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The Great Static Showdown | Aluminum Foil vs Dryer Sheets

Static. The laundry folder’s nightmare. There’re few things worse than pulling a fresh load of laundry out of the dryer only to have to peel every clothing item apart. Without much thought, we all turn to dryer sheets, which are designed to reduce this static buildup. But there are other options out there.

Aluminum foil is one of the most commonly suggested alternatives when we start to research different ways to get rid of dryer static. Let’s get into the Great Static Showdown and get to the bottom of the best option for your clothes, your health, and your wallet.


For removing static cling, aluminum foil and dryer sheets perform similarly. Although aluminum foil balls do not have fragrance or fabric softener like dryer sheets do, they are more cost-effective, gentler on clothes and skin, and better for the environment.

How Does It Work?

Aluminum Foil

As clothes tumble around in the dryer, they rub against each other and exchange electrons. Some pieces of clothing end up with positive charges, while others are negatively charged.

As the barrel comes to a stop and you take your clothes out of the dryer, you’ll find that the positively charged pieces “stick” to the negatively charged ones, thus causing the dreaded static cling. 

Adding balls of aluminum foil to your dryer dispels excess static and prevents clothing from sticking to each other. 

How to create an aluminum foil ball for drying clothes in the dryer

Aluminum is a conductive metal, meaning it easily picks up and transfers electric charges. When your load of laundry starts exchanging electrons in the dryer, the aluminum foil balls will help keep the balance of electrons among all clothing items.

The aluminum foil balls also manually separate wet clothes during the drying process. They can prevent wet clothes from sticking to each other in large clumps. Separating the clothes allows for better airflow and shorter drying times.

Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets also work to limit an imbalance of electrons in your laundry, but they do so in a different manner.

In the 1960s, a scientist named Conrad J. Gaiser found a way to coat small pieces of fabric with a softener that was solid at room temperature. When warmed by the heat of the dryer, the fabric softener spreads throughout the load of laundry.

Unlike aluminum foil, which is a conductor, the fabric softener on dryer sheets is a positively charged substance. 

While the sheets tumble around the dryer, the fabric softener forms a thin, protective layer around each clothing item. This prevents static cling by balancing out negatively charged electrons with positively charged ions.

Dryer sheets do more than simply reduce static. They are also treated with a softener and fragrances to make your clothes smell and feel better when they come out of the dryer. 

Putting dryer sheet inside the dryer

This might sound like a plus, but if you’re looking to reduce static in your laundry without other additives, it is good to keep in mind.

Effectiveness

There seems to be a mixed bag of opinions when it comes to the effectiveness of dryer sheets vs. aluminum foil balls.

Some bloggers tested the aluminum balls out and received great results, while others saw little difference between the aluminum foil balls and using nothing at all. But the overall consensus on forum discussions is that the two perform just about equally. 

I used to use dryer sheets for almost every load of laundry in my house. Recently, I started experimenting with alternatives such as aluminum foil balls and wool dryer balls.

Aluminum foil balls have performed just as well as dryer sheets, even in cold Midwestern weather. I usually throw in two or three balls, depending on the load size.

A downside of adding aluminum foil balls to your dryer cycle is increased noise. Your usually quiet dryer may start rattling with the sound of metallic balls tumbling around the barrel.

The following factors may influence the effectiveness of aluminum foil balls/dryer sheets:

  • Temperature: If the dryer is on a low-heat setting, it may not warm up the dryer sheet enough to evenly disperse the positively charged fabric softener.
  • Size/formation of the aluminum ball: about three to four feet of aluminum foil should be used to form two- to three-inch spheres. The spheres should not have any loose pieces that may cause the ball to unravel during the drying cycle.
Aluminum foil balls sizes and dimension for laundry
  • Humidity: dry air leads to more static. For example, you might find yourself getting shocked by door knobs during dry winter months. If you are experiencing dry air in your area, you may need to use more dryer sheets or aluminum foil balls to combat static cling.
  • Quality: cheaper dryer sheets may be coated with a thinner or weaker layer of fabric softener, causing them to be less effective. On the other hand, all aluminum foil is made of the same material and should yield the same results.

How Much Does It Cost?

Aluminum Foil

The cost to try out aluminum foil balls is next to nothing. About three to four feet of aluminum foil is used to make each ball, and you should keep two to three balls on hand. 

Reynolds Wrap costs about $0.06 per square foot, so making three balls will run you less than a dollar. 

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Aluminum foil balls aren’t one-time-use items, either. They can be used for hundreds of drying cycles. As long as they aren’t falling apart, they are still functional.

The aluminum foil balls won’t lose their effectiveness over time because they aren’t coated with a substance that reduces static; the aluminum itself does that. 

Although the actual cost for aluminum foil dryer balls is very low, you must be on the lookout for hidden costs that may arise.

Aluminum foil balls can catch on clothing straps and cause tears if they are not sufficiently spherical.

Additionally, the foil can get stuck in places such as the lint trap and dryer vent. This can block up the dryer and result in longer drying times. You may have to hire a professional to get the foil out if it gets into a hard-to-reach spot.

Most of these additional costs can be avoided as long as you check your aluminum foil balls for loose pieces and uneven edges before they go in the dryer.

Dryer Sheets

The cost for dryer sheets will add up over time. Each sheet costs about $0.05, and people usually use one to two per load, depending on the size.

