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What Are Dryer Sheets?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

Other Uses

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.


Disadvantages

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.

Alternatives

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.

Detergent sheets are a convenient and effective solution for making the laundry process as seamless as using dryer sheets. Just like how dryer sheets enhance the drying experience, the best laundry sheets are designed to simplify the washing step. These detergent sheets are pre-measured and pre-loaded with the right amount of detergent, making it easy to toss one into the washing machine. They dissolve quickly in water, ensuring that your laundry gets the perfect amount of cleaning power. With the best laundry sheets, you can achieve clean, fresh-smelling clothes without the hassle of measuring out liquid or powder detergents.

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Discussion Comments
By anon320023 — On Feb 15, 2013

One thing I have noticed without heavy experimentation is that dryer sheets cause my clothes to shrink more than they would without the sheets. I've stopped the use of them, but other members of my household continue to use them. of course, like a great majority of other things in life, there are positives and negatives to using dryer sheets.

By lasertek — On Jan 29, 2013

This product has a lot of uses. One can reuse the the dryer sheets as shoes or book freshener. Good for scrubbing off soap scums too. Ever tried it as an insect repellant?

By anon195707 — On Jul 12, 2011

Vinegar with a little lemon or orange extract (from the pantry or grated fresh off the fruit skin) works as a fabric softener and gives a nice scent. I am going to try the reusable sheets and spray them with this before use.

The residue in dryer sheets accumulates on the dryer filter, and over time, will reduce the air flow out of the filter. Clean them periodically with isopropyl alcohol. Allow the filter to dry completely before putting it back in the dryer.

By anon145324 — On Jan 23, 2011

dryer sheets are not designed as air fresheners. they will cause more harm to your respiratory system than standard artificial fragrances. if you don't know what is in the dryer sheets, or are ignorant of the harm it does, then you avoid further use.

By anon140582 — On Jan 07, 2011

If you use liquid clothes softener in your wash, and you forget to put it in, put about a tsp on a small rag or wash cloth and throw it in the dryer with your clothes. Works quite well. I started using that instead of dryer sheets.

By anon101575 — On Aug 04, 2010

I am using Suavitel Dryer sheets and I'm very happy about it!

By anon78607 — On Apr 19, 2010

who invented the dryer sheet because i can't find it anywhere!

By anon59408 — On Jan 08, 2010

You can also stuff a few of them into the cardboard from an old toilet roll and use it to stop weed stinking up your house.

By anon59298 — On Jan 07, 2010

you can also use them (unused dryer sheets) to eliminate static in your hair.

By anon54290 — On Nov 29, 2009

You forgot to mention that dryer sheets are essential to removing the lint from the dryer filter that collects it from your clothes. Just use one to brush away all that lint as though it had never clung to the filter in the first place. Amazing stuff. I wonder if there is a spray form that is non-carcinogenic?

By batman — On Jun 04, 2009

Dryer sheets chase away bats. Had them roost above a door way 14 feet up. Put up dryer sheets and the bats are no longer sitting there at night, How come?

By anon30463 — On Apr 19, 2009

How does Hand-Maid X-Static eliminate static?

Where does the electricity go?

By anon26112 — On Feb 08, 2009

If you are from the deep South, you should know what love bugs are. They are a nuisance that covers you car and extremely hard to remove. They tend to come in the summer by the thousands.

The dryer sheets work wonderfully on removing them from you car. Just dampen them, with a little elbow grease and they should wash right off. I've never had any problem with it doing any damage to the paint. Good luck cleaning!

By anon18383 — On Sep 22, 2008

A Dryer Sheet tucked into your top pocket helps keep mosquitos away.

By qwillspen — On Jul 30, 2008

When did dryer sheets appear on the USA market?

By bigmetal — On Feb 01, 2008

some environmentally friendly companies are also making a dryer sheet that does leave a scent and can be reused two to three times. is it possible to make a homemade fabric softener using things around the house?

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