Are Dryer Sheets Bad for Clothes?

It’s relatively easy to do the laundry. Assuming that you have a washing machine, all you have to do is put your clothes in, select a cycle, add in detergent, and press start. From there, you just have to wait until the cycle is done. The entire process is pretty straightforward.

When it comes to drying your clothes, you have two options—you either hang it up to dry or put it into the dryer. Generally speaking, people tend to go for the latter as it saves time. While that might be true, it’s important to remember that some items, such as bras, should never be placed into the dryer; the high temperatures will deform them over time.

Softening Your Clothes in the Wash

Certain types of clothing will get stiff and hard after being washed. To prevent this from happening, many will add a bit of fabric softener to the machine during the rinse cycle. Ultimately, what this does, is coat the material with a max-like substance; this helps to smoothen the material. When it comes out of the washer, the item will be much softer.

Alternatively, some people choose to use dryer sheets. As implied by its name, these products are added not to the washing machine, but to the dryer. Similar to fabric softeners, they will make your clothes soft and comfy to wear.  They’re fairly affordable too—you can get an entire box (over 200 sheets) for under $10. Just remember to take them out of the machine! They’re one-use items after all.

Where did Dryer Sheets Come From?

Fabric softeners have been around since the twentieth century. Dryer sheets, however, are more recent; they were invented in the late ‘70s. More specifically, manufacturers had discovered a way to incorporate fabric conditioner into sheet form. What drove them to create dryer sheets? Liquid softeners had one disadvantage—they were not compatible with detergents; this meant that they had to be added after the rinse cycle. With this new invention, people could soften their clothes without having to do an extra step—they could just add a sheet into the dryer. 

What are Dryer Sheets Made Out Of?

Dryer sheets are often made out of polyester material, though it differs from brand to brand. Despite being thin, they are covered with a cocktail of chemicals. More specifically, they contain various softening agents; these surfactants have two different sides—one that grabs ahold of the fabric. In some cases, the sheets also contain fragrances; this is another reason why many people choose to use them—they want their laundry to smell fresh.

What is the Purpose of Using Dryer sheets?

Dryer sheets are essentially fabric softeners in sheet form. To put it simply, they contain softening agents that are released when the dryer is turned on; as a result, your clothes will be coated in a thin layer. What does this do? This will soften them and make them more comfortable to wear. In a way, they’re like hair conditioners.

If you’ve ever dried your clothes with a dryer, you’ll know that static tends to build up (some materials are more prone to this than others). Dryer sheets can also be used to fix this problem. By adding them to the machine, the ions will be balanced out. How does this work? The fact is, these sheets contain positively charged particles; by neutralizing the negatively charged ions that are on your clothing, they will be able to balance out the static electricity. Ultimately, what this means is that you won’t have to worry about being shocked when taking your garments out of the dryer!

What Happens if I Don’t Use Dryer Sheets?

Without dryer sheets, certain types of fabric will become stiff. Why does this happen? The short answer is that the cloth fibers will rearrange themselves when dried without being disturbed. As a result, they become more rigid; this makes them feel coarser.

The buildup of soap can also make your clothes stiff. Ultimately, what happens is that they get stuck within the cloth fibers—a normal rinse (even with the machine) will not be enough to get all of it out. For this reason, you should always heed the instructions when adding laundry detergent. Remember, less is more in some cases.

Static charges can also build up in the machine. This occurs as a result of the fabrics rubbing against each other in the dryer (mainly due to the tumbling action). The static cling is particularly worse during the winter months when the humidity in the air is low. In contrast, it tends to be a little better in the summer.

Things to Remember When Using Dryer Sheets

As mentioned earlier, it’s important that you take out the dryer sheets after every use. If you don’t, the lint from the sheets will continue to scatter throughout the machine. Not only will your laundry be covered with lint, but the residue can clog the dryer filter, which can be a fire hazard.

Even if you to take out the sheets, it’s good practice to clean the lint filter once in a while. Simply use a soft-bristle brush and a little bit of detergent to clean the screen. Occasionally, the softener sheets can get stuck in the filter. For this reason, be sure to check it every time before you use the dryer.

Rarely, dryer sheets can cause skin irritation (they contain a myriad of chemicals after all). Stop using them immediately if you experience any itchiness. In severe cases, it can lead to swelling and hives.

