Static can be built up as your clothes roll around in the dryer and different fabrics rub against each other.
When you pull your dry laundry out and go to fold them, this static is why you might find a sock has clung to a sweater. Materials like cotton and wool can hold this static charge for a while, so wearing it may cause you to experience a static shock when you touch a piece of metal.
To prevent this static buildup, many people use dryer sheets. Dryer sheets add positively-charged ions into the mix, neutralizing the negatively-charged electrons produced by the fabric friction, and reducing the amount of static.
Some dryer sheets also add fabric softening compounds to make your clothes feel softer.
What Are Dryer Sheets Made Of?
Dryer sheets are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which doesn’t require manufacturers to disclose all the ingredients on the label. Some brands list a few of the active ingredients on the box. Sometimes more information can be found on the manufacturer’s website.
Dryer sheets contain a variety of ingredients, most commonly:
- the sheet – non-woven polyester substrate
- the anti-static agent – dipalmethyl hydroxyethyl ammonium methosulfate
- the softening agent – fatty acids, silicone oils
- the melting agent – clay
Some dryer sheets also contain added fragrances. Many scents are available, but typically they are tropical or floral fragrances.
Potential Carcinogenic Byproducts?
One of the significant concerns that some people have with dryer sheets is volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are gaseous pollutants that can be harmful to your health. They have been linked to asthma, respiratory illnesses, and even cancer.
VOCs have been identified in dryer emissions, though the amount is relatively small – only 3% compared to what is commonly released from automobiles – and it is not yet entirely clear whether fragranced dryer sheets are the main contributor to these emissions.
Asthma, Allergies, and Irritation
A more common complaint with dryer sheets comes from the association between fragrances and respiratory or skin irritation.
Some people are susceptible to fragrances and can experience an allergic or asthmatic reaction after using dryer sheets. Others find that the scents cause skin irritation or an itchy rash.
Should You Use Them?
If you notice an allergic reaction or skin irritation after using dryer sheets, it’s probably best to avoid them. There are unscented dryer sheets available that may better fit you. There are also other fabric softening and anti-static treatments that you can try.
Although more research is needed, the evidence suggests that the risks associated with dryer sheets are minimal. But if you are concerned about using them, they aren’t necessary, and you can find other, safer ways to soften your clothes.