Last Updated on April 15, 2023 by The Filtery
It’s no longer any secret that most conventional household cleaning products we use on a daily basis contain chemicals that are known to cause negative effects like infertility, asthma, cancer, and more. And dryer sheets are no exception.
The thing about dryer sheets is that we don’t actually need them! As we’ll see, there are plenty of alternatives to dryer sheets for static and smell.
In this article, we’ll talk about how dryer sheets actually work, the toxic ingredients in them, and a lot of different things you can use as substitutes for conventional dryer sheets.
Let’s get to it.
How Do Dryer Sheets Work?
Our clothes generate static when wet fabrics tumble together and generate sticky static electricity.
Before dryer sheets came along, fabric softeners were invented to soften clothes. Extra chemicals were later added to decrease the amount of static generated as well.
The problem, however, was that laundry detergents and softeners couldn’t be put in the washing machine at the same time because one has a positive charge and the other has a negative charge. So before washing machine manufacturers added an automatic fabric softener dispenser which would add the softener later on in the rinse cycle, dryer sheets were invented!
How Do Dryer Sheets Reduce Static?
Static happens when too many loose electrons give fabric atoms a negative charge. So, dryer sheets contain chemicals that balance those electrons with ions (particles with a positive charge).
How Do Dryer Sheets Remove Odors?
Well, they don’t. Dryer sheets don’t remove odors—only soap (a.k.a. detergent) can do that. Most conventional dryer sheets do ADD scents to your laundry, though (which is what gives you that “mountain breeze” scent).
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Are Dryer Sheets Toxic?
Dryer sheets might SMELL fresh, but in reality, they’re chock full of toxic chemicals that can cause a host of health concerns. Here are some of the common problematic chemicals that conventional dryer sheets contain:
We talk about “fragrance” (or “parfum”) again and again. The United States allows companies to put over 3,500 chemicals (some totally safe and some very harmful) in their products without legally disclosing them under the umbrella term of “fragrance.” Many of these are volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), which contribute to indoor air pollution and can cause health problems.
These chemicals include things like:
- phthalates and parabens, which are endocrine disruptors that can lead to infertility and more
- phenol, which is a neurotoxin
- BHA and ethoxylation ingredients, which are carcinogens
- linalool, which is a skin irritant
- and many more
“Fragrance” is not great for anyone, but it’s especially problematic for people with asthma, multiple chemical sensitivity, autoimmune conditions, or other sensitivities.
Study after study has shown that anywhere from 35% to 46% of individuals with asthma (which is about 8% of the U.S. population, or over 26 million people) regularly has health issues and other negative experiences because of fragrances. This is why so many workplaces are banning perfumes these days!
Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (or “quats” for short)
Quats are one of the most common chemicals used to soften fabrics. There are a lot of long and difficult-to-pronounce chemicals that fall under this category, but a lot of them will include words like chloride or sulfate, or will be categorized under the umbrellas of “catatonic surfactants” or “biodegradable fabric softening agents.”
Many studies have shown that quats not only exacerbate but actually cause asthma and there is some evidence that suggests they can be a skin irritant as well. They also release formaldehyde, which is toxic in high quantities. Not only that, but quats are also very toxic to aquatic life.
This is a toxic pesticide that used as a preservative and is linked to inhalation toxicity, allergies, and possibly neurotoxicity. In countries like Japan and Canada, there are legal restrictions on this ingredient. Methylisothiazolinone is more likely to be found in liquid softeners rather than dryer sheets.
Dryer Sheets Aren’t Good For Your Dryer (or Your Laundry Either)
On top of all of the toxic chemicals, dryer sheets can also cause issues for your dryer and fabrics over time. The quats and silicones that coat your dryer sheets melt with heat, slowly forming a layer of film in your dryer vents, basin, and on your lint filter.
This film can reduce air circulation, leading to longer dry times, which not only decreases the life of your clothing but also cost you more money on your energy bill.
The same goes for liquid fabric softener—conventional softeners contain many of the same ingredients, which build up in your washing machine and dryer.
Should You Ditch Dryer Sheets?
The thing about dryer sheets is that we don’t really need them. They don’t actually clean anything, and as we’ll see in just a minute, there are plenty of dryer sheet alternatives that can help with static and give you softer clothes that still smell good.
