What Do Dryer Sheets Do? Plus 14 Uses You Never Knew About

These genius dryer sheet uses will make you see the laundry staple in a whole new light

Choosing the best washer and dryer sets, using the best laundry detergents and tossing a dryer sheet or a few dryer balls into the machine can make a huge difference in the quality of your laundry. But if the only time you reach for a dryer sheet is when you’re doing the laundry, you’re missing out. Sure, this laundry essential can leave your clothes soft, static-free and sweet-smelling, but that’s not all. So what do dryer sheets do? Outside the laundry room, more than you might imagine.

From makeshift eyeglass cleaner to gym bag deodorizer, these genius uses for dryer sheets will make you view this laundry tool in a whole new way.

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What do dryer sheets do?

The primary purpose of dryer sheets is to reduce static, which builds up inside your dryer as your clothes tumble dry. But these little sheets (usually made of a polyester material) do more than that. Other dryer sheet uses include giving garments a soft feel and fresh scent. That’s thanks to the fabric softeners, lubricants and fragrances that cover each sheet.

How do dryer sheets work, and what are they used for?

How do dryer sheets work? Here’s the short answer: Heated dryer settings warm the fabric softener that coats a dryer sheet. Once it heats up, it is transferred to your clothes, leaving them softer, more fragrant and static-free.

Of course, the longer answer to “How do dryer sheets work?” is a lot more scientific. As you dry your clothes, heat and friction create static electricity, an imbalance of positive and negative charges. Dryer sheets—which are coated in positively charged lubricants—balance out the electric charges that build up inside your dryer and on your clothing during the process. The result: Your clothing and dryer are static-free.

Are they bad for your dryer or you?

No, dryer sheets are not inherently bad for your dryer, but they can leave behind a residue that, when left uncleaned, can build up and reduce your dryer’s efficiency (just like laundry detergent can).

If the lubricants and fabric softeners found on dryer sheets collect on your dryer lint filter and clog it, your clothes may dry more slowly. In extreme cases, the buildup may cause your dryer to turn off mid-cycle or stop heating properly. In fact, a clogged lint filter is one explanation for a dryer not drying.

By cleaning your lint filter regularly, you can use dryer sheets without any issues.

Of course, whether dryer sheets are good for you or the environment are separate issues. A past study published in Environmental Health Perspectives notes that dryer vent emissions can include chemicals that are bad for your health. Certain fragrance ingredients can be linked to “irritation of the eyes and airways, contact dermatitis, migraines and asthmatic reactions.”

Further, the Federal Trade Commission doesn’t require dryer sheet manufacturers to identify their fragrance ingredients, and there are at least 3,000 potential chemicals they can use—some of which are safe, and some of which may not be. If you’re worried, there’s a good solution. You can use an unscented dryer sheet and get the same softening and anti-static effect.

That doesn’t solve the environmental impact, so if that matters to you (they are, after all, single-use sheets), you may prefer reusable dryer balls.

When should you use them?

When it comes to proper dryer sheet uses, knowing the type of fabric you’re working with is key. Dryer sheets should be used when drying clothing made of natural fibers—such as cotton socks, shirts and pants—to reduce static cling and soften fabrics.

But they’re not always a good idea. If you’re cleaning microfiber towels, skip the dryer sheets. What do dryer sheets do to microfiber cloths? According to Jennifer Druckamiller, director of product experience at the microfiber company Norwex, certain additives (including those in your detergent) can coat the fiber of a microfiber towel and make it less effective.

Also skip dryer sheets when drying cotton towels and flame-resistant fabric, such as children’s pajamas. Athletic wear is another item best dried alone; the softeners in dryer sheets could reduce the fabric’s moisture-wicking abilities.

What do dryer sheets do in and around the house

1. Brush your pet’s hair

hand holding a dryer sheet near a dogAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

Ask anyone with a long-haired dog or cat, and they’ll tell you that excessive shedding can be a pain. If you see clumps of unshed hair on your pet, try one of the most creative dryer sheet uses: Run a sheet over your pet before brushing its coat, and you’ll have a lot of hair to clean up.

2. Deodorize your bathroom

dryer sheet sticking out of a roll of toilet paper mounted on a bathroom wallAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

Placing a dryer sheet inside the cardboard part of your toilet paper roll is a sneaky way to add extra freshness to your bathroom. After all, every time someone spins the toilet paper roll, a nice smell is released into the air.

