NJ AIR QUALITY BLOG

Plush Towels, Fabric Softener, Bounce Sheets & Dryer Vents?

ByMarc Silberberg

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Are you the type of person who loves to sink into the softest and luxurious feeling towels? Do scented towels improve your mood substantially? Then chances are you are the users of either fabric softeners in your washing machine or fabric softener sheets in your dryers. There is certainly a difference in the feel of a towel with or without an added fabric softener to the daily load and most folks love the inviting scent that is added. Have you ever put a thought to the question if those fabric softener sheets are harmful to your clothes dryer? What could possibly be wrong with using those sheets to get that velvety feeling on your towels and clothes?

A sensitive guest to the home of a non-user of fabric softener sheets such as Bounce may object to the way the towels in the bathroom feel and will be annoyed when coming out of the shower that the towel is a wee bit rough. They may question their host either in their hearts or out loud as to why they don’t take advantage of a simple additive such as fabric softener in the washer or fabric softener sheets in the dryer. The same holds true in a motel when you check into a five-star facility only to notice after checking in that the towels do not feel as fluffy and pampering as yours do at home. You are paying top dollars for the services of a specific hotel or motel only to be disappointed when feeling the towels. They just don’t have that downy fluffy feel and smell that you are so used to at home. Perhaps these hotel and motel managers know something that you don’t know.

What is the makeup of typical dryer sheets?

Most dryer sheets are made of synthetic non-woven materials such as polyester or cellulose and are coated with a mixture of different chemicals such as alcohols, ammonium salts and silicone oils. Dryer sheets are coated with stearic or fatty acids which as they melt in the heated dryer coat your laundry with the chemicals that are shed from the fabric softener sheets.

What are the benefits of dryer sheets?

Dryer sheets take the place of fabric softener so instead of adding a fabric softener to your washing machine (especially if your machine doesn’t have a softener dispenser) you just toss a sheet into the dryer at the start of a drying cycle. Dryer sheets take away a lot of the static electricity that is attached to your clothing and towels, especially in the winter. The positive charges caused by the chemicals in the sheets like ammonium salts take away the negative charge of the static electricity in your dryer by equalizing the ions and electrons in your laundry.

The coating of the dryer sheet is simply transferred to the laundry in the dryer causing the items to become soft. In addition, most companies add nice scents to the sheets making the laundry smell wonderfully fresh.

Are there any disadvantages to dryer sheets?

This is a loaded question since most users of dryer sheets would not want to do without them since their families are so used to the soft touch, especially in their fresh towels. Besides the obvious flaw that there are folks who could be allergic to the sheets, your dryer can be allergic to them as well. The static reducing ingredients, or the scent can be the cause of allergic reactions to your freshly dried laundry. (According to cleaning expert, Leanne Stapf there are fabric softener sheets that are scent free.)

We are always trying ways to protect our dryer vents from buildups of wet substances that can clog the vents. You should know that the chemicals that are transferred to the clothing and towels from the dryer sheets can stick to your dryer vents and lint traps causing a buildup of a type of lint that will not be removed easily. The same way there is residue left on the laundry and so too on your dryer and this can reduce the air circulation in the dryer as well as coating electronic moisture sensors if your dryer has them.

Moisture sensors are now standard in most gas and electric dryers today which inhibits the laundry from over drying. The moisture sensor is in the drum of the dryer determining how much moisture there is left which prevents damage to your clothes and linen. However, a dryer sheet can cause the moisture sensor to become covered with the chemicals thrown off the dryer sheet in the drying process. It would be prudent to find out how to clean off your dryer sensor regularly. This is easier than cleaning your dryer vents, which may have to be dealt with by a professional dryer vent company. When locating the moisture sensor, you can clean it by using a piece of cotton or swab in rubbing alcohol.

