Why Do We Use Dryer Sheets?

(Last Updated On: December 4, 2019)

Why Do We Use Dryer Sheets?

If you’ve ever done the laundry before, you’ve probably used dryer sheets at some point in your life. Hopefully you’ve done laundry before. Dear god please tell us you’re capable of doing your own laundry! Anyway, even if your mom still washes your clothes, you at least know what a dryer sheet is. But do you know why we use them in the first place? What do dryer sheets do exactly?

What Do Dryer Sheets Do?

Believe it or not, dryer sheets serve a functional purpose. Whether or not the value proposition is worth it is up to you, though. Not using a dryer sheet won’t ruin your clothes or anything. But if you use dryer sheets and then forgot to use them one day, maybe you found that your clothes had some static zest to them, with a tendency to stick together. They might have been a little stiffer or at least not as soft. If you’ve ever rubbed a balloon on your head, you might know that the static comes from the accumulation of electrons–ergo a negative charge.

Enter fabric softener, which is positively charged. Because you’re starting the dryer cycle with a positive charge, the buildup of negative charge cancels out the positive charge of the fabric softener. Though, the fabric softener was introduced to cancel out the negative charge in the first place. Basically, you now have a system with both positive and negative charge, preventing static buildup. Hence, theoretically softer and less “static-y” clothes.

As an aside, some of the softness comes from fatty compounds and oils in the softener as well, which coats clothes and makes things feel softer. 

Now time to tie it all together–dryer sheets do all the things fabric softener does, because pouring stuff into the machine was too tedious and we’d rather just throw a napkin into the thing and call it a day. There are also things like scents and stuff lumped in with dryer sheets. Makes clothes seem cleaner, we suppose.

Dryer Sheets & Your Health

If the section title made your spidey sense tingle, you probably figure that dryer sheets have some weird, potentially harmful connections with your health. Luckily, you’re not going to suddenly get the flu or anything like that from simply using dryer sheets. But remember the scents we were talking about earlier in respect to dryer sheets?

Yeah, it turns out a lot of manufacturers don’t necessarily disclose what chemicals they use. Here’s a paper on it. If you’re sensitive to these chemicals, this could be a problem. Given that at least 10% of people have a “fragrance sensitivity” condition, it’s definitely not cool that this information isn’t disclosed. 

A quick side note. We say “at least 10%” because the source we linked says 30% of a surveyed population, but another source said 12.4%. Take that for what you will. The way we see it, it’s one of those things where the information should be disclosed. Kind of like how there’s an FDA number of “acceptable percentage of rat parts” in your food, and we don’t like how that number is not equal to 0%. 

In fairness, we understand that you can’t get everything when you’re dealing with rat bits, but at least tell someone you have chemicals that can be health issues in your air freshers? At least you can go for fragrance-free dryer sheets.

Dryer Sheet Alternatives?

Want another reason not to use dryer sheets? They’re designed for single use. Think about how often you do the laundry (hopefully it’s regularly). Over time, that’s a lot of one-time-use sheets you’re throwing away. Hopefully we don’t have to explain why that’s a problem for the Earth. But what alternatives to dryer sheets are out there?

We went over what dryer sheets actually do earlier. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Add fragrance
  • Get rid of static
  • Soften clothes

If you only care about getting rid of static, you can throw in one of those spiky, rubber dryer balls. They help things dry a tad faster too. Some report balled up aluminum foil or tennis balls are cheaper (but less effective) alternatives. 

You could also make your own reusable dryer sheet by soaking some cloth in fabric softener so you don’t have to throw the thing away. We’ve been told hair condition might work too? 

Some throw in white vinegar, since it does have some anti-static properties and fabric softening properties. Fun fact, they’re also good at getting rid of mildew.

Further Reading: What’s the Difference Between Mold and Mildew?

So Why Dryer Sheets?

What’s nice about a lot of the alternatives we just listed is the whole environment thing; these are mostly reusable. So in the long run, you’re probably saving a bit of money. The Earth will thank you too.

But, at the end of the day, you’ll probably also get by without doing any of this stuff and just passing on the dryer sheet altogether. If comfort or not having static is important to you, these alternatives might not only be cheaper, but they’re definitely less trash to generate. 

The point is; dryer sheets are dumb. Consider using something else that does the same thing. 

Like fabric? Here’s a fabric related word ladder.



About Kyler 707 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.