Do You Need Dryer Sheets?

November 26, 2014

You empty all your pockets, separate the colors, tote them to the car, and drive to your favorite laundromat... but oh no! You forgot the dryer sheets! The moment of indecision arrives. You ask yourself, should I drive back and get the dryer sheets? Should I run to the nearby store and buy a whole new box of them? And finally... do I really need dryer sheets? Why am I spending so much money on those things anyway!?
Almost everyone forgets their dryer sheets at least once... or they run out of them and wonder if they actually need to buy more. In this article, we will explore this common question and related questions.


What Do Dryer Sheets Actually Do Anyway?
Sometimes we end up doing things just because we saw our parents, older siblings, or friends do it even though we don't actually know why we do these things. Using dryer sheets falls into this category for many people. So, let's solve that mystery now.
Dryer sheets were originally invented as an alternative to liquid fabric softener because in the 1950s, washing machines did not have a separate place to put your fabric softener so it would be automatically added to the clothes during the rinse cycle. If it was added at the beginning of a wash, it made the detergent less effective. However, to add fabric softener at just the right time was a hassle and people often mistimed it. Putting the fabric softener chemicals in a sheet that could be thrown in the dryer eliminated this problem. However, another problem was created in the process. Many of the chemicals used to "soften" clothes are mildly toxic, even more toxic to children and sensitive adults, and they don't get rinsed out when they are added during drying.
Soon after dryer sheets were invented, manufacturers started adding additional toxic chemicals that prevented static electricity, the so called "cling free" chemicals. Later still, artificial fragrances were added to dryer sheets, all of which are toxic to some degree, and some are more toxic than others.
Thus, in summary, modern dryer sheets have three purposes:
1. Make clothes, towels, and bedding feel softer.
2. Eliminate static electricity so your laundry doesn't cling together and/or shock you.
3. Make your laundry smell good.
The problem is that these purposes, as legitimate as they are, create other problems, primarily toxicity, to people and to the environment. Below, we will discuss some alternatives that give the same positive results as dryer sheets but do not create additional problems, i.e. they are effective yet non-toxic eco-friendly alternatives.


How Do Dryer Sheets Get Rid Of Static Electricity?
The answer to this question requires a mini science lesson, but don't worry, we're not going to get too technical! Think back to when you were a child. You probably played a silly game where you purposefully shuffled your socks and/or shoes against the carport as you walked. This would cause the electrons in the carpet to break loose and build up inside your body as static electricity. If you did this enough, you could sneak up behind someone and "zap" them with your fingertips, or alternately, make their hair "magically" stand on end by holding your hands a few inches above their head. Ah, the good ol' days... great fun!
The same basic principle happens to your laundry at the laundromat as it rubs against the sides of the dryer over and over again. Electrons break loose and they build up in some pieces of your laundry while other pieces lose electrons. As a result, you get negatively charged pieces of laundry (those with extra electrons) and positively charged pieces of laundry (those with less electrons than normal). The positives attract the negatives and voila! You get static cling. In fact, you'll likely get really bad static cling if you over-dry your clothes because water stamps out static electricity, and the longer you dry your clothes, the more loose electrons you'll generate.


Do You Actually Need Dryer Sheets?
Okay, let's return to the original question. Do you actually need dryer sheets? If you go to the laundromat and forget the dryer sheets, do you need to go back and get them? The short answer is "no" because there are alternatives that work just as well, if not better! Plus, these alternatives are non-toxic and much cheaper!
One of the simplest alternatives to dryer sheets is to simply add one-half cup of plain white vinegar to your laundry. It's best to put this into the same place you'd add liquid fabric softener. Vinegar will make your clothes feel much softer and will help with static electricity. However, vinegar will not completely eliminate static electricity if you use a dryer. To do this, take a sheet of aluminum foil, wad it up loosely into a ball, and toss it into the dryer with your wet clothes. This will collect many of the loose electrons and virtually eliminate the static electricity problem!
Vinegar is also very good at neutralizing bad odors from smoke, pets, and mildew! For example, if you fold and store your towels and bedding when it is still slightly wet, they may develop a musty mildew odor after a while. Rewashing them in vinegar should eliminate this problem because it actually kills the mildew in the fibers. On the other hand, attempting to "mask" this mildew odor with the chemical fragrances of dryer sheets doesn't really work because this does not kill the mildew. Once the chemical fragrance wears off, and this happens fairly quickly, you still have living mildew embedded in your fibers!
Please note that you'll need to use more vinegar if you use a high capacity washing machine at the laundromat simply because it's a much bigger load.
Many people who are sensitive to chemical fragrances prefer to leave fragrances out of their clothes altogether. However, there is a fool proof non-toxic eco-friendly way to add a pleasant scent to your laundry without the use of chemicals. To do so, you simply add one to ten drops of an essential oil to your detergent. You'll probably want to do this before you arrive at the laundromat so you can mix it in good.
Lavender is a popular essential oil choice for laundry purposes. This essential herb has the added advantage of being in the mint family, and therefore, is a natural antiseptic and will kill any bacteria or fungi in your materials. Other popular essential oils to add to laundry detergent include lemon, orange, grapefruit, rose, pine, lemongrass, bergamot, rosemary, eucalyptus, spearmint, cinnamon, and cloves. With essential oils, unlike commercial dryer sheets, you can control the scent used precisely. You can also control how strong you want the scent to be by using more or less drops.


Final Thoughts
Although some people may still prefer them, there is really no need to use dryer sheets. There are much cheaper, non-toxic, eco-friendly alternatives that work just as well, if not better! Keep these tips in mind the next time you go to the laundromat.

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