Dryer lint filters should always be cleaned out after each drying cycle. However, this is not sufficient if you use dryer sheets regularly. If you find that the lint is difficult to remove from the lint trap this is because a sticky substance from the dryer sheets clogs the holes of the filter and sticks to the lint. Once a month you must clean the lint trap itself by purchasing a fine brush and actually washing the lint trap with hot water and dish liquid soap. Make sure to let the lint trap dry thoroughly before putting it back in the dryer. This may take a few days, but it is imperative to keep your dryer working optimally.

Dryer sheets can sometimes get caught in the lint filter or vent so you must check that the dryer sheet is removed after each load. If you find grease spots that were not there before you began laundering an item, it could be extra fabric softener from the sheet that was deposited on your item during the drying cycle. The reason this happens is because the dryer sheet stops moving around in the dryer and gets stuck on one spot. This can happen when the dryer has too much stuff so be careful that there is enough room for the clothes to tumble easily. (This is true even without using fabric softener sheets. For example, if you have outside help in your house, he or she might want to get the laundry done fast and overstuff the washer and dryer.)

It’s interesting to note that although your towels feel quite soft and absorbent when using dryer sheets the opposite could be true. The coating that comes from the use of dryer sheets actually makes your towels less absorbent. In fact, experts discourage folks from using fabric softener sheets on children’s pajamas because the coating can remove the fire-resistant coatings if present initially when the pajamas were purchased.

How can I keep my laundry soft without dryer sheets?

1) To keep your laundry fluffy and soft there are other ways to do it. Try adding about one half cup of vinegar or a quarter of a cup of baking soda to the rinse cycle of your washing machine. If using bleach in your wash do not use vinegar because it can cause dangerous fumes. Also, if you have a front loader stay away from the vinegar as it can ruin the seal on the door.

2) If you have a static electricity issue then there is a novel way to reduce it by using aluminum foil balls in your dryer. Take approximately a three-to-four-foot piece of foil and make a few aluminum foil balls and place them in the dryer making sure that they are rounded and tightly squished with no points or rough edges to ruin the clothes. The positive ions will work together with the negative static to neutralize it.

3) Richard Handel, a tester at Consumer Reports recommends using wool dryer balls which are reusable. As they hit the dryer walls repeatedly, they soften the clothes and are even effective when drying your pillows since the wool balls can smooth out any clumping of the pillow’s interior.

4) Some folks find that their clothes and linens come out of their wash quite stiff and choose not to use fabric softeners or sheets. There is another alternative although it will be costly initially. In some neighborhoods there is a high amount of chemicals such as magnesium and calcium in the water which stick to the laundry in the wash. It would be helpful to speak to your neighbors to find out if they have the same problem and the solution would be to put in a water softening system in your home.

You may have heard the advertisement, “Hey Culligan Man” which is an advertisement for a well-established water softener company. We are not recommending any specific company, but Culligan will come to your home and test your water to see if you have a hard water problem. They have different options such as salt free filters which may or may not be what you need.

The water in your entire home will be filtered with this system, not just your washer. Where you live will determine if this solution is right for you. There may be other companies in your neighborhood and the best thing to do would be to get a recommendation from a neighbor. If you choose this option, you may not have to make use of fabric softeners or sheets anymore.

Final Words

Lots of people like their laundry and towels to be as soft and fluffy as possible and dryer softener sheets are the easiest way to get the results. However, dryer sheets are not always practical depending on your family’s health and your clothes dryer’s efficiency. Using dryer sheets regularly can cause problems both for some individuals in your household and in your clothes dryer as well.

The winter months in cold climates increase the annoyance of static electricity when removing items from the dryer. Items can stick together making folding more challenging. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester are culprits for this stickiness and a good homemaker would want to avoid static as much as possible. Dryer sheets are definitely the answer to this issue but be aware that the efficiency of your dryer can decrease because of the dryer sheets. For example, your lint trap could become clogged if the fatty substances ingrained in the sheets move to the lint trap.

Also, if there are too many pieces of laundry in the clothes dryer the softener sheet can get stuck on a piece of clothing causing a grease stain. Experts advise that although your towels feel more absorbent, their absorbance decreases from fabric softeners. Most crucial is that if one of your family members has allergy symptoms it could be due to the dryer softener sheets.

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