As one of most people’s many weekly chores, doing the laundry can sometimes get a bit, well, annoying. And one of the bi-products of doing that laundry can be many dryer sheets.
It can start to feel like a bit of a waste after a while, just throwing out these little perfectly good looking sheets just after one. Which brings us to the question… Can you compost dryer sheets?
In most cases no, you can not compost dryer sheets. They are usually made of man-made materials such as polyester and therefore will never break down in the compost no matter how long you wait or how hard you try.
Now I did say that in most cases dryer sheets couldn’t be composted. So does that mean there are some incidents where you could throw the sheets into the pile and forget about them? Well, yes.
Why Conventional Dryer Sheets Are Not Compostable
While they may feel like paper, as stated above, most dryer sheets are usually made of polyester or other man-made material. These materials are closer to plastic than natural materials and therefore will not break down in a natural environment.
Much like throwing a plastic wrapper or container into the compost bin, a dryer sheet doesn’t so much break down naturally but instead breaks apart into smaller pieces. When left long enough, the plastic may seem to have disappeared and returned to nature but what has really happened is that the dryer sheet has actually just broken into such small pieces that it is not visible anymore.
The smaller pieces aren’t any good for the garden as they will just sit in the ground and not provide any nourishment for the plants. In fact, there is a better chance that the particles will end up leaching chemicals into the earth around them and possibly cause damage to the plants.
What Else Makes a Dryer Sheet Bad For Composting?
Besides being made of materials that don’t naturally break down in a composter, dryer sheets also contain many chemicals that are designed to both soften the clothing in the dryer and provide a natural “smelling” scent to make the