Are Dryer Sheets Bad for Clothes?

There’s no doubt that dryer sheets are effective. Before adding them to the dryer, however, you want to consider the type of material that you’re dealing with. Why? Dryer sheets can potentially damage certain fabrics. For instance, you never want to use them with synthetic fibers.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Dryer Sheets for Synthetic Materials

Synthetic materials, which are often used in athletic apparel, are unique in that that are naturally moisture-wicking. What does this mean? This means that they are capable of pulling moisture such as perspiration away from the skin; it then evaporates from the surface. This allows wearers to stay dry during their workout.

If you add dryer sheets to a load of activewear, a layer of conditioner will be added to the fabric. As you can imagine, this will hinder its ability to wick moisture; sweat would not be able to reach the surface. As a result, sweat will be held on the inside—this would lead to the development of more odor. Not to mention that it would make the clothes more uncomfortable to wear.

Avoid Using Dryer Sheets for Microfiber Materials

Microfiber is known for attracting and locking in dirt and dust; it is also highly absorbent. Ultimately, this is due to the fact that it contains thousands of tiny fibers. While dryer sheets would help to reduce the static cling that often comes with these products, they would also render them useless. How? By depositing a layer of wax-like substance on the surface. With that, the fibers would no longer be able to attract dirt, nor would it be able to absorb liquids properly. 

Do Not Use Dryer Sheets on Lingerie

It’s not uncommon for lingerie to rub against the skin. If dryer sheets were to be added, there would be an extra layer of chemicals on the fabric; over time, these chemicals can easily cause skin irritation. On top of that, softeners would stink up your garments by trapping in body oils, sweat, and odors. 

Dryer Sheets Shouldn’t be Used on Sleepwear

Sleepwear is often designed to be flame-resistant, especially those for children. If dryer sheets are used, the material will lose this property. In some cases, the wax from the softener will make it even more flammable (there’s a reason why candles are made out of wax).

Do Not Use Dryer Sheets on Swimwear

Swimsuits naturally absorb very little water—that’s why they’re suited for the pool! If softeners are used, the material will instead, hold onto the water; this will prevent it from drying properly. Not only would this lead to an odor, but it would encourage mold growth as well!

Alternatives to Dryer Sheets

As you can see, dryer sheets are not suitable for various types of clothing; the lint can also clog up the filter. Now, you’re probably wondering—”what else can I do to soften my clothes?”. Luckily, there are several non-chemical alternatives that you can try.

Using Wool Dryer Balls

Wool dryer balls are a great alternative; they’re reusable too. All you have to do is put a few into the dryer. Not only will they soften up your clothes (mainly by agitating the fibers), but they will reduce static and quicken drying times. As an added plus, they won’t leave lint everywhere in the machine. In the long-run, they might even lower your energy bill!

If you want, you can even opt for the ones that come with fragrances; that way, you’ll still have the fresh scent of dryer sheets.

Making Your Own Aluminum Foil Balls

Did you know that you can make your own balls using aluminum foil? That’s right—you can safely put them into the dryer. While they won’t provide your clothes with fragrances, they will help to eliminate static in the machine. By absorbing electrical charges, your laundry will remain static free. By tumbling around, they’ll also soften your clothes to some degree.

Adding White Vinegar to the Washing Machine or Dryer

White vinegar can also be used to soften your clothes. Pour half a cup into your washing machine’s softener dispenser during the rinse cycle. For added fragrance, you can add a small amount of essential oil. With that, your clothes will come out soft and fresh! You’ve probably heard this already but vinegar works as a great deodorizer.

Alternatively, you can use white vinegar in the dryer. Dampen a washcloth with a small amount and put it into the dryer with your laundry; this will soften your clothes and prevent static cling. You won’t even be able to smell the vinegar!

Note: Apple cider vinegar can also be used in the same way.

Adding Baking Soda during the Rinse Cycle

Similar to vinegar, baking soda can also be used as a fabric softener. Sprinkle 1/4 cup into the washing machine during the rinse cycle; this will soften and freshen up your laundry. You’ll be surprised as to just how effective it is! Do note, however, that baking soda will only work if you add it before your clothes are washed. If you’ve already washed your clothes, you’ll want to try a different method.

Pro-tip: You can add a bit of epsom salt to the baking soda to enhance its effect.

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