The non-toxic alternatives below:
- are better for those with sensitive skin
- help decrease indoor air pollution
- are much healthier for aquatic life and our ecosystems
- pose significantly less risk to short- and long-term health for you and your family
Whether you know it or not, chances are pretty high that you know someone with asthma or another chronic health condition that makes them sensitive to fragrances and other toxic ingredients.
For this reason, we may want to reconsider what we think of as “clean” and “a good smell.” Do we really need our clothes to smell so strongly of artificial “fresh linen” or “mountain breeze”? What if “clean” clothes just smell like… well, nothing! Because they’re clean!
How Do You Get Rid of Static Without Dryer Sheets? (11 Great Dryer Sheet Alternatives)
If you’re looking for a non-toxic alternative to dryer sheets, don’t worry—there are actually quite a few safe and effective options!
Use Aluminum Foil Instead of Dryer Sheets to Keep Clothes Static Free
Yep—you can put tin foil in the dryer! Foil won’t do much when it comes to softening clothes or making them smell good, but it will definitely help to reduce static and help your clothes or sheets dry faster.
How to Make Aluminum Foil Dryer Balls
Making aluminum foil dryer balls is super easy: just take a few sheets of foil and bunch them up into a ball about the size of a baseball. You can use one or a few balls at once, depending on how big your load is.
You can reuse the balls for quite a while too; they will keep working through lots of washes.
This is one of the most affordable dryer sheet alternatives!
Wool Dryer Balls
Wool balls are a favorite green alternative for many people. They absorb moisture from your clothes in order to create a more humid environment to reduce static. They also reduce dry time and fluff clothes by keeping things separated in your dryer.
You can use scent-free wool balls as they are, or you can add 10 drops of your favorite essential oils for a light scent.
Here are our favorite brands for wool dryer balls:
Are Dryer Balls Better Than Dryer Sheets?
Since wool dryer balls are so popular, a lot of people ask: are they actually better than dryer sheets? Well, it depends on what you mean by “better”!
If by “better” you mean less toxic and better for human and environmental health: the answer is yes, they’re absolutely, 200% better.
When it comes to effectiveness, most people find that wool balls are just as effective in reducing static and keeping laundry soft and fluffy.
When it comes to leaving your clothes smelling good, the scent from wool balls isn’t going to be as strong. Adding essential oils to the balls definitely helps to address this, but it’s more of a lighter scent.
The only real downside to wool dryer balls is that they can be a bit noisy bopping around in the dryer, so they may not be ideal for use during naptime.
Reusable Dryer Sheets
You can buy fragrance-free, chemical-free, reusable dryer sheets that have anti-static properties. These are a quieter alternative to wool dryer balls. Here are a few great brands to check out:
These sachets from Truly Free are another great alternative to traditional dryer sheets. These simple refillable pouches are made from a blend of essential oils (Vanilla, Lemongrass, Rose, Lillies, Orange, Bergamot), Lilac Oil, and corn kernels.
In addition to their dryer sachets, Truly Free also offers a non-toxic wrinkle and static release spray.
White Vinegar and baking soda are two of the best natural all-purpose cleaners for your home. They have so many different uses! And yep, that includes drying your clothes.
To try this method, simply add 1/4 cup of vinegar to the wash cycle and/or dampen a clean washcloth with vinegar and throw it in the dryer during the dry cycle. You can also try apple cider vinegar, too.
And don’t worry: the vinegar smell won’t stay on your clothes by the time they’re finished drying, whether you put them through the dryer or hang dry them.
You can also add baking soda to your wash cycle to help soften your clothes. Just add about a teaspoon into the washing machine with your detergent.
Just don’t use vinegar and baking soda at the same time!
Dry Natural and Synthetic Fabrics Separately
Have you ever thought about the fact that people didn’t need all of these extra laundry products back in the day? One of the reasons for this is that clothing used to be made almost completely of natural materials such as cotton, linen, wool, etc.
Today, the majority of our clothing is made of synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon. These are actually the main culprits of static cling!
