Dryer Sheet Alternatives: Eco-Friendly and Non-Toxic Substitutes

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Dryer sheets are great for keeping laundry soft and static-free, but you may be feeling guilty about the number of sheets you’re tossing into the garbage on laundry day – that can’t be good for the environment, surely? Are there dryer sheet alternatives that are eco-friendly and free from harsh or toxic chemicals?

Natural wool dryer balls, aluminum foil, and eco-friendly dryer sheets are excellent alternatives to dryer sheets that are both environmentally friendly and non-toxic. Using vinegar or baking soda in the washer gives the same effect. Consider soap nuts or air drying for entirely natural solutions.

Dryer sheets are generally thrown away after a single use and are not biodegradable, so finding alternatives to dryer sheets that are kinder to mother earth is necessary. Going without dryer sheets means dealing with static cling and wrinkled garments, but there are dryer sheet alternatives that are environmentally friendly and non-toxic, and I’ll be sharing those in this article.

Dryer Sheet Alternatives: What Substitutes Are There?

Commercial dryer sheets, just like liquid fabric softener, have become staples in many American homes for their perceived ability to soften wet clothes, give clothes a wonderful smell, and reduce static cling. They do have their downsides as well. They can for example get stuck in dryer vents.

But there is the fact that they aren’t great for the environment one has to consider. Are there dryer sheet alternatives that are both eco-friendly and non-toxic?

So, What Can You Use Instead Of Dry Sheets?

The key to understanding what substitutes there are for store-bought dryer sheets lies in understanding how they work. The basic idea is that when using a tumble dryer to dry clothes, the fabrics rub against each other, which causes a build-up of static electricity.

This, in turn, causes the static cling that makes clothing items stick to each other – and will likely give a tiny shock as you try to pull them over your head.

Dryer sheets are made up of materials that neutralize static cling and help prevent excess static in most fabrics. Using conventional dryer sheets will prevent that cling and shock, making clothes smell great and feel much softer.

They are made of liquid fabric softener and lubricants, with fragranced fibers added that are released when the warm air activates it while the laundry gets tumble dried.

But I’ve become concerned about the number of non-reusable dryer sheets tossed in the garbage and I want to be kinder to the environment – and finding dryer sheet alternatives that help cut down on my spending will be great too – so, here are some other options to consider.

What Are Dryer Balls, And Can You Use Them Instead?

An entirely non-toxic alternative to conventional dryer sheets is wool dryer balls. They are made of natural wool, are much more sustainable, and are better for the environment than regular dryer sheets. Wool dryer balls don’t contain any toxic chemicals.

They are also hypoallergenic, which is excellent for those who tend to have allergies or sensitive skin that may react to the compounds in dryer sheets.

Other benefits of using wool dryer balls include helping to reduce drying time by up to 25% per load and helping to separate clothes in the dryer by bouncing off them. They are also long-lasting and can remain used for up to 1,000 loads of washing.

And, when I want some lovely fragrance added, I drip a few drops of essential oil onto the wool balls and let them air dry for a bit before using them.

On the other hand, I do need more than just one dryer ball for a load of washing, with up to seven dryer balls needed for larger loads. And while they still need to be disposed of responsibly when they start to unravel and become less effective in the dryer, they can be repurposed.

I use old dryer balls as drawer-scent holders or room fresheners rather than simply sending them to fill up a landfill.

Can You Use Vinegar Instead of Dryer Sheets?

Vinegar is an all-purpose household product that is amazing at helping to keep my washing soft and smelling fresh. While it isn’t very effective in preventing static cling, it is particularly good at keeping towels and linen soft and fresh without hampering absorption qualities, a byproduct of fabric softener.  

I either add a quarter cup of vinegar straight to the wash for soft clothes, or I’ll add some vinegar to a clean wash cloth and pop it in the dryer with my damp clothes when tumble drying. It works a treat, and the vinegar smell dissipates as it dries.

This is both non-toxic and environmentally friendly and has the added benefit of fighting against limescale when used in the wash.

Can You Use Baking Soda Instead of Dryer Sheets?

Other wonderful alternatives to dryer sheets that don’t harm the environment include baking soda which is beneficial to use in the washer and dryer. Adding up to a quarter cup of baking soda to the wash softens clothes and helps to remove odors and other build-up on clothes.

Baking soda is a great alternative to fabric softener. However, it isn’t usable in place of dryer sheets. This is only effective when used in your washer on the wash cycle. And remember never to add baking soda and vinegar together, as this will create an eruption of foam and bubbles!

