If you’ve attended our Cloth Diapering 101 class, or been into the store and received the low-down on washing cloth diapers, you probably already know that it’s recommended that you be very careful with your cloth diapers when it comes to dryer sheets. Never, ever use a dryer sheet or dryer bar in the dryer with your diapers or diaper covers. Any fabric softener, including these two types in the dryer, or liquid fabric softener in the washing machine (including as an ingredient of your detergent) will leave a film on your diapers and covers that reduces and eventually stops absorbency, and will cause your covers to leak. I learned this the hard way! If your covers leak right through as if they are not waterproof at all, this is most likely your issue; though it’s important to note that even if your diapers aren’t doing this, you may still have build-up from fabric softeners. Other symptoms include reduced absorbency; stay-dry lining that repels moisture (instead of letting it soak through to the insert); and diapers that smell “funky.” If you suspect you may have a residue issue, please refer to Bummis’ Residues Troubleshooting Page.
Liquid fabric softeners are not as much of an issue, because the answer is simple – just never allow liquid fabric softener to enter the washing machine with any components of your cloth diapering system. This means also using a detergent that does not contain fabric softeners (even soy softeners and other natural softeners).
However, the issue with dryer sheets and bars is more complicated. This is because, even if you choose to use them with your regular laundry, your diapers could still be in danger. You see, dryer sheets and dryer bars leave a fatty film on the inside of the drum of your dryer. You read that right – it is actually fat. Dryer sheets are made with beef tallow, meaning if you are vegetarian or vegan, they’re not a good fit. There are a couple that do not contain beef tallow, such as Method brand dryer sheets, but it’s best to do your research – and the information is not usually easy to find. (For instance, I have not been able to confirm whether or not dryer bars are also made with tallow.)
Using Dryer Sheets or a Dryer Bar and Concerned About Your Cloth Diapers?
This fatty film stays on the inside of your dryer for at least a load or two after the sheet or bar was last used, so if you plan to continue using these products on your regular laundry, we recommend running a load of towels through your dryer on the h0t or high setting without a dryer sheet or bar, prior to drying your diapers.
Another way around this issue is to consider always or usually line-drying your diapers. At the very least, line-drying covers makes sense, as they do not absorb water and dry very quickly once out of the wash. Line-drying will also greatly prolong the life of any Aplix closures on your diapers and covers. Most diapers will dry overnight or in about 6-8 hours, depending on the time of year, and the relative humidity and temperature in the area where they are hanging to dry. Calgary’s dry climate and abundance of sunshine pair well with line-drying laundry of all types. Please note that all-in-one diapers do take a fair bit longer to dry – often in the 12-24 hour range, depending on the type and brand. Other advantages of line-drying? If you’re hanging your diapers inside to dry, they will humidify your house as they dry; if you’re hanging outside to dry, you can count on the magic of sun-bleaching to get your stains out!
More on dryer sheets.
Some other factors to consider when deciding whether or not to continue using dryer sheets:
- Dryer sheets cause a coating on clothing and therefore will cancel out the fire retardancy of clothing.
- Dryer sheets are not recyclable nor reusable – the only option is to send them to the landfill.
- That lovely scent they leave on your clothes? It’s tough to part with the idea of the “fresh laundry” smell, but consider this: that scent is thanks to “fragrance,” a blanket term for synthetic chemicals that have been linked to a whole host of issues, from asthma, to skin irritation and headaches, to brain damage in developing fetuses and much more. Fragrance also contributes to indoor air pollution, and contains toluene.
- Fabric softeners, either liquid or in the dryer, are designed to reduce or eliminate static in synthetic materials and serve no purpose with natural fibres.
A great place to check for more information on the ingredients in fabric softeners is The Less Toxic Guide.
For ratings of different fabric softeners from least to most toxic, try The Good Guide.
Dryer Sheet Alternatives
“So,” you might be saying right now. “Tell me. How, then, am I supposed to keep the static out of my clothes?”
Happily, there are a number of great options that will not only be more gentle on the environment but also save you money. They work on one of two principles:
- Carbon fibres woven into a piece of fabric absorb static electricity – these are known as dryer cloths.
- Dryer balls (available in different materials) used in sets of two or more, bang together and against clothes, using force to expel static electricity. These come in plastic varieties or wool. The latter seem to last indefinitely and many people feel they are more gentle on clothes.
We carry wool dryer balls at Babes in Arms.