It may just seem like a necessary part of any load of laundry is to toss a dryer sheet into the dryer with your clothes. But they are not reusable and can get expensive, so questioning their necessity is a smart move.
Dryer sheets do serve a purpose, but many people do not use them, so this cannot be a vital purpose. Let’s just get right into it.
Dryer sheets are not necessary. They help to reduce the buildup of static electricity, soften clothes, and make the clothes smell pleasant. Fragrance and softening of clothes are not vital. The amount of static buildup in a dryer is extremely low-risk, so the reduction from dryer sheets is not necessary.
What Are Dryer Sheets?
Dryer sheets (amazon link) are small pieces of woven polyester that can have a scent and sometimes a softening agent. They are thrown into loads of laundry that are meant to be dried.
Dryer sheets can reduce static buildup, soften clothes, and make clothes smell nice. All of which will be discussed further next.
The coating that is on most dryer sheets melts during the drying cycle. This coating is normally what contains the fragrance and softening aspects of the dryer sheet.
The sheets also have a slow release of their coating so that the coating isn’t released only onto one article of the laundry. This allows for all the clothing to receive a similar amount of the scent/softening agent, and not enough that it visibly leaves a mark on the clothes.
The Purpose of Dryer Sheets
Reduce Static Buildup
One of the main purposes of a dryer sheet is to reduce the static buildup that is so common in a dryer. Static electricity in a dryer causes clothes to cling to one another and also attract hairs and dust when they are worn.
Static builds up so much in dryers because dry clothes are constantly rubbing against one another. This produces a charge and makes clothes stick together and to your body when you wear them.
Dryer sheets help to reduce this static buildup. This is done by the dryer sheet taking on the static electricity itself or balancing it.
The dryer sheet is able to do this because of the coating it has on it. This coating has positively charged ions. These ions help to balance the other ions and electrons, which are responsible for static electricity.
As such, the dryer sheet either balances the charges or just takes them on itself.
This action helps to contribute to clothing feeling softer as well.
Dryer sheets also help to make clothes softer.
This is done when the heat from the dryer melts the outer coating of the dryer sheet, and the sheet comes into contact with the clothes. As the sheet tumbles through the dryer and touches the clothing, portions of the coating transfer from the dryer sheet to the clothing.
The dryer sheet is able to do this because of the type of chemical makeup of the coating. This means that different dryer sheets can be purchased with or without a softening agent.
The coating can be designed to have a slower or faster release as well. A faster release means that clothes would not need to be in the dryer with the sheet as long to be made softer.
However, a slower release may be better for larger loads so that the coating isn’t all gone before it has contacted each article of clothing.
Make Clothing Smell Nice
Dryer sheets tend to have some sort of scent as well. Although, this does not have to be the case.
A dryer sheet’s scent works in the same way as the softening component. This is to say that the smell is tied into the coating of the dryer sheet. However, there is one difference in how the scent functions.
Rather than the scent rubbing onto the clothes as the softening portion does, it mostly releases into the dryer and fills the entire drum with the smell. Some of the scent does rub directly onto the clothing, but that is not how the scent is meant to function.
I know I have noticed when opening the dryer that the air that wafts out smells like the dryer sheet. The scent in the air permeates through the clothes, transferring the smell to the material.
Is Static Buildup in a Dryer Dangerous?
Of all the functions of a dryer sheet, the only one that might be necessary is that it can reduce the static in the dryer. Making clothes softer and nice-smelling are not vital functions. That being said, it is important to know why having a dryer sheet could reduce some risks.
Overall, static electricity building up in the dryer is a relatively low risk factor. The riskiest part of static buildup is if there is a discharge of the electricity (like when you get a little shock after walking in socks on a carpet).
If there is lint or other small debris in a dryer, a discharge of the static electricity that connects with those things could spark and create a fire.
The potential of this is extremely low when there is no dryer sheet being used. This risk is almost non-existent when a dryer sheet is used.
Many People Don’t Use Dryer Sheets
There are entire countries that don’t use dryer sheets in their dryers, and there are pretty much no reported problems from this.
This also goes to show that static electricity building up is not too big of a deal.
If every country were to use dryer sheets, and those who didn’t universally encountered problems, then we could say that dryer sheets might be necessary. But this simply isn’t the case.
Dryer Sheets Bring Their Own Problems
Dryer sheets may also pose their own problems that are worth considering.
Dryer sheets contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which are released into the air in the dryer, making them potentially too dangerous to be used with ventless dryers.
For vented dryers, the chemicals are still present and released into the air, but the air is released outside of the home rather than in it. This is safer because when released outside the air will disperse.
If released inside, as is the case with ventless dryers, the air remains and has a higher chance of being inhaled.
Dryer sheets have an environmental factor tied to them as well. Dryer sheets are a one-time-use item.
After one load in the dryer, dryer sheets lose most of their beneficial functions and need to be thrown away. As such, they are quite wasteful.
The coating on dryer sheets (because of their chemical makeup) can also be irritating for people with sensitive skin or when too much of the coating gets onto a single article of clothing. A similar worry exists for the dryer sheets’ scents and how potent they may be or the chemicals that constitute them.
Alternative Ways to Reduce Static
There are numerous ways to reduce static without the use of dryer sheets.
One of these ways is to just avoid the dryer altogether and hang out clothes to air dry. What I do is I mostly dry the clothes on the line and then pop them in the dryer for about 15 minutes to soften and get the wrinkles out.
A washcloth lightly soaked with apple cider vinegar can also be used to help prevent static from building up. The vinegar can also help make clothes softer.
Whether it’s a pro or con that the smell of the apple cider vinegar comes through will depend on the person, and how much vinegar is used.
There are also wool balls that can go in the dryer that help stop the static from building up. A second benefit of wool dryer balls (amazon link) is that they can be used multiple times unlike the dryer sheets. You can even make them yourself.
Aluminum foil is also a safe and reusable replacement for dryer sheets. While the aluminum foil will reduce the static electricity, there won’t be any scent or softening portion associated with using aluminum foil. All you need to do for this is make a small ball of aluminum foil, and toss it in the dryer.
If you are interested in more information on how aluminum foil and dryer sheets compare, you can read my article detailing the differences and assessing the equality of the two methods.