Do Aluminum Foil Balls Work In the Dryer?

In a pinch, other household items could double as dryer sheet alternatives – and aluminum foil is one such life hack. Still, it’s not any better for the environment as it will ultimately need to be disposed of, but it is reusable over the course of a few loads of washing.

When I was looking for dryer sheet replacements, I tried scrunching up a ball of aluminum foil and adding it to my dryer – it acts the same way as dryer sheets to eliminate static. While it doesn’t do much for scent or fragrance, it doesn’t have to be thrown away after just one use. A wad of aluminum the size of a baseball should work perfectly.

Air Drying Instead Of Machine Drying

Good, old-fashioned air drying is a simple alternative that doesn’t add any chemicals and isn’t harmful to the environment. Hanging my wet laundry in the sun is a superb alternative as it not only saves money spent on dryer sheets but saves money on electricity used.

Shaking out and hanging laundry in the breeze, whether outside on a washing line or inside on a laundry drying rack, does take more time than a typical drying cycle in a tumble dryer. But I like that I don’t get any static buildup, and the air that breezes through the garments to dry them also provides a fresh, clean smell. And it doesn’t cost anything!

One thing to look out for with drying the laundry out in the sun is that if the garments are left out too long, they can become sun damaged or bleached away – I tend to bring them in as soon as they are dry. Still, using a tumble dryer has a similar effect over time, fading and wearing out the colors.

Can You Use Soap Nuts Instead of Dryer Sheets?

Despite having a misleading name, soap nuts are an adequate substitute for detergents and softeners for laundry. They are actually berries from the soapberry tree that contains a natural detergent called saponin, which has been used for centuries to clean clothing before chemical ingredients came along.

As an eco-friendly alternative, soap nuts are an excellent choice. They do not produce any waste and are sustainably sourced. Additionally, they actually combat greenhouse gasses – the tree recycles carbon dioxide into oxygen. And when it comes to budget, a box of soap nuts can handle a lot of laundry – up to 100 loads.

To use, I place between two and five berries in a little wash bag and add them to my laundry wash cycle – once done, I air dry them and reuse them for another five to eight washes. And after that? I literally toss them in the garden or on a compost heap as they are fully biodegradable!

Are Dryer Sheets Necessary?

Using dryer sheets – or even liquid fabric softeners – has become the norm since people try to avoid the static from tumble drying their clothes. But what if you’re rarely using a tumble dryer?

In that case, dryer sheets aren’t needed as hanging clothing on a washing line doesn’t cause the friction of the fabrics rubbing against each other in the tumble-drying process, thereby avoiding the build-up of static electricity.

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets help relax fibers and decrease wrinkles, preventing static. And, they add a lovely fragrance to the washing too. But for those who can do without artificial scents and are willing to air dry clothing, dryer sheets are not needed.

To avoid wrinkles in clothing, don’t let them sit in the washer when the cycle is complete. Remove as soon as possible and shake out the garments to reduce wrinkles – I straighten them out as I hang them on the line, and I land up not needing dryer sheets.

Are Dryer Sheets Harmful?

Dryer sheets aren’t always the best option for those who have sensitive skin, and research has shown that some people tend to get breakouts and rashes from certain chemicals in dryer sheets. This is especially true for small children and newborn babies.

The other issue with dryer sheets is how sustainably they are produced and what can be done with them once used – and, since they’re single use, the number of sheets that simply get tossed in the trash is substantial. They aren’t biodegradable, so these sheets aren’t great when it comes to environmental impact.

There are some eco-friendly dryer sheets, though. These are generally made with compostable materials such as recycled paper, plant-based materials, and other natural products such as essential oil instead of chemicals.

They tend to be slightly more expensive than regular dryer sheets but function just as well as standard dryer sheets. They work in the same way but are much better for the environment.

Conclusion

Dryer sheets are great for removing static electricity build-up in the tumble dryer and also help to add softness and scent to your laundry. However, they create a significant carbon footprint, and with a lack of commercially available reusable dryer sheets, those looking for alternatives can look to, wool dryer balls mixed with essential oil, reusable aluminum foil, eco-friendly dryer sheets, baking soda, and vinegar as viable alternatives.

Soap nuts, which are actually berries, are great alternatives to dryer sheets and don’t use chemicals. The best option remains air drying your clothes, reducing electricity consumption.

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About: Mila

Mila is passionate about living sustainability and encouraging others to do the same. Writing about practical steps we can all take to reduce our impact on the environment.