A few decades ago, most people probably never thought twice about throwing a dryer sheet in with a load of wet laundry. A single dryer sheet would banish static, soften fabric and make clothes smell flowery. Who really cared about what kind of substances were responsible for delivering all those results? Today, a lot of us are more cautious about what kinds of chemicals we use in our home and around our body, and that means steering clear of traditional dryer sheets and looking for dryer sheet alternatives. There are plenty of nontoxic ways to recreate the results that dryer sheets provide without coating your clothing in unpronounceable chemicals or irritating sensitive skin.
1. Wool Dryer Balls
Wool dryer balls are a laundry game changer. Instead of spending money on box after box of dryer sheets, reuse the same set of dryer balls over and over again. They're made of tightly packed wool with no questionable chemicals included. As the dryer runs, the balls bounce around among your clothes and eliminate static cling. They're durable enough that they won't break down and coat your laundry with wooly lint. Because the wool absorbs moisture, using wool dryer balls speed up the drying time too.
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2. Plastic Dryer Balls
Wool dryer balls are a great nontoxic alternative to dryer sheets, but plastic dryer balls are effective too. They're covered with dull spikes to help break up clumps of wet fabric as the dryer tumbles. Like wool, they're super durable and can be used for hundreds of loads. Deciding between wool vs. plastic dryer balls is really a matter of preference. Noise may be a deciding factor. Wool balls tend to create a dull thumping noise as they knock against the walls of the dryer, but plastic balls tend to be even louder.
3. Dryer Sachets
For anyone who loves dryer sheets because of their sweet smell, using dryer sachets is a good dryer sheet alternative. They're dryer-safe bags that are typically filled with dried flowers and fragrant herbs, infusing your laundry with scent. Dryer sachets don't have the anti-static properties of dryer sheets and can only be reused a handful of times before they lose their potency, but your closet will smell so good when it's filled with freshly dried clothes that you might not care.
4. Reusable Dryer Sheets
One of the biggest problems with traditional dryer sheets is that each one is generally only good for one load of laundry, and then it's off to the landfill. Buying or making your own dryer sheets is a much more sustainable alternative. Find reusable dryer sheets sold by companies that make eco-friendly home products. If you like dryer sheets because they soften your clothing, make homemade dryer sheets. One way to make reusable dryer sheets uses sponges soaked in diluted liquid fabric softener.
5. White Vinegar
Is there anything white vinegar can't be used for? This kitchen staple is a cleaning powerhouse, and you can even use vinegar to help you get bad smells out of clothes with no dryer sheets required. Simply dampen a washcloth or scrap of fabric with vinegar, wring out any excess liquid and toss it in with a load of wet laundry. The vinegar won't help with static but should neutralize any musty or sour odors that cling to clothing. Substitute apple cider vinegar if you prefer.
6. Baking Soda
Just like its old cleaning partner vinegar, baking soda can be a useful tool in your laundry room as long as they're not used at the same time. The bubbling reaction that occurs when vinegar and baking soda are combined is great when you're trying to bust up a clog, but it's not great when it's happening all over your clothing. Add baking soda to the wash cycle to help deodorize fabrics before they reach the dryer, eliminating the need for dryer sheets. Add about 1/2 cup of baking soda to the water as your washing machine fills and then add laundry detergent before dropping your laundry into the washer.
7. Aluminum Foil
Talk about low-tech hacks: A wadded-up piece of aluminum foil can in fact act as a dryer sheet alternative. The foil works like a wool or plastic dryer ball by helping to separate clothing so it dries faster and doesn't clump. More importantly, because they're made of metal, aluminum foil dryer balls will help discharge any static buildup. Make four to six foil balls of at least a few inches across to add to a load of wet laundry. Flatten and smooth the foil as much as possible so delicate fabrics don't snag on rough edges.
8. Linen Sprays
Using essential oils in your dryer can be a little risky because these oils are flammable, but you can certainly use them to make your freshly washed laundry smell its absolute best. Make a bottle of linen spray using vodka or rubbing alcohol and a few dozen drops of essential oil(s) of your choosing. Experiment with different combinations to create a signature scent of your own. Mist your clean laundry with the spray before folding it and putting it away.
9. Safety Pins
Like aluminum foil, safety pins – being made of metal – can help disperse static electricity so your freshly washed clothing doesn't stick to itself and your skin. Try putting pins in a few pieces of clothing before running them through the dryer. If you're using wool dryer balls but still noticing some static in clean clothes, attach a pin to each dryer ball to see if that improves things.
10. Skip the Dryer Altogether
If you have the space to line-dry clothing, skip dryer sheets and their alternatives entirely and let nature do its thing. Line drying everything makes laundry day a little more labor intensive, but it's totally worth the effort. Static isn't an issue when your laundry bypasses the dryer and dries on the clothesline. Laundry that's been dried in the sun and buffeted by the breeze smells fresher and feels softer than clothes that have been dried in a machine. Iron out any wrinkles and spritz your air-dried laundry with linen spray.