What Do Dryer Sheets Do?

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Ever wondered how dryer sheets work? It's not magic. It's really quite simple.

If you regularly use a clothes dryer, odds are you’ve probably used dryer sheets or seen them lying around your laundry area. There are several good reasons to incorporate them into your regular laundry routine. Here’s how they work.

What are Dryer Sheets?

Have you ever gotten a little electric shock trying to pull socks or sweaters out of the dryer? Dryer sheets help eliminate that.

“Tumble drying makes clothes rub against each other, so (it) can result in a build-up of static electricity that makes your sweaters and socks cling together,” according to Maytag. “The ingredients present in dryer sheets help neutralize and guard against excess static in most fabrics.”

How Do Dryer Sheets Work?

Like liquid softeners, dryer sheets can help soften fabrics, reduce static, hasten drying times and even add a pleasant fragrance to your laundry. Most fabric softening sheets can be tossed on top of your wet laundry at the start of the drying cycle. The sheet then goes to work while the clothes dry.

“Dryer sheets are composed of liquid softeners, lubricants and fragrances coated on a layer of fabric, which is often made of polyester or cellulose fibers,” according to Whirlpool. “When included in a load of laundry, the dryer heat works to warm and release these ingredients onto your fabrics.”

The dryer sheets absorb static electricity formed during the drying cycle. You can even feel the effect by testing the dryer sheet in your hands.

“If you rub a dryer sheet between your fingers, you might notice a slightly tacky feeling,” according to How Stuff Works. “That’s the surfactant, a compound that contains a positive charge and a fatty molecule such as a quaternary ammonium salt or a silicone oil [source: Kozen].

“As the surfactant heats up during the drying cycle, the fatty substance coats your clothes, making them more pleasant to the touch, and the positive atoms prevent static.”

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even make DIY dryer sheets with household items you probably already have laying around.

Are Dryer Sheets Effective?

Yes, most name brand dryer sheets like Bounce do exactly as advertised — eliminating wrinkles and static while softening clothes. There are a wide range of options to help speed up your laundry time, including dryer balls.

Dryer sheets are versatile and can be used for other household chores not related with laundry. Some of the dryer sheet hacks include buffing water spots on chrome surfaces, sweeping dust from floors and removing odors from shoes, gym bags and more.

Also, if you find a random dryer sheet in your mailbox, there’s a completely normal reason for it. Your mail delivery person would appreciate if you left it in there.

Alex Shoemaker
Alex Shoemaker is the Digital Newsletter Editor of Family Handyman.