One way to help with static is by drying your natural fabrics separately from your synthetics so that the synthetics can’t charge up all the natural materials. You might want to consider hang drying your synthetics (more on that below).
[ Related: Is Borax Safe? Why Is Borax Banned In U.K.? ]
Reduce Drying Time
Nobody likes damp clothes, so over-drying them is a common mistake. However, when there is no moisture left in the fabric, static electricity is generated more easily.
So, try to only dry your clothes for the just-right amount of time in order to decrease static cling as well as energy costs. Many dryers now have a sensor option that will turn off the dryer when it detects that the clothes are completely dry.
Hang Dry Your Laundry
One of the most effective ways to eliminate static in your laundry is to let it air dry. Obviously, this option is going to be more or less realistic depending on where you live, the season, how much laundry and space you have, etc.
If you have a yard, consider putting up a clothesline and drying everything outside.
If not, set up a drying rack or two inside, preferably next to an open window for increased air flow. (You don’t want your clothes taking TOO long to try because they can develop mold and mildew.)
When you hang them to try, clothes don’t rub together, so they don’t have the opportunity to create static cling.
Make Your Own Dryer Sheets
It’s actually really easy to make your own dryer sheets. All you need is:
- Fabric scraps (you can use washcloths, cut up old t-shirts, scrap fabric, etc.)
- 1/2 cup of distilled vinegar
- 10 drops of the essential oil of your choice (lavender, citrus, or eucalyptus are great options)
- A glass container with an airtight lid (such as a mason jar)
To make your own DIY dryer sheets:
- Put your fabric scraps in the jar. You can fold them in neatly, but you don’t have to.
- Mix the vinegar and essential oils together in a separate bowl.
- Pour the mixture into the jar over the fabric scraps. You want the cloths to be damp, but not soaking.
- The next time you put a load in the dryer, simply take a pre-cut piece of fabric out of the jar, wring it out over the jar to release any excess vinegar, and throw the cloth into the dryer.
- You can add more vinegar/essential oil solution and reuse that piece of cloth over and over again in future loads.
[ Related: Are Downy Unstopables Toxic? ]
BETTER (Less Toxic) Dryer Sheets
Of course, one of the most obvious alternatives to dryer sheets to reduce static and leave your clothes smelling good is to just buy a less toxic version. Unfortunately, none of the brands we found are PERFECT—they all contain at least an ingredient or two that could be toxic in one way or another.
But, if you’re set on keeping your dryer sheets, we won’t judge. So we’ve pulled out the BETTER and the OKAY brands that are definitely a safer bet than the conventional ones like Bounce, Gain, etc.
Theses are the safest dryer sheet brands:
- Public Goods Fabric Softener Sheets
- Better Life Unscented Dryer Sheets
- Frey Dryer Sheets
- Grab Green Wet Dryer Sheets
- Biokleen Dryer Sheets
- HEX Performance Dryer Sheets
What About “Green” Dryer Sheet Brands at Walmart and Target?
There are several recognizable brands that big box stores like Walmart and Target carry. Unfortunately, we can’t strongly recommend any of these brands either because they do contain some ingredients questionable ingredients. So, if you’re set on picking up some dryer sheets at the store, here are the brands that are just okay.
OKAY Brands for Store Bought Dryer Sheets:
- Mrs. Meyer’s
- Love Home & Planet
- Bounce Free & Gentle
- Seventh Generation
- Mild By Nature
BETTER Fabric Softener
Same goes for fabric softener. There aren’t a lot of completely non-toxic brands (especially for a product that we don’t actually NEED), but here are the safer options that you can feel better about using:
- Dropps Unscented Fabric Softener Pods
- Attitude Fabric Softener
- Seventh Generation Free & Clear
- Botanical Origin Fabric Softener/Conditioner
Lastly: Use Nothing! Do You Have to Use Dryer Sheets At All?
Do you have to use dryer sheets at all? Nope! If you want, you can disregard everything you just read and use nothing at all.
Strategic marketing has convinced us that we can’t do laundry without the use of dryer sheets, but it’s just not true. There are so many safe and non-toxic alternatives to using dryer sheets that will reduce static cling and still leave your clothes smelling fresh.
Image credits: cottonbro, Karolina Grabowska, Sana Saidi