan and add water and allow it to soak overnight. The lubricants will help release clingy food particles.
One of the biggest disadvantages of dryer sheets for many people is the expense. For large loads or extra softening, manufacturers sometimes recommend using one or two full sheets; for a family that has a lot of laundry, the cost can add up quickly. Dryer sheets should also not be used on children's clothing that has been treated with a fire retardant, as the chemicals in the sheets reduce the retardant's effectiveness. The lubricants in the sheets can sometimes cause oily stains on clothing if the dryer heat is set too high, and as the chemicals come off, they may coat and clog dryer filters.
Health and Environmental Concerns
There is some concern among certain groups over the use of dryer sheets, as some of the chemicals used are known carcinogens. Some are also respiratory irritants, which can be a concern when the heat from the dryer releases chemicals that may cause harm. It is important to properly vent laundry areas to prevent fires and ensure that any chemical byproducts end up outside, not in the laundry room.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the chemicals in dryer sheets based on the assumption that low percentages are present, and that chemicals passed from clothes to the skin would not penetrate. Critics argue that, since the ingredients are designed to linger to provide lasting protection, there is a risk they could rub off and be absorbed over time. They point to products like nicotine and birth control patches, which work by slowly releasing drugs through the skin, as evidence that chemicals can clearly be absorbed by the body in this way. These patches, however, come in higher doses than clothes treated with a dryer sheet, and they are worn continuously.
There are a number of alternatives to dryer sheets, although not all work as well or do as many things as dryer sheets do. Many people suggest using dryer balls — small rubber balls covered in little nubs or spikes that are added to the drying cycle. As the dryer turns, the balls bounce around, softening and separating the clothing, allowing it to dry more quickly. Wool balls, tennis balls, or balls of aluminum foil can be used in a similar way, although they may not be as effective at reducing static. Both dryer balls and tennis balls can make a lot of noise as they are tumbled in the dryer, however.
A piece of cloth soaked in fabric softener can become a reusable dryer sheet, although it may not be as effective as disposable ones. There are also reusable sheets for sale under various brand names, often made with fibers that counteract the static in the dryer. To add fragrance, a cloth sprinkled with essential oils or a small packet of scented herbs can be added to the drying clothes.
Some laundry issues can be reduced before the clothes go into the dryer. Some detergents lead to more static cling than others, so switching brands may help. Using less laundry detergent in general can also reduce static from the dryer. Fabric softener added to the rinse cycle of the washer can reduce static cling and add fragrance, as well as softening; adding vinegar to the rinse cycle can also soften clothes and get rid of some smells.
Reducing the amount of time that clothing spends in the dryer can do a lot to eliminate static. Line drying prevents static completely, but may take a long time — and requires the space to hang the clothing. Drying clothes only partially and putting them on hangers while still damp may save space and time, and still reduce or eliminate static cling.