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7 Reasons to Avoid Using Dryer Sheets

I’m a sucker for the smell of freshly washed laundry. To make the scent last longer and to prevent static, I admit that I’m a frequent dryer sheet user. Unfortunately, dryer sheets aren’t all sunshine and roses.


Reasons to avoid using dryer sheets:
  • The ingredients are not fully disclosed
  • They often contain dermal irritants
  • They release VOCs
  • The coating compromises specialized materials
  • The residue coats the dryer
  • The use of dryer sheets can get expensive
  • There are safer alternatives

1. You Can’t Know for Sure What’s in Them

You can’t be certain about the ingredients that are in dryer sheets because manufacturers are not required to disclose them on the packaging.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates labeling requirements for many products in the United States, and dryer sheets are included under that umbrella.

However, the CPSC does not require dryer sheet companies to include an ingredient list on the box. This means that buyers do not have an easily accessible way to look at all the chemicals and ingredients in the product. 

Manufacturers are not required to disclose a full ingredient list because dryer sheets are not directly applied to the skin or ingested. 

But after your clothes are tumbled around with dryer sheets, you can be sure that your garments will transfer chemicals from the dryer sheets onto your skin.

2. Dryer Sheets Contain Dermal Irritants

Dryer sheets contain chemicals that act as dermal irritants. In other words, these ingredients can cause adverse health effects when they come into contact with your skin.

The most common culprit in dryer sheets is the fragrance. Dryer sheets are heavily fragranced, and the chemicals used to make this fragrance are known to interact negatively with sensitive skin.

Many people in my family have sensitive skin and any type of fragrance, whether it’s in perfume, soap, lotion, or detergents, can set off a really bad skin reaction, causing eczema, welts, redness, and itching.

Fragrance are known to interact negatively with sensitive skin

A study conducted by the Environmental Health Perspective in 2011 concluded that inhaling scented products caused migraines, asthma attacks, irritation to eyes/airways, and dermal irritation. 

Another source of irritation stems from the large amounts of softener in dryer sheets. Softening agents are solid at room temperature but melt in the dryer and create a layer of slippery softness over your clothes that may lead to irritation.

Some chemicals to look out for include the following:

  • Benzyl alcohol: a known allergen that irritates the respiratory tract.
  • Phthalates: chemicals that prolong the fresh scent of your laundry but which are known to negatively impact hormone levels and fertility.
  • Camphor: a fragrance chemical that is easily absorbed through the skin and causes headaches, dizziness, and skin irritation.
  • Chloroform: another aromatic agent that is a known carcinogenic neurotoxin. Prolonged exposure leads to dizziness, irritation of the respiratory tract, drowsiness, and aggravation of skin disorders.
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds: softening agents that are used to kill bacteria but also cause asthma attacks.
  • Stearic acid: a softener that can cause skin irritation.

3. VOCs Are Released in the Dryer Exhaust

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released in dryer exhaust when dryer sheets are used. VOCs aren’t always harmful on their own, but if they combine with other gasses in the air, they can create harmful pollutants.

For example, VOCs can combine with gases in the air to form formaldehyde, which is a probable carcinogenic. 

VOCs such as acetaldehyde and benzene are emitted from popular dryer sheet brands. These chemicals are, in themselves, carcinogenic.

Limonene and isomers of limonene are used to create scents such as orange and pine. However, this substance is volatile in vapor form and can cause asthma attacks and bronchial irritation.

You must be especially aware of your dryer sheet usage if you have a ventless dryer. Ventless dryers have ways to remove lint, heat, and moisture from the exhaust, but they do not have the ability to remove VOCs. 

So, the gases will not have an easy route out of your house and this can lead to dangerous concentrations of VOCs in your home.

Even if your dryer is vented, you must still be aware of the VOCs that are expelled into the outdoor environment as they affect the air quality for your neighbors as well. 

In a study conducted by Dr. Anna Steinemann, it was reported that 12.5% of people experience health problems from the scent of laundry products through an exhaust vent. 

4. The Coating Can Compromise Specialized Materials

Before throwing a dryer sheet in with your load of laundry, take a minute to think about the articles that you are drying. What are the possible consequences of adding a layer of fabric softener on top of them?

The softening component of dryer sheets can compromise the effectiveness of specialized materials such as towels, fire-resistant clothing, and moisture-wicking athletic gear.

Dryer sheets are made with fatty acids, fatty alcohols, or alcohol ethoxylates that melt in the heat of the dryer and transfer onto clothing to create a slippery layer of fatty chains. This makes clothing feel soft but also negatively affects some functions of specifically made fabrics.

When towels are covered in oily fabric softener, they become less absorbent. Fluffy fabric, such as terry cloth and cotton, will be flattened and require washing more often, so make sure to set the dryer sheets aside when doing a load of towels.

Kids’ clothing, especially pajamas, is often made of fire-resistant fabric. However, dryer sheets inhibit the effectiveness of flame-resistant clothing by coating the fabric fibers with a less fire-resistant layer of fatty chains. 

