When I first learned how to do my own laundry, I genuinely thought that a dryer sheet was a required step in the laundry process – as fundamental as using detergent in the wash. It wasn’t until I was in college and a classmate referred to dryer sheets as a “luxury” that I realized that some people didn’t use them!
I started experimenting with dryer sheet alternatives a few years ago in an effort to embrace a more “eco-friendly” laundry routine.
The Facts About Dryer Sheets
Dryer sheets are used for three primary reasons:
- Eliminate or reduce static cling
- Soften fabrics / release wrinkles
- Leave behind a fresh scent
These benefits are what make the use of dryer sheets so popular, but unfortunately they do come at a cost.
Dryer sheets eliminate static, soften, and leave a nice scent on laundry via a thin layer of chemicals deposited onto fabrics while in the dryer. That layer includes toxic chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
(See Dr. Axe’s article about dryer sheets to learn more about these specific chemicals and the associated health risks).
Polluted Air Supply
What’s interesting (or frightening?) is that much of the research scientists have done to identify the dangerous chemicals found in dryer sheets has been done by examining the chemicals released via dryer vents. That means that using dryer sheets not only leaves your clothing with a thin coat of toxic chemical remnants, but it also pollutes our air with volatile organic compounds.
(Something to note: VOCs are released from a large number of household products – if you’re concerned about the quality of the air supply in your home, consider investing in some air purifying house plants).
That same chemical layer coating your fabrics is also deposited onto the dryer lint trap. Over time if not properly cleaned and cared for, the clogged lint trap can become a serious fire hazard.
(See my how-to post/video for taking care of your lint trap).
Beyond toxic chemicals, dryer sheets are a disposable product and therefore simply create more environmental waste.
Dryer Sheet Alternatives
Luckily, there are some pretty decent alternatives to dryer sheets that can give us many of the same benefits.
Vinegar is a simple and all-natural replacement for the fabric softening agents in dryer sheets. Simply add vinegar to your wash cycle in the fabric softener compartment of your washer. I do this for nearly every load of laundry (and I do a load of laundry practically every single day…) – works for me!
To eliminate static cling you have a few options:
- Only wear clothing made from natural fabrics
- This isn’t a bad idea – synthetic fabrics are known to release microplastics into our water supply when washed, check out my post about microfiber cloths to learn more
- Choose to air dry
- Also not a bad idea since power plants use a lot of water to produce the electricity used to power a dryer – saving water is another environmental win
- Use dryer balls
Pop 2-3 dryer balls into the dryer and they will naturally take the stiffness out of clothes, sheets, and towels (chemical-free!) as well as decrease drying time.
Dryer balls come in a variety of materials:
- Rubber – the nubby texture of rubber dryer balls can help soften and fluff your laundry
- Wool – my personal preference and a good all-natural option if you’re trying to avoid plastics
- Tin Foil – I haven’t tried this personally but many can attest to the effectiveness of just a simple ball of tin foil to get the job done
If you choose to dry your clothes with wool dryer balls, coat them with just a few drops of your favorite essential oil before tossing them in with your clothes to get that fresh scent you might miss from dryer sheets. I keep a bottle of lavender essential oil next to my dryer and I have to say, there is nothing better than going to sleep on clean, naturally lavender-scented sheets.
Bonus: lavender has anti-microbial properties and therefore can help aid in the cleaning part of laundering/drying your clothes. Eucalyptus is another favorite of mine for this same reason.