6 Alternatives to Dryer Sheets + 2 Reasons You Should Care

Annie B. Bond by Annie B. Bond | January 18th, 2012 | 25 Comments
topic: Detox, Green Living, Health & Wellness

dryer sheetsA few days after friend’s daughter started doing some office work for me, I became bothered by the smell of dryer sheets from her clothes. I had to ask her to stop using them — at least on the clothes she wore when she came to my house. She said she was glad to comply, but didn’t know you could dry clothes without using dryer sheets. My jaw hung open, and I marveled at the power of advertising.

Are you bothered when you walk through your neighborhood and the smell of dryer sheets/fabric softener wafts into the air from dryer vents? The smell has become ubiquitous — and those fumes can cause burning skin, respiratory irritation, anxiety attacks, nervous system disorders and irritability. And those are just the short-term reactions that you can feel. Also concerning are the long-term effects on your liver, pancreas and gastrointestinal tract from toxic chemicals such as benzyyl acetate, A-termpineol, camphor, ethyl acetate, formaldehyde and more. (Just go put any one of these chemicals into scorecard.org’s database of toxins to learn about the scary health effects.)

But yes, Virginia, there is a way to run the dryer without a dryer sheet. In fact, there are at least six!

  1. Wear natural fabrics to avoid static cling. Fabric softeners are mostly static cling busters, and synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and lycra, are prone to static. Wear natural fiber clothing, which doesn’t get static cling.
  2. Make your own dryer sheets. The key is to use an acid, so another idea floating around the internet is to saturate a small rag with 1 teaspoon of a natural hair conditioner, and put that into the dryer as a homemade dryer sheet. (Hair conditioners are designed to return the hair and scalp to an acidic pH.)
  3. Toss in reusable, chemical-free dryer sheets. Reusable dryer sheets aren’t doused with chemicals, and they can be reused thousands of times. It’s the fabric they’re made of that helps prevent static.
  4. For softness, add vinegar to the wash. Many successfully substitute vinegar for fabric softeners. Just add ½ cup of white distilled vinegar to the rinse water of the laundry cycle.
  5. Use an eco-friendly fabric softener. There are a number of alternative “green” fabric softeners on the market that made with natural scents or are scent-free.
  6. Try dryer balls. Many consumers report great results when they toss a couple of rubbery dryer balls in with each load in the dryer. They soften fabric by virtue of their nubby texture that helps fluff up the fibers.

Browse Gaiam’s full range of eco-friendly laundry products, then learn more ways to green your home on GaiamTV.com.


  1. Thanks for the great info!

    Rose | November 12th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  2. Great information! I love the dryer balls personally, and to add a fresh scent, especially to towels, I use cheesecloth bags of lavendar in the dryer (it goes great with Seventh Generation’s Lavendar-Eucalyptus laundry detergent). Everything smells wonderful without the chemicals, and as a bonus the dryer balls are great for helping to dry bulky items like blankets.

    Lisa | November 12th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  3. My husband developed allergies which has the doctors puzzled as to why his hands, face, and eyes were swelling. All of a sudden, he needed to carry an epipen after rushing him to emergency a few times. One day, it dawned on me that I had taken all of the sheets/towels and his clothes in the drawer, and used fabric softener on everything. He was surrounded by it 24/7. I stopped using and rewashed all the clothing. He never had the reaction again. It was scary at the time.

    Dm | November 12th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  4. I hate to be a contrarian here, but my first reactionto this post was I personally LOVE that warm freshly washed dryer scent of snuggles as it wafts through the neighborhood aire.. sure beats to the soot of car monoxides and 2nd hand smoke anyways.. Guess it depends on your neighborhood and relative smells therein. Either way, I am pretty sure that vinegar, while it maybe a ’safe’ alternative, wouldn’t smell as sweet.

    On the other hand, if someone is having an allergic reaction then certainly its time to go hypo-allergenic or buy one of those green product alternatives.

    The dryer balls surprisingly didn’t last very long. I know, i’d thought they’d last nearly forever, but nope they cracked and fell apart after about 20 or 30 washes or i should I say dries? guess the heat of the dryer was too much to handle.

    ~ open mind, open heart, but always watch your back….

    Bill | November 12th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  5. I’ve had a set of dryer balls from Gaiam for several years and they are going strong. We do around 5 to 8 loads a week. They’re supposed to last for at least 2 years.

    MJ | November 12th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  6. Having used vinegar to do most of my cleaning for a while, I now find it difficult to stomach the “fragrance” of most conventional cleaners. It’s way too chemical-ly and tends to irritate my nose. Surprisingly, adding vinegar to your wash doesn’t leave you smelling like a salad dressing. On the contrary, at the end of the load the smell of vinegar miraculously disappears and all you are left with is a clean, fresh scent. It’s also a mild antibacterial, which helps to prevent odors.

    On the subject of dryer balls, I’ve had mine for a good three years now and they still work like a charm. I’m guessing if they break on you it’s probably because you’re using too much heat. I don’t dry on high heat; I don’t need to–the balls keep the air circulating between the fabrics so they don’t really need too much time or heat to dry.

    mae | November 12th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  7. Rather astonished you did not advise the young woman to toss the dryer out with the dryer sheets. I cannot think of another item that could cut down the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere as quickly and as painlessly as a line dryer for clothes. Except perhaps a good push mower instead of a gas guzzling lawn mower. We are not playing games here. Please don’t tell me about soft towels. Compared to the catastrophes looming ahead caused our obsessive overuse of carbon releasing fuels, any kind of towels as well as bathing itself may soon become a sad memory.