Woman placing a dryer sheet inside the dryer with clothes inside

After using dryer sheets on your workout gear, you may counterintuitively notice that your clothing starts to smell worse more rapidly than it previously did. 

When moisture-wicking clothing is dried with dryer sheets, the fabric is coated in a hydrophobic layer of oily softener. This limits the breathability of your clothing, so sweaty smells and moisture are more easily trapped inside the fabric. 

5. Residue Coats Your Dryer

So, we’ve talked about how dryer sheets create a residue on your clothing, but they do the same thing to your dryer as well!

This becomes a problem when we look at the lint filter. Cycle after cycle of fabric softener from dryer sheets will leave a sticky residue on the screen of your lint filter.

This sticky residue can block up holes in the screen and make it difficult to remove lint from the screen.

If the lint screen becomes so blocked that air cannot get through, you’ll find excess lint on your clothing.

This also becomes a fire hazard if lint is not being regularly cleaned out from the filter. 

Clogged vents in your dryer that restrict airflow will also take a toll on its efficiency. Your clothes may take longer to dry, which uses more energy and more quickly wears out your dryer.

The residue can also inhibit the effectiveness of the sensors in your dryer. Many dryers have sensors to test the dryness of clothing, but a layer of softener will limit its ability to properly decipher if clothes are dry or not.

6. They Are Not Cost-Effective

Aside from their negative effects on your health, your dryer, and your clothing, dryer sheets are not cost-effective. 

I’ll be honest; it’s tempting to throw an extra dryer sheet in to make sure the fragrance gets all the way through a large load of laundry.

However, I’ve learned to resist my urges because the single-use nature of dryer sheets contributes to landfills and depletes your wallet.

A dryer sheet can only be used once before its fragrance and softener are gone. You must then throw away the square of polyester, which will take years to decompose in the landfill after being used for mere hours in your home.

Dryer sheets aren’t particularly expensive items, but buying a box of them every so often will certainly add up during your lifetime. Additionally, it’s not just the cost of the dryer sheets that you must keep in mind.

As I’ve mentioned above, dryer sheets make your dryer work harder by leaving a layer of softener behind. Your dryer will be forced to run for longer in order to dry your clothes, so your utility bill will increase.

7. Other Products Do the Job in Safer Ways

If you want to rid yourself of dryer sheets, you can absolutely do your laundry without them.

But if you already miss the feeling of freshly scented, static-free laundry, do not despair! There are alternatives to dryer sheets that are better for your health and wallet.

Alternatives to dryer sheets that are better for your health and wallet, vinegar and baking soda

Try adding ¼ cup of vinegar to your wash cycle to help soften clothes. And don’t worry; the vinegar smell doesn’t stick around.

Another option to soften clothing without any scent is to add about a teaspoon of baking soda to your wash cycle. Just remember to choose either vinegar or baking soda, not both, unless you want to recreate a fun science experiment!

Wool dryer balls are a great reusable option to throw in the dryer. These help remove static from your laundry. As they tumble in the dryer, they also help to circulate air and dry clothes faster. Plus, they last a lifetime of laundry cycles.

Friendsheep Wool Dryer Balls, Organic Fair Trade Reusable Fabric Softener, Extra Large, 6 Pack, Black Penguin - Cool Friends
  • PERFECT FOR BABIES AND SENSITIVE SKIN. Made of 100% pure New Zealand wool (no cheap fillers!!), organic, chemical free, fragrance free, hypoallergenic. FOR SAVVY MOMS that know that dryer sheets leave...
  • SAVE TIME, MONEY, AND ENERGY! Reusable for 1000+ loads each ball. Leaves your laundry NATURALLY SOFT, reduces wrinkles and static cling, without harming your laundry with synthetic chemicals like PVC...
  • HAND MADE IN NEPAL and NOT IN CHINA (like most other brands!). Carefully needle felted by hand in ethical working conditions by women of underprivileged communities. Traditionally hand made and sun...
  • THE PERFECT ECO-CONSCIOUS ALL OCCASION GIFT. Beautifully packaged. For a unique and fun laundry, baby showers, bridal showers, housewarming, mother’s day, for your best friends, or a college kid...

Last update on 2023-02-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

To replace the pleasant aromas of dryer sheets, try adding a few drops of scented oils to your wool dryer balls. 

If you’re looking for a budget option, tear off 3-4 feet of aluminum foil and form a ball. This ball will act similarly to wool dryer balls in order to remove excess static from your clothes and decrease dry time.

The Great Static Showdown | Aluminum Foil vs Dryer Sheets

Finally, you can always skip the dry cycle entirely and line-dry your clothes instead. This cuts down on utility bills while also removing the issue of static cling. Some people love the smell of clothes that were air-dried outside!

Sources

https://www.cpsc.gov/Business–Manufacturing/Business-Education/Business-Guidance/CPSC-Labeling-Requirements-Overview

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3226517/

https://www.healthline.com/health/dryer-sheets-toxicity#research

https://cen.acs.org/articles/86/i15/Dryer-Sheets.html#

https://www.cnet.com/home/kitchen-and-household/stop-using-fabric-softener-or-dryer-sheets/

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11869-016-0442-z

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