Alternatives to dryer sheets: why dryer sheets are bad

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Tumble dryer sheets are one of those ubiquitous cleaning products that can be found in the laundry aisle of most retail stores and many people’s laundry rooms. However, even if you buy and use them regularly, you might not necessarily know what dryer sheets are made of and how they work. After all, this is just one of many laundry-related products, including fragrance boosters and fabric softeners, that claim to improve the smell and feel of your clothes. But are they really good for your clothes and the environment?

Here’s what you need to know about dryer sheets, and why you might want to consider using spare dryer sheets for future laundry loads.

What are dryer sheets made of and how do they work?

Dryer sheets were said to have been first introduced to the United States by Procter & Gamble in 1975 under the brand name Bounce, but today you can find dryer sheets from many different brands. According to Chemistry and Engineering NewsMost dryer sheets are generally constructed from a “softening agent coated nonwoven polyester material”.

Drying sheets operate in the same way that a liquid fabric softener does, reducing static electricity, making clothes softer and adding fragrance. When you place a dryer sheet with your wet clothes, the dryer melts the softening agent, causing the residue to transfer to your clothes. The slip feeling of the residue makes you feel the clothes are softer.

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Are the drying sheets bad?

Basically every time you use a dryer sheet you are adding a chemical coating to your clothes, and in some cases that can be a bad idea. For example, using dryer sheets or fabric softeners on babies’ or children’s clothes can make them less flame retardant.

Drying sheets can also make microfiber towels less absorbent over time and reduce the moisture-wicking properties of sportswear. This is because the chemical coating builds up every time you tumble dry your laundry with a dryer sheet.

CNet reports that the chemical coating also covers the inside of your dryer, which could possibly make it more difficult to remove lint from the lint trap. More, a 2011 study found that the scents that are often added to drying sheets can be linked to “eye and respiratory tract irritation, contact dermatitis, migraines and asthmatic reactions”.

Finally, there is also the planet to think about. As a single-use, disposable product, dryer sheets contribute to environmental waste and have been shown to emit volatile organic compounds into the air dryer vents. This could potentially affect both air quality and human health, although more research is needed.

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What are the safest drying sheets to use?

If you like the convenience of dryer sheets and don’t want to give it up, consider using a eco-friendly drying sheet, like a reusable dryer sheet, a fragrance-free option or other dryer sheet that meets the requirements for an EPA “safer choice†label.

Can you dry clothes without a tumble dryer sheet?

In short, yes! You absolutely do not need to use dryer sheets when drying your clothes. Fortunately, if you decide to forgo dryer sheets, that doesn’t mean you have to live with rigid, static clothes. You can find more environmentally friendly and reusable dryer sheet alternatives that will help add sweetness to your laundry without using chemical coatings and synthetic fragrances designed to withstand high temperatures.

Alternative to drying sheet: PVC drying ball
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The best drying sheet alternatives

  • Dryer Balls: Whether woolen or plastic, dryer balls help lift and separate clothes as they rotate around your dryer, creating more air circulation and allowing laundry to dry faster. Wool drying balls are also naturally fragrance-free and have the added benefit of being able to absorb moisture, further speeding up the drying process. They also agitate against other fibers, providing softness. In addition, since they are reusable, the dryer balls can be used several times before needing to be replaced.
  • Soap nuts: Consider using soap nuts as a replacement for dryer sheets and laundry detergent. Soap nuts are a chemical-free product that washes and softens clothes.
  • Aluminum Foil: If static electricity is your main laundry problem, you can combat it with something you probably already have in your kitchen: aluminum foil. Simply shape sheets of foil into a ball shape with your hands and add several to your laundry to help reduce static electricity and keep clothes separate. However, keep in mind that aluminum will not make your clothes softer.
  • DIY Alternatives: You can also DIY your own dryer sheet alternatives by adding a splash of scented vinegar to your laundry rinse cycle, or use everyone’s favorite all-purpose household cleaner, 1/2 cup of baking soda.
  • Make your own: Make your own reusable dryer sheets from an old T-shirt or cotton cloth and up to 30 drops of essential oil. Let the leaves soak in the oil, then pat dry. It takes a bit of effort, but it might be worth avoiding the chemicals used in commercial dryer sheets. Plus, you’ll save money by making your own instead of buying them.
  • Skip the drying cycle: Finally, skip drying completely and line dry or dry your clothes. This eliminates static cling since clothes will not rub together as they dry.

Want more laundry tips? Read these 10 tips that will help make washing your clothes more enjoyable.

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