How tumble dryer sheets actually work

There are a lot of things in life we just do without even thinking about why we do them. Often we develop these habits (or rituals) through observing others doing the same things – such as parents, caregivers, friends and so on. While some of these things are quite obvious, like opening the window when cooking with gas, others are less so – like when we put dryer sheets in a dryer or tumble dryer. I mean, how does a little sheet help our clothes get dry?

Thankfully, you needn’t stay up all night ruminating on one of life’s greatest mysteries – the team at Repair Aid have all the answers you need.

Static problem solvers

Those using dryers will often come up against the problem of their freshly washed and dried clothes feeling stiff and horrible. Or you’ll stick a shirt on and find that it’s clinging to your body. The reason for this is simple: static electricity. This is what happens when wet clothes get tumble dried – they get stuck together.

Static electricity

If the clothes are made of two different materials, they can rub up against one another – causing electrons to get transferred from one fabric to another. As electrons are the negatively charged part of an atom, this can lead to clothes that either have too many electrons or too little. As we know that opposites attract in electricity (people are, of course, another story), you’ll find positively-charged clothing getting stuck to negatively-charged clothing.

The problem is more than just clothes getting stuck together – you may find yourself getting small shocks throughout the day when wearing the affected clothes. This is because the shock isn’t just a ‘one and done’ deal. As a lot of clothing materials aren’t very conductive, the static charge is slow to fizzle out. So when you, for example, touch a door handle and get a shock, you’ll note that the shock is over and done with quite quickly because the handle is likely a good conductor that can deal with and disperse electrons quite quickly. The same is not true of your clothes – meaning that the static charge shocks can last for a lot longer.

While this problem can be dealt with by simply leaving your clothes to dry instead of sticking them in a dryer or tumble dryer, there are numerous reasons why people need a dryer. They may not have an outdoor space to hang clothes to dry, indoor space may also be similarly limited, or they may not want to hang clothes indoors as they have (or a family member has) allergy problems. Additionally, they may need a good turnaround on washing and drying clothes – such as parents who need to wash school uniforms every working day.

So the solution to this is using dryer sheets. They work by balancing out the negatively-charged electrons with positively-charged ions – thus removing the static electricity that causes clothes to get stuck together and feel quite nasty against our skin.

tumble dryer sheets pack

What’s in a dryer sheet?

Before you go sticking your bedsheets or a sheet of A4 paper in with a load of wet washing in the hope of solving the problem, we should define what makes a dryer sheet so special.

Dryer sheets are treated with fabric softeners that, when exposed to heat, warm up the softener and transfer it across the clothing. Softeners feature cationic surfactants and, as such, carry a positive electrical charge – which is exactly the balancing force that your otherwise positively and negatively charged clothes need to be equalised.

Aside from that, you’ll find both scented and un-scented types of dryer sheets. The former is the most popular as it can leave clothes smelling nice but this isn’t so good for those who are allergic to perfumes and fragrances – so un-scented would be the way to go here.

If you’re not keen on the idea of chemicals, but do want to still deal with the static charge problem, a possible solution could be to buy a dryer ball or, as a cheap alternative, stick a tennis ball in a wash bag. The ball will move around and stop clothes getting stuck together. White vinegar can also be used to treat clothes during a rinse cycle. The vinegar can soften clothes and have an anti-static effect when it comes to drying.

However, dryer sheets are definitely the best way to have your clothes feel fresh, smell nice and static-free in no time at all.

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