What Do Dryer Sheets Do? 9 Genius Ways to Use Them Around the House

Updated: May 22, 2024

The laundry staple does more than create soft, scented, static-free clothes. Here, top laundry experts explain what dryer sheets do and how to use them in your laundry—and around the house.

To do a load of laundry, all you really need is a washing machine, a dryer and some detergent. So are extras like dryer sheets worthwhile? “It’s a personal preference,” says laundry expert Mary Gagliardi, a scientist with Clorox. “I have never personally gotten into the habit of using dryer sheets or fabric softener, but what I have seen as not necessary—and even undesirable—others see as crucial.” Whether or not you use dryer sheets may come down to the answer to a simple question: What do dryer sheets do?

Consider the most well-known (but not only) function, reducing static. If you’re not battling static cling, you might opt to skip the dryer sheets. As Gagliardi points out, the climate in which you live plays a big part in whether you find dryer sheets necessary. While she lives in temperate Northern California and doesn’t have much use for static reducers, her Midwestern friends love them. “When the humidity drops and the weather is cold and dry, dryer sheets make a big difference,” she says.

What else do dryer sheets do for your laundry? In addition to fighting static, they leave your clothes soft and sweet-smelling. But dryer sheets can do more than just, well, go in your dryer. Ahead, Gagliardi and fabric-care scientist Sammy Wang explain what dryer sheets can accomplish for your laundry and offer their top tips for using them around the house—in and out of the dryer.

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About the experts

  • Mary Gagliardi, aka Dr. Laundry, is Clorox’s in-house scientist and cleaning expert. She has more than 10 years of experience testing laundry products.
  • Sammy Wang is a senior scientist with Procter & Gamble Fabric Care, which includes brands such as Bounce dryer sheets. She has more than 10 years of experience as a fabric-care expert and product engineer.

Reviewed for accuracy by: Mary Marlowe Leverette, a highly regarded fabric-care, stain-removal and housekeeping expert with more than 40 years of experience.

What do dryer sheets do?

Dryer sheets have three primary purposes:

  • Reduce static cling
  • Help clothes feel softer
  • Offer a fresh scent

“Dryer sheets definitely reduce static charge, or cling, on fabrics,” says Gagliardi. But what exactly happens during the drying process to cause such static charge? In the dryer, fabrics are subjected to heat and tumbling action to dry clothes.

“As fabric fibers rub together during the drying process, friction is generated, resulting in an imbalance in electrons—more commonly known as static cling,” explains Wang. Static can cause pesky clinging, like when a stray sock gets stuck to your pants or lint and fuzz attach to fabrics. “Dryer sheets use antistatic agents to help balance the electrons, reducing static cling,” she says.

And thanks to the fabric softeners, lubricants and fragrances that cover each sheet, items dried with these sheets can feel fluffier and smell more fragrant.

How do dryer sheets work?

dryer sheets fanned out on a wood backgroundAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

The science behind these laundry add-ins is relatively simple: Heated dryer settings warm the fabric softener that coats a dryer sheet (usually made of a polyester material). Once heated, the fabric softener transfers to your clothes, leaving them softer, more fragrant and free of static. “Dryer sheets take advantage of the tumbling action to evenly distribute antistatic agents throughout the load of clothes being dried,” Wang says. “This provides antistatic benefits to clothes during drying as well as during wear.”

Are dryer sheets bad for clothes?

Dryer sheets aren’t suitable for every item in your dryer. The coating they leave behind can negatively affect certain fabrics, so you’ll need to use them selectively.

Don’t use dryer sheets on these garments:

  • Towels. “Never use dryer sheets on towels because the coating reduces a towel’s ability to absorb water,” says Gagliardi, who points out that some, especially microfiber towels, include a “do not use fabric softener” instruction on their care labels.
  • Children’s flame-resistant sleepwear. The coating that dryer sheets leave behind will reduce the flame resistance of kids’ pajamas and nightgowns.
  • Athletic clothing or activewear. “The coating alters the fabric’s ability to transport moisture through the fabric and away from the body,” says Gagliardi.

Skin sensitivities are another reason you may want to skip the dryer sheets. You can try fragrance-free versions, but you may need alternate static-fighting products (such as wool dryer balls) if fragrance-free dryer sheets still irritate your skin.

Are dryer sheets bad for your dryer?

Dryer sheets 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 midcycle 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.