3. Remove soap scum buildup

hand using a dryer sheet to clean soap scum off a bathroom wallAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

It’s never a good feeling to see soap scum gathering in the shower. Thankfully, dryer sheets can come to the rescue. Wet a dryer sheet and then use it to wipe away the soap scum.

4. Deodorize old books

hand using a dryer sheet to clean a stack of old booksAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

Not everyone is a fan of that old-book smell, and even the most beloved books need a good cleaning every once in a while. To rid your books of musty odors, brush them lightly with a dryer sheet.

5. Remove burnt, stuck-on food from dirty pots

dryer sheet soaking in pan with water to help clean off burnt on foodAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

Getting burnt grime off dirty pots is no easy feat, but have no fear! A dryer sheet can help (for real). What do dryer sheets do for crusted-on food? Putting a dryer sheet at the bottom of a burnt pot and letting it soak in water overnight will help loosen the muck and leave your pots spick and span.

6. Line your garbage can to rid it of smells

closed trash can with dryer sheets sticking out from under the lidAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

If your garbage can is carrying a lingering scent, lining it with dryer sheets will help. The sheets will absorb odors and leaks and keep the can as clean as possible.

7. Freshen up your gym bag

open gym bag with sneakers, a towel, and a dryer sheetAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

Even the tidiest gym equipment needs to be sanitized now and again. Putting dryer sheets in your gym bags will absorb foul odors and keep your bag (and your workout gear) smelling garden fresh.

8. Clean bugs off cars

hand using a dryer sheet to clean a bug off a car windshieldAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

After going on a road trip or driving for a long stretch of time, you’ve probably noticed a few bugs stuck to your windshield or the front of your car. Thankfully, a wet dryer sheet can come to the rescue and wipe away those bugs in a snap.

9. Clean spilled flour

hand using a dryer sheet to wipe up spilled flour on a kitchen counterAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

You know the saying: Don’t cry over spilled flour. Er, maybe that’s not the exact phrase, but it should be—dryer sheets can easily clean flour accidents and other dry spills, because flour sticks to the sheets.

10. Make your hair less staticky

woman wiping her hair with a dryer sheetAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

Wearing a hat on a crisp day is like playing Russian roulette with static electricity. Wiping yourself down with a dryer sheet will eliminate static, not just on your hair but also on your clothes.

11. Clean sand off skin

person standing on rocky ground using a dryer sheet to wipe sand off their feetAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

After spending a relaxing day at the beach, trying to get into the car without covering it in sand can be an obstacle. That’s where one of the most genius dryer sheet uses comes in handy. Get sand off your skin easily with a quick wipe of a dryer sheet over your feet and legs. You’ll be amazed by how well this hack works!

12. Polish your eyeglasses or sunnies

dryer sheet cleaning eye glassesAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

While there are tons of creative hacks for dryer sheets, cleaning your glasses or sunnies with a few quick wipes is one of our favorite dryer sheet uses. Be careful though: Dryer sheets shouldn’t be used on plastic lenses.

13. Make camping gear smell better

dryer sheets in a pair of rolled up socks for packing in camp gearAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

You can learn how to get smells out of clothes, but another handy trick is to avoid the stench in the first place. That’s an especially good practice when you plan to be extra active and somewhat less hygienic, like when you’re camping or hiking. Before a trip, place a few dryer sheets in your tent, sleeping bag, socks and other items to ward off less-than-appealing odors.

14. Clean up sticky tree sap

person using a dryer sheet to clean sap off their hands outdoors near a treeAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

Tree sap is notoriously difficult to remove, but the solution to freeing yourself of this sticky nuisance is actually in your laundry room. The sap will stick to a dryer sheet more easily than a normal wipe, which makes it a perfect remover.

About the expert

  • Jennifer Druckamiller is the director of product experience at the microfiber company Norwex, a maker of cleaning and microfiber products for the home and body.


Maryn Liles
Maryn Liles is a home and travel expert who’s covered everything from the best robotic vacuums to the most remote destinations around the world. She's also the founder of Connected Content Co., an SEO and creative content agency that's done work for Reader's Digest along with other companies and publications. When she's not writing, you can find her working on her latest home DIY project, out for a hike or dancing around the house to '80s jams.