Many people today are looking for non-toxic, environmentally friendly ways to do their laundry. One of their goals is to find a better option than dryer sheets for preventing static cling.
What is Static Cling?
Static cling, or static electricity, causes socks and other clothes to stick together when removed from a dryer. It’s created when clothes rub against each other tumbling in the dryer, and electrons are exchanged between different types of fabric. Some of the clothes will end up with a positive charge when they lose electrons, and some will have a negative charge when they gain electrons. The negatively charged clothing is attracted to the positively charged clothing, causing items to stick together. When you peel them apart, that crackling sound is the result of the outer electrons pulling away from each other.
How Dryer Sheets Work
Dryer sheets are generally made of polyester sheets covered in fabric softening chemicals. Usually, the sheets are also covered in fragrance chemicals that can make up to 10 percent of the contents. The fabric softener coating is positively charged, and when it softens from the heat of the dryer it rubs off onto the clothing and equalizes the electrons. This reduces static cling, and makes the clothes feel soft.
Reasons to Replace Dryer Sheets
- Health. There are chemicals in dryer sheets that can be harmful to your health. For example, according to the Environmental Working Group, dryer sheets contain quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) that trigger asthma. As well, fragrances can include tens to hundreds of different chemicals, some of which are toxic and hazardous. Usually these aren’t disclosed on the label for the consumer. Even dryer sheets that are “green” or “fragrance free” can contain chemicals that may impact your health.
- Effect on Fabrics. The chemical coating left on fabrics from dryer sheets can have negative effects on clothing and other items:
- Fibers in towels can be damaged by the residue to the point where they no longer absorb water very well. Further, the water that is absorbed evaporates more slowly, which can result in a mildew smell that’s hard to get rid of.
- Children’s sleepwear is required by law to be either flame-resistant or tight fitting above size 9 months and up to size 14. The coating from dryer sheets sticks to pajama and nightgown fabric and damages the fire-retarding coating on the sleepwear.
- Stearic acid in dryer sheets reduces the moisture-wicking ability of athletic wear.
- Stains can occur on fabric if a heated dryer sheet remains on one spot too long. The softened coating from the sheet causes the stain, which looks like grease. This can be prevented by not overloading the dryer and giving the clothes and dryer sheets enough room to tumble freely.
- Dryer efficiency. Residue from dryer sheets also coats the inside of your dryer, causing the following issues:
- A clogged lint filter screen that reduces air circulation. Clothes won’t dry properly without good air circulation, and the dryer can overheat, resulting in a fire. There will also be more lint on your clothes because there’s no air coming through the filter to pull it away. The residue on the lint filter screen can be removed by using a fine brush and dishwashing detergent in hot water.
- If the dryer has an electronic moisture sensor, it can stop working correctly. The dryer runs longer (increasing utility costs) and clothes over dry. Residue can be cleaned from the sensor by using a cotton ball or swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Dryer Sheet Alternatives
- Vinegar. There are two ways to use vinegar to reduce static cling. You can pour about 1/4 cup of white vinegar into the fabric softener dispenser of your washing machine for use in the rinse cycle (it softens clothes). You should see a reduction in static cling when the clothes come out of the dryer. The second method is to dampen a clean washcloth, pre-cut piece of cloth, sock, or any other garment with vinegar, and add it to the dryer load. The vinegar smell will be gone once the clothes are dry.
- Baking soda. Washing your clothes with baking soda reduces static cling in the dryer, and also softens your clothes. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of baking soda along with detergent before starting the wash cycle.
- Safety pins. Pin two safety pins on two different items before putting them in the dryer.
- Tin foil. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil, roll it into a ball about the size of a baseball, and add it to the dryer. It should last for several loads.
- Wool dryer balls. Static electricity forms more easily when water has been removed from the clothing and the air is dry. Small wool balls absorb moisture from the clothing, keeping the dryer environment more humid. They also separate and aerate the clothes, fluffing and softening them, and shortening the drying time. Use 6 or more for each load — a set of wool balls can last for years.
- Soap nuts. These are soapberries grown on trees native to the Himalayan regions of Nepal and India and are used as a green alternative to regular laundry detergents. They come with a reusable muslin bag that you fill with 5 or 6 soap nuts and drop into the washer. They can be reused up to 10 times, or until the soap nuts are mushy or not producing suds when held under water and squeezed. The soap nuts have anti-static properties, reducing static cling on clothes in the dryer.
- Combining alternatives. Success with dryer sheet alternatives will vary, depending on such factors as the time of year, type of clothing, humidity levels, and how hot the dryer runs. For best results, try combining some of the washing and drying alternatives. For example, add vinegar as a fabric softener in the washer, and use the safety pins in the dryer. Or wash with soap nuts and use wool dryer balls in the dryer loads.
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