Static in the dryer can be an annoyance as well as a safety hazard. Sparks of static electricity can start fires, especially if your dryer lint trap is full of flammable lint. For these reasons, avoiding static electricity is never going to be a bad idea.
There are many options for controlling static in a dryer. The reduction of friction and allowing charged ions to move freely are two strategies employed by static-reducing products. Each one has its own cost, quality, and impact on the environment.
The most low-cost, eco-friendly way to reduce static in a dryer is to not use it at all and line-dry clothes. Otherwise, aluminum foil balls seem the cheapest and best for the environment, while still being effective.
What Are the Options and How Do They Work?
One of the most popular ways to eliminate static in your dryer is to use dryer sheets.
Dryer sheets are single-use, thin sheets of fibrous plastic that are meant to reduce static, improve the smell of your laundry, and make your laundry softer.
To use dryer sheets, simply toss a sheet or two (two may be necessary for a large load) into the dryer and run the dryer like you normally would.
While the dryer tumbles your clothing, the positively-charged, ion-containing fabric softeners on the sheet will interact with the negative-charged electrons and ions on the clothing.
The opposite charges will balance each other and prevent static.
The fabric softener in dryer sheets also prevents the clothes from getting stiff. Stiff clothing experiences more friction, which creates static.
Seeing that dryer sheets are used by most homes to reduce static, it seems that dryer sheets are successful at their job. The combination of positively-charged ions and fabric softener works well to reduce static.
The success might vary by the brand, but overall, dryer sheets are very successful at reducing static.
To use aluminum foil to reduce static in your laundry load, simply tear off a few sheets of foil (two or three feet at least).
These sheets can be crumbled into balls that are about one to two inches in diameter and thrown in with your laundry for each load.
The foil balls can even be used multiple times before the foil starts to degrade.
Aluminum foil is a conductive metal that transfers electrons readily. So, when the washing starts to lose and gain electrons as it tumbles around, these are picked up and transferred by the aluminum foil, preventing them from giving the clothing opposing charges, which stops them from sticking together.
Basically, the aluminum foil acts as a vessel for electron exchange and allows for clothing that is either positively or negatively charged to exchange electrons to reduce static electricity.
While less commonly used, there is no reason why aluminum foil cannot effectively reduce static electricity. Those who do try it report good results.
To use vinegar to successfully remove the static from your clothes, add about a fourth of a cup of white distilled vinegar to a load of laundry before you start the dryer. You can then run the dryer like you normally would.
Vinegar acts as a fabric softener since it prevents clothes from getting stiff during the drying process.
Keeping the clothes from getting stiff also limits the development of static, but only to a certain degree.
Although vinegar can prevent some static, without a material that allows electrons and charged ions to move between pieces of clothing, static will still occur. Reducing stiffness will only reduce some static, not all of it.
Another consideration is that vinegar can be quite aromatic. It won’t be as bad as you imagine because of the high heat of the dryer, which is likely to cause the smell to fade.
Wool Dryer Balls
Wool balls are exactly what the name describes, except that the wool fibers are not twisted like in a skein of yarn. Instead, they look more like balls made of felt.
These items can be thrown into the dryer for each load. The recommended amount is six wool dryer balls.
Dryer ball products like Handy Laundry Store Wool Dryer Balls (amazon link) can be bought in some stores and online, but you can also make them yourself if you are feeling industrious.
Wool dryer balls have a variety of benefits.
Their absorbent nature allows them to absorb moisture and reduce the drying time.
They also wedge themselves between clothes, preventing contact between clothes and, therefore, the buildup of static.
This product, much like vinegar, can reduce some static by preventing friction, but static can still occur since contact between clothing is bound to happen. Because of this, it is not the most effective way to reduce static.
The process of line-drying clothes does not require much explanation.
However, a good tip would be to check the weather for the day if you are doing this outside. Rainfall, wind, and even high humidity can make it difficult to dry clothes on a line.
Although line-drying takes much longer than drying with a washer, it has a very effective way of reducing static.
Tumbling clothes creates lots of friction, which produces static as electrons and charged ions are released from and attach to the fabric.
Line-drying completely eliminates the contact between clothing, and so static is not likely to be an issue unless it’s a very dry windy day.
In this way, line-drying is not so much a reducer of static but a preventer of static. But this makes it better than the other options in this regard.
Half of a cup of baking soda can be added to a dryer load to reduce some static.
Much like vinegar, baking soda’s chemical properties allow for it to act as a natural fabric softener.
Softened clothing experiences less friction as the dryer is running and, therefore, less static is generated through this action.
An added plus of baking soda is that it can help stain-treat light or white clothing.
Another similarity that baking soda has with vinegar is that its use will not eliminate the static entirely. Softening fabric can help with the reduction of static, but it will not eliminate it as well as dryer sheets or aluminum foil will.
Tip: never try to combine vinegar and baking soda unless you want your dryer to turn into a middle-school volcano.
Decrease Drying Time
Although this is not something to add to the laundry or a way to dry the clothes, decreasing the drying time can aid in reducing static electricity.
This does not mean stopping the dryer while your clothes are still wet. However, it does mean that the dryer is stopped as soon as the clothes are no longer wet so that the dryer does not continue to run.
If the drying time is entered manually, try decreasing the time by a few minutes. You can also turn the heat down. If the clothes are coming out so hot that they almost burn you, the drying time should be reduced.
When a dryer is left on too long, not only will the clothes have all their moisture taken away but the air in the dryer will too.
Dry air creates an ideal environment for static since water is a natural conductor of electricity and its presence in the air transfers static away from the clothing. When humid air is not present, there is nothing to stop static from lingering in the clothing.