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Five or ten cents doesn’t sound expensive at first, but if you’re doing multiple loads of laundry a week, your household could be spending around a dollar per week on dryer sheets. 

Little expenses sure do add up. If your household averages one load of laundry per day, you can expect to spend anywhere from $300 to $900 on dryer sheets over the course of 20 years.

As mentioned above, aluminum foil balls that will last you for years cost less than a dollar to make. If you want to limit the number of disposable items you purchase, maybe it’s time to get rid of dryer sheets.

Dryer sheets can also cause issues that result in unexpected expenses. Dryer sheets are known to clog up lint traps, which causes drying machines to be less efficient. You will spend additional money on electricity.

Dryer sheets can also clog up dryer vents, which not only leads to longer run times but can also be a fire hazard. You may have to hire professional help to clean out hard-to-reach vents to limit fire risks. A fire would obviously lead to additional expenses in your home. 

Effect on Clothes

Aluminum Foil

Aluminum foil balls can cause damage to your clothes if you are not careful.

Make sure the balls are smooth and rounded before they go in the dryer to limit the chances of snagging on knit clothing items and thin straps. For more delicate items, you may want to use a mesh laundry bag. 

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Aluminum foil will get quite hot during the drying cycle, but not to the point that it will burn your clothes. Think of the metal buttons on your jeans, for example.

When I take my laundry out of the dryer, an occasional hot button will sting my skin. However, the button did not burn any clothing items in the dryer.

My aluminum foil balls do not get as hot as the metal buttons because they are less dense and release heat faster.

Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets create a larger effect on clothing because their purpose is not to simply reduce static. They are created with fabric softeners and fragrances to leave clothes feeling smooth and smelling great.

Blonde woman smelling the sheets after doing the laundry

Unfortunately, the same ingredients that can give clothing a fresh smell and lint-free look can also cause some issues.

Fabric softener creates a waxy coating over fabric to leave a soft feeling and limit lint attraction. This coating can affect the performance of certain fabrics:

  • Towels become less absorbent when laundered with fabric softener.
  • Athletic gear will lose its moisture-wicking properties and retain sweaty smells.
  • The intricate threads on microfiber materials will get clogged up and become less effective.
  • Dryer sheets inhibit the effectiveness of flame-resistant clothing by coating the fabric fibers with a less fire-resistant layer of fabric softener.
  • Fabric softeners can leave a hard-to-remove residue on bed linens, causing a buildup of dead skin cells and skin oils.

The fragrance found in dryer sheets is also harmful to some fabrics. Fragrance oils can leave stains on clothes if the dryer sheet does not evenly disperse them throughout the entire load of laundry.

A study published in 2014 in the International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology found that fragrances can also discolor and fade cotton fabrics over time.

Health Implications

Aluminum foil balls have little to no health implications for use in the dryer. They do not release toxic gasses when heated as aluminum foil has to be food-safe when used in hot temperatures such as the oven. 

They do not leave a residue on clothes that can cause any sort of irritation either.

Dryer sheets, on the other hand, can negatively affect the user’s health. People with skin sensitivities may experience rashes from the chemicals used to create the dryer sheet’s softener and fragrance.

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

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released in dryer exhaust when dryer sheets are used. VOCs can combine with other gasses in the air and create harmful pollutants.

For example, the VOCs from dryer sheets can combine with normal chemicals in the air to create formaldehyde and benzene, which are known carcinogens.

A 2016 study found in a journal titled Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, reported that 12.5% of people experience health problems from the scent of laundry products through an exhaust vent.

The inhalation risk is why users are cautioned against using dryer sheets with ventless dryers.

Environmental Impact

When choosing between aluminum foil and dryer sheets, it is also important to consider the environmental impact of your choice. 

Dryer sheets are single-use products. They cannot be recycled or composted because the fabric sheet is made out of polyester, a synthetic material. 

Dryer sheets inside the dryer

A dryer sheet that you used for an hour of your life will take years to decompose in the landfill. Immediately, this is an environmental no-no. 

Aluminum foil balls, which can be used over and over again, limit waste in your home. 

Using aluminum foil combines two functions into one item. Instead of having to individually purchase a product for reducing static, you can buy one roll of aluminum foil and use it for both your laundry and your kitchen.

Aluminum foil balls can also be recycled after they’ve passed their prime.

Aluminum foil balls do not release harmful gasses into the air. As mentioned above, dryer sheets release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. In addition to the health issues VOCs pose to humans, they can also hurt plants and animals that come into contact with them.

If dryer sheets clog up your dryer vent or lint trap, it may result in a longer drying cycle. As a result, more energy is used per cycle. That’s a downside for both the environment and your wallet.

What is the Most Low-Cost, Eco-Friendly Way to Reduce Static in Your Dryer?

Sources

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

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

https://www.cnet.com/home/kitchen-and-household/use-a-ball-of-aluminum-foil-to-eliminate-static-in-the-dryer/

https://biokleenhome.com/blog/how-do-dryer-sheets-reduce-static-cling#:~:text=Dryer%20sheets%20stop%20static%20cling,soft%20clothes%20without%20the%20static.

https://urbanclotheslines.com/blog/why-you-should-avoid-dryer-sheets/#:~:text=If%20you%20decide%20to%20use,tossing%20it%20in%20your%20dryer

https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/IJCST-03-2014-0031/full/html

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