Dryer sheets serve a useful purpose. They keep our dresses from sticking to our thighs, and fleece jackets from sending electric currents through us when we pull them from the dryer. But – are they safe? In this post I'll discuss potential health concerns and what I've found to be suitable alternatives to conventional dryer sheets.
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Most sources I reviewed agree that fragrances and other chemicals in dryer sheets can cause harmful health effects ranging from asthma to skin allergies. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) website contains a blanket warning for all fabric softeners and dryer sheets that states “avoid fabric softeners: some ingredients can cause asthma or allergies”. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives journal found that the 25 scented products tested (including dryer sheets) together emitted more than 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including some that are classified as toxic or hazardous by federal laws. And since cleaning supplies are not required by law to provide a list of their ingredients (one of my biggest pet peeves), only one of the 100+ chemicals detected in the products was even listed as an ingredient on the product labels.
So how do we as consumers make informed decisions when such basic and important information is not available to us? One way is to review information provided by consumer product rating websites. Here are the scores from three leading consumer rating websites for a conventional dryer sheet (Bounce Dryer Sheets, Outdoor Fresh).
What Does It Mean?
Scale: A (good) to F (bad)
D: High Concern - Likely hazards to health or the environment. May also have poor ingredient disclosure.
Scale: 1 (good) to 10 (bad)
8: Product’s ingredients have potential serious negative long term health effects.
Scale: 0 (bad) to 10 (good)
See ** Below
**If you dig into this rating you’ll see that fragrance was assigned a 10 (best) because, “It [fragrance] is not on any of GoodGuide’s lists of toxic chemicals which cause suspected or recognized health effects.” The problem is that “fragrance” is not a chemical; it’s made up of hundreds of chemicals, none of which are required to be listed as ingredients. Although GoodGuide® does use scientific data and research for their ratings, I would definitely trust the other two rating systems more on this one.
Let's See Those Alternatives!
Evidence has shown that there are indeed health risks associated with conventional dryer sheets. So, let's take a look at some alternatives.
Alternative Dryer Sheets
If you want to stick with the dryer sheet method, look for a fragrance-free variety. Using EWG’s scoring system, Unscented Bounce Dryer sheets represented a lower concern for skin irritation and allergies than the fragranced variety. *Asthma/Respiratory effects still ranked at the higher concern level*.
Of the 45 products that popped up when I searched EWG for dryer sheets, GrabGreen Wet Dryer Sheets, Fragrance Free was the only product that EWG assigned a “B” (there were no “A’s”). Although certain health categories still scored in the Some to Moderate Concern category for this product, the ingredients were more fully disclosed leading to a better overall assessment.
A Non-Dryer Sheet Alternative
Hands down, the best option I’ve found are not dryer sheets at all, but 100% wool dryer balls:
Wool dryer balls lift and separate clothes and increase warm air flow. In my opinion they provide a similar amount of static removal as dryer sheets. They’re reportedly reusable for 1,000+ loads (I haven’t personally confirmed that claim!) and improve air flow in the dryer, which shortens drying time. I know many people add essential oils as a fragrance, and although I have not tried this myself, it does sound quite nice.Stay tuned for my wool dryer ball video review coming soon!
A DIY Alternative
This is a great solution for all you DIY-ers out there! It works well and is certainly a safe and healthy alternative.
To make your own dryer sheets, simply take some fabric scraps and put them in a lidded glass jar with about a 1/2 cup of vinegar and 8-10 drops of essential oils. Let the liquid absorb into the fabric, wring out the excess, and throw a square into your dryer. The vinegar is a natural softener and static reducer, and the essential oils will give your clothes a chemical-free scent. In case you're wondering, your laundry won't smell like vinegar because the dryer heat eliminates that odor.
The bottom line is that there are no great, non-toxic over-the-counter dryer sheets on the market. The best bet to avoid harmful fragrances and other chemicals is to go the natural route with 100% wool dryer balls, or if you're feeling crafty, make your own chemical-free dryer sheets. And of course line drying your laundry is always a great option as well if you're set up for it! All of these natural options will keep your clothes low on static and you can rest easy knowing that the allergies, skin irritations, and respiratory issues that can be caused by dryer sheets are no longer a concern in your household.
We want to hear from you! Share with us your favorite alternatives to conventional dryer sheets!