This technique is not going to reduce all static in your dryer since there are other factors to consider such as friction between the clothing. However, this paired with another static-reducing strategy can work well together.
Eco mode increases drying time, so you can end up with more static when you use these settings, which come on most new dryers.
Cost per Load, Month, and Year
Assuming that you only use one dryer sheet for each load, using dryer sheets will cost you about 5-10c per load.
Let’s say that you use your dryer 10 times per month.
Dryer sheets would cost you about 75c on average a month.
In a year, dryer sheets would cost you about $9.
On average, a square foot of aluminum foil costs about 6c.
If two are used for each load and the dryer is used 10 times per month, the monthly cost would be $1.20.
Multiply this by 12 and the yearly cost would be $14.40.
However, the foil balls can be reused at least once, which would halve this cost. This means a monthly total of 60c and a yearly total of $7.20.
Vinegar is about 20c per fluid ounce.
If a quarter cup (about two fluid ounces) was being used in each load 10 times a month, the monthly costs would be $4.
Multiply this by 12 and the yearly cost would be $48.
Wool Dryer Balls
A pack of six wool dryer balls costs about $15.
These wool dryer balls would last more than a year so the cost for a month and a year would be the same—$15.
However, as I mentioned before, you can make wool dryer balls yourself.
All you will need is wool yarn and a sock or stocking. The yarn will be wound into a ball the size of a baseball and then tucked into a stocking or sock. Each ball can be separated in the stocking or sock with a knot.
Tucking the balls inside of the stocking or sock ensures that they will maintain their shape for their first run through the washer. They need to be run through a hot wash a couple of times, then sent through a low-heat dryer cycle. After this, they can be removed from the sock.
Assuming that you have plenty of wool yarn to make these already, this is free (since most people have a sock or stocking lying around that they don’t need).
However, if you need wool yarn, an average bundle is about $8.
Although line-drying will not lead to energy costs, getting a line and its components can cost money.
You will need a line, pegs, and clothespins.
Thankfully, there are line-drying kits out there that contain all of these components.
The upfront cost of this will be around $15 and will last you for a good few years.
On average, baking soda costs 35c per ounce.
Since four ounces would be used per cycle, one load would cost $1.40.
A month of using the dryer would cost $14.
A year of using the dryer with baking soda would cost $168.
Decrease Drying Time
If the length of time the dryer is running is reduced, you will be saving money through saved electricity rather than spending money on this strategy.
It costs about a cent per minute to run an electric dryer.
If you reduce the runtime of your dryer by five minutes, you will save 50 cents in a month and $6 in a year.
Impact on the Environment
Although dryer sheets feel like fabric, they are not. They are plastic which means that they will leave an environmental footprint.
They can only be used once, and even if they are stuffed inside shoes for a nicer smell or reused in the dryer along with a new dryer sheet, they are still consumed very quickly.
Dryer sheets are bound to end up in a landfill, in the ocean, or eaten by an animal.
They are not compostable and are not likely to go away any time soon.
In addition, when you use them, they release chemicals into the air, which are potentially hazardous for your health and damaging to the environment.
Dryer sheet production, as well as other forms of plastic production, are among the most dangerous for the environment. Toxic byproducts are released and microplastics pollute waterways and oceans.
When aluminum foil ends up in landfills, it will break down in a few weeks or so, making it far less dangerous for the planet than plastics.
Aluminum can also be recycled in some areas as long as it is cleaned.
However, much like the plastic production process, aluminum foil production can be harmful to the environment by releasing air and water pollutants.
As a naturally-derived substance, vinegar has very little impact on the environment.
It is biodegradable and is not dangerous when introduced to waterways and bodies of water (when in low quantities).
The additives to vinegar—petrochemicals—can emit greenhouse gases, cause acid rain, and harm ecosystems when they are extracted, but the pollutants per drying load are likely to be negligible.
Wool Dryer Balls
Since wool is a naturally-derived fiber, wool dryer balls will be able to biodegrade, making their usage fairly environmentally friendly.
However, as with any bought product, there are environmental footprints left by its manufacturing companies.
Since line-drying takes a dryer out of the equation, which eliminates energy usage, line-drying is a very eco-friendly option to limit static. Whether the dryer is gas or electric, pollution from energy usage will be eliminated.
Although the production of the line and its materials will leave an environmental footprint, the entire process is fairly safe.
Once again, there are similarities between baking soda and vinegar in that both are natural.
Because baking soda is natural, it biodegrades and does not have a long residency in waterways.
However, baking soda must be mined, and mining creates environmental problems, such as ecosystem disturbance and mining wastes entering waterways.
Decrease Drying Time
Because the limited use of a dryer can only mean good things for your energy usage as well as your energy bill, decreasing the drying time of your dryer is likely to limit the pollution caused by electricity usage, rather than create it.
To find the best strategy for reducing static in your laundry, the quality (how well it works), price, and environmental friendliness must be weighed.
Straight off the bat, I would eliminate vinegar and baking soda. They are worth trying if you are in a pinch or as part of a multi-method strategy, but the static-reduction benefits do not warrant the cost.
Decreasing the drying time will save you money and will decrease pollution caused by energy usage. However, it will only reduce static to a certain degree, so I’d also rule this one out.
Technically, line-drying is the most effective at reducing static, most cost-effective, and most environmentally friendly.
However, it’s not an option for everyone. There are drawbacks, like crispy towels instead of soft ones, stiff wrinkles, and being at the mercy of the weather and space.
Beyond this, aluminum foil balls seem to be the cheapest and best for the environment, while still being effective at reducing static.