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Dryer sheets are a surprisingly important yet underrated player in the entire laundry process. After your clothes are washed and clean, those little sheets add a final touch of softness and freshness to your finished load. Have you ever had a sock stubbornly clinging to the arm of your sweater? Or maybe picked up a freshly washed shirt, only to feel a weird stiff texture instead of the warm softness expected? The reason behind these problems isn’t necessarily the quality of your clothes or your dryer or washer. When clothes are tumbling together in the dryer, they can become stuck together through static electricity. But fabric softeners, and especially dryer sheets, can help prevent this. Just throwing a dryer sheet into your tumble dryer with your load may actually make your clothes more pleasant to wear. But, what are dryer sheets? How do they work and what exactly do dryer sheets…do?
Where do dryer sheets come from?
Fabric softeners were invented in the mid-20th century to make clean clothes…well, softer. Later chemicals were added to help prevent satic. But using softener wasn’t exactly convenient. They had to be added after the first wash cycle in an automatic washer because softeners were cationic, with a positive electrical charge, and detergents were anionic, or negatively charged. In other words, putting the two together caused them to counteract, therefore reducing the effectiveness of both.
Later, in the 1960s, they figured out how to treat small sheets of material with fabric softener. When the sheets were put in the dryer, the heat and moisture then warmed up the softener and spread it across all the pieces of clothing. Thus, the dryer sheets were born.
How do they work?
Dryer sheets have a very thin layer of fabric softener or lubricant, which is electronically conductive. After running a drying cycle with a dryer sheet in either an electric or gas dryer, your clothes come out feeling softer and with reduced static electricity, compared to a drying cycle without the dryer sheet. The chemicals inside the dryer sheet fabric softeners target electrostatic charges and eliminate those that linger on the surface of fabrics, thus eliminating static electricity and resulting in 0 shocks.
What are the uses and benefits of dryer sheets?
In short, dryer sheets are used to create a guard against the buildup of static electricity during machine drying in most fabrics. They also work as fabric softeners, help in the resistance of future stains, prevent clothes from gathering lint and make ironing easier. To top it off, dryer sheets add a burst of freshness and some even a pleasing scent that some users enjoy!
Dryer sheets even have non-laundry related uses, such as dusting, freshening up drawers, freshening up luggage and suitcases when traveling or even pest control!
However, it is important to remember that a dryer sheet is not needed in all wash loads. In fact, dryer sheets may reduce the absorption properties of towels, diapers and microfibers. It is also advised against using dryer sheets when washing moisture wicking athletic wear.
A word of caution, though! Even though dryer sheets won’t permanently damage your dryer, just as the dryer sheets leave a residue on your clothing that makes the fabric softer, they also leave a residue in your dryer. This residue may clog the screen of the lint filter and reduce circulation. We recommend that the lint filter be emptied after every load of clothes. If you normally use dryer sheets, you must then also clean the lint filter screen at least once a month with a fine brush and a small amount of dish detergent mixed with hot water (rinse well and allow to air dry before replacing the lint filter!).
Now that you know how they work and the benefits of using such a small piece of material, what are you waiting for to start using dryer sheets?