It’s laundry day! You’ve washed a load (or two or three), and it’s time to put the wet laundry into the dryer. You grab a “Spring Rain” or “Summer Breeze” dryer sheet out of the little box, throw it in the dryer, and turn the machine on. But why?
Static cling happens when friction between different types of fabrics causes electrons to be transferred from one fabric to another. That causes some items to become positively charged, others become negatively charged, and like magnets, they are attracted to one another. The more friction, the greater the static charge.
Commercial dryer sheets work by transferring waxy chemicals containing positively charged particles onto your clothes and diapers. These chemicals coat the fibers making your clothes feel softer, but that waxy coating also makes your diapers less absorbent. That residue coats the inside of your dryer drum as well, so even if you avoid dryer sheets with your diapers but use them in your other dryer loads, the heat of the dryer can transfer the residue from the drum onto your diapers anyway. And that means your diapers won’t work as well. Noooo!
That’s why one of the first things I did when I started cloth diapering was to ditch the commercial dryer sheets, and even though we’re done with diapers now, I’ve never felt the need to go back. When I first got rid of our dryer sheets, I thought I was sentencing my baby to rough diapers and the rest of my family to walking around in uncomfortably crunchy clothes covered in dog hair and the occasional sock. Eight years later, I’m happy to report that those dryer sheet commercials were a lie.
Even without dryer sheets, clothes or diapers tumbling around the dryer “beat” the crunchiness out naturally. But if you do find yourself in need of something to soften and get rid of static, there are cloth diaper safe alternatives.
When it comes to static, sometimes it’s as simple as giving it time. Even if your clothes are staticky when they come of the dryer, it goes away. Static will naturally dissipate on its own over time as the charged particles return to their normal state. And now you have a good reason to leave your clothes in the dryer overnight. You’re welcome!
Dryer balls are safe for cloth diapers and all clothes. You can use plastic dryer balls, wool dryer balls made from tightly packed and felted yarn or wool roving, or even tennis balls. I prefer wool dryer balls because I know what they’re made of and I can scent them with a few drops of essential oil if I like. You can even make your own wool balls if you’re so inclined. In all cases, the balls separate and fluff your clothes to help them dry quicker and feel softer.
Tin Foil Balls
Another do it yourself option is to make tin foil balls. The tin foil conducts those pesky negatively charged ions and discharges the static buildup. Crumple up some tin foil and wrap it in a few more layers to make a tightly packed ball about 2.5″ in diameter. Make the outside as smooth as possible and avoid delicate fabrics in your first load. Try jeans or towels. After the first time through, any pointy bits that could pull clothes will be flattened so they’ll be safe for more delicate fabrics.
Reusable Dryer Sheets
Instead of using chemicals, reusable dryer sheets are woven with special conductive fibers to conduct and remove static charge in your laundry. That means no toxic chemicals or waxy residues.
DIY Dryer Sheets
You can also make your own dryer sheets with an old washcloth, cloth wipe, or rag dampened with white vinegar. Just throw the vinegar rag in the dryer with the rest of your load. Vinegar is an acid (acetic acid) which acts to neutralize the static charge.
One final tip. A quarter cup of white vinegar in place of your liquid fabric softener in the wash cycle will help your diapers and clothes feel softer and fight static in the dryer. Oh, and in case you were worried, your clothes won’t actually smell like vinegar once they’ve gone through the washing machine and dryer.
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