    Vinegar in the rinse water, by the way, works well enough.

    Carole Marner | November 12th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  8. [...] 6 alternatives to dryer sheets + 2 reasons you should care {Gaiam Life} [...]

  9. I’ve used vinegar in the rinse for about 20 years, ever since I had babies in cloth diapers. The babies have long since grown out of diapers! but I’ve kept using the vinegar. There’s no vinegar smell at all. I’d say you don’t need to use 1/2 cup, though. I just use a splash or a glug–probably less than a quarter-cup. Towels are soft and absorbent, too. (I even used the vinegar when I hung clothes to dry.)

    Susan C | November 14th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  10. I have a front load HE washer. Because you use less detergent per load than a regular washer, you actually do not end up needing a dryer sheet in the dryer.

    asithi | January 23rd, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  11. I always hate the way that when you even go to the Grocery store and to purchase those items and the courtesy clerk puts that item in with the bread- YUK! I stopped buying that because my Bread smelled “Clean”

    Keenie | February 14th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  12. Storm | March 1st, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  13. i read your post and saw the nasty chems that are in the dryer sheets, i think the best way to dry stuff is to simply air dry or sun dry clothes… it is free and will oxygenate fabrics to kill germs. sunshine also does the same thing. thanks!

    jonny | July 5th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  14. use the clothesline, the sun is free!

    Hayley | July 23rd, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  15. I think that wool dryer balls are great alternative to dryer sheets. I bought mine from http://allurewool.com/ and I totally love them!

    Marceline | October 27th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  16. You can make your own wool balls. Buy some 100% wool in a skein and make some tightly-wound tennis ball sized balls (a big 8-oz skein makes about four). Cut the leg off of an old pair of pantyhose or tights and put the balls in, one at a time, tying the hose off in the middle of each ball (so they don’t fall out in the wash). Throw them in a hot load of laundry (such as whites) and then dry them on the hottest heat you can manage. This felts the wool together so they don’t unravel. You can now remove the hose and throw the balls into each load. The friction helps soften the clothes, and as an added bonus, the dry wool helps cut your drying time. This doesn’t work if you are allergic to wool, obviously, but otherwise, chemical free (especially if you buy undyed wool).

    Michelle | January 8th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  17. We use the clothesline for about 98% of the time. Then, instead of ironing I throw the clothes in the dryer for 20 minutes. Love the scent of dryer sheets, they don’t exist here and that is the main reason I was looking for alternatives.

    Michelle | January 22nd, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  18. Thank you for giving me permission to deeply detest the smell of dryer sheets wafting through the air when I go for a walk to get some fresh air and smell the trees. It truly sets me on edge.

    janie hansen | March 19th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  19. I spent about $15 on a set of reusable dryer sheets but I’ll be spreading the word that they are absolutely worthless. They do nothing to soften clothes or reduce static cling. There are crackles and pops of electricity coming off our clothes as we peel them apart, zapping ourselves and each other as we fold the laundry. It’s the snowy dead of winter and my backyard is 10′ across so there won’t be much outdoor drying in our yard.

    I’ll try the rubber balls but after that I’m going back to dryer sheets. At least I can go to work without a sock stuck to my back.

    Buyer beware – these are totally useless:

    Tara Donovan | March 20th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  20. Sorry.. ‘natural fibre clothing doesn’t get static cling’ .. ???
    haha.. Trust me, cotton gets static cling.

    Tara Donovan | March 20th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  21. The great news.
    I read a selection of tutorials before making my dryer balls.
    I experimented and found http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItkQVV4Y-34
    coupon code attached.

    Then I made one ball.
    For the wool dryer ball core, I use plain natural wool roving. 2oz. -of wool roving makes one ball.

    Happy Felting!

    SARA | March 22nd, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  22. Does everyone around here wear polyester? What is this obsession with dryer sheets???? Wear cotton! Linin! Rayon! Silk! I have never used dryer sheets and don’t have static cling and if I did I wouldn’t take it out on the whole planet. It’s an addiction to the limalool high I believe. Yeah, then it makes you really sick (now or eventually) just like heroin!
    :Stupid comments I have heard in defense of dryer sheets:

    “You could be passed up on a promotion because of static cling!” true or false, it ain’t worth the cancer.

    “But what about the static cling???!” A mother of an extremely special needs son exclaimed. I wanted to say::: ” But what about your son’s delayed speech? and his lack of motor skills and ataxic gait caused by linolool and camphor? and his behavioral problems (CNS disorder–hello Pentane!!!)”

    may | February 19th, 2014 | Comment Permalink
  23. When making your own fabric softner by using natural hair conditioner on a rag. Do you have wet the rag with water then soak it in the natural hair conditioner then just throw it in the dryer with the clothes? I heard you can also do the same thing with vinegar is that true?

    Marshall | October 28th, 2014 | Comment Permalink
  24. Great Info! Thanks

    Gary Ryan | December 14th, 2014 | Comment Permalink
  25. There’s certainly a lot to find out about this topic. I really like all the points you’ve made.

    body beast results | January 3rd, 2015 | Comment Permalink

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