How to use dryer sheets

dryer sheets flying out of dryer sheet box on orange backgroundTMB Studio

The beauty of the dryer sheet is how easy it is to use. Start by determining how many sheets you’ll need to use for your load. Wang suggests these guidelines:

  • 1 sheet: Small loads that don’t fill a standard laundry basket
  • 2 sheets: Medium loads that just fill a standard laundry basket
  • 3 sheets: Large loads that more than fill a standard laundry basket

From there, follow the instructions below:

  1. After reading the laundry-care symbols to make sure each item is safe to machine-dry, put your freshly washed laundry into the dryer.
  2. Unfold a dryer sheet and put it on top of your laundry.
  3. Dry your laundry on the correct heat setting, as you normally would.
  4. Remove the dryer sheet after your laundry is dry and toss it in the trash, out of the reach of children and pets. “I use the used dryer sheet(s) to help grab the lint off the filter,” says Wang. “This way, I remember to clean the lint filter each time,” she says.

What do dryer sheets do around the house?

Don’t relegate your dryer sheets to the laundry room. Here are some surprising uses for dryer sheets that have nothing to do with the dryer.

1. Remove pet hair

hand using dryer sheet to remove pet hair from a pink shirt on orange backgroundTMB Studio

You love your pet. The fur that clings to your clothes and furniture … and, well, everything? Not as much. But there’s an easy fix: Run a dryer sheet over your clothes or upholstery to pick up pet hair.

2. Keep your drawers and closets smelling fresh

dryer sheet sticking out of linen closetTMB Studio

After machine-drying clothes and bedding with dryer sheets, the last thing you want is for items to pick up a musty scent as they sit in your drawers or closet. Luckily, you can keep them smelling fresh by stashing a new dryer sheet wherever you store garments and other fabrics. “I like tucking them in the corner of the closet on a high shelf or in the corner of a dresser drawer,” says Wang. A great place to use them: in your linen closet to keep your towels and sheets smelling fresh.

3. Line your garbage can to rid it of smells

a dryer sheet at the bottom of a trash can with the bag pulled to one side so the dryer sheet can be visible; orange backgroundTMB Studio

If your trash can is carrying a lingering scent, lining it with dryer sheets will help. The sheets will absorb odors and small leaks.

4. Freshen up your gym bag

open gym bag showing sneakers, towels, a water bottle, and a dryer sheet.TMB Studio

Put dryer sheets in your gym bag to absorb foul odors and keep your bag (and your workout gear) smelling fresh. Sure, you may need to take further action to clean your workout wear or remove stinky smells from your shoes, but the dryer-sheet hack will freshen things up in the meantime.

5. Make musty suitcases smell better

dryer sheet poking out of the lining zipper in an open suitcaseTMB Studio

To freshen your suitcase while traveling, unzip the inner lining of the suitcase and tuck a dryer sheet between the luggage shell and the inner lining. Then zip the lining closed. Once you’re home and unpacked, Wang suggests placing an individual dryer sheet inside your luggage while you’re storing it so that it smells fresh for your next use.

6. Deodorize your bathroom

dryer sheet poking out of the cardboard roll of a toilet paper roll; orange backgroundTMB Studio

Placing a dryer sheet inside the cardboard part of your toilet paper roll is a sneaky way to add extra freshness to your bathroom. Every spin of the toilet paper roll will release a nice smell into the air. Talk about a genius toilet paper hack!

7. Freshen your car

close up of a dryer sheet under a seat of a car; orange umbrella on the car floor nearbyTMB Studio

Car air fresheners can mask gross smells, but their powerful scents can hit you like a punch to the face. Wang has an alternative that offers a clean but not overpowering smell: Stick a dryer sheet under your car seat for a burst of freshness, she says. Replace the sheet whenever you feel like you need a refresh of the scent.

8. Make camping gear smell better

dryer sheet poking out of a rolled up green sleeping bag; orange backgroundTMB Studio

Before a camping trip, place a few dryer sheets in your tent, sleeping bag, socks and other items to ward off less-than-appealing odors.

9. Help your hamper avoid the dirty-laundry stench

dryer sheet in a laundry basket with laundryTMB Studio

Place a dryer sheet in your laundry bag or hamper to help keep dirty laundry from being too odoriferous. You can even use the same dryer sheet during your next laundry load, says Wang. “Just be sure to set it aside before you place clothes into the washer,” she notes.

If you prefer to use the same dryer sheet for continuously freshening your hamper, tuck it somewhere out of the way on the hamper, like inside a handle or other small crevice so you don’t accidentally load it into your washing machine. 

Why you should trust us

At Reader’s Digest, we’re committed to producing high-quality content by writers with expertise and experience in their field in consultation with relevant, qualified experts. For this piece, Cari Wira Dineen, journalist and avid laundress to her two children, tapped laundry expert Mary Gagliardi and fabric-care scientist Sammy Wang to ensure that all information is accurate and offers the best possible advice to readers. Then Mary Marlowe Leverette, a highly regarded fabric-care, stain-removal and housekeeping expert with more than 40 years of experience, gave it a rigorous review. We verify all facts and data, back them with credible sourcing, and revisit them over time to ensure they remain accurate and up to date. Read more about our team, our contributors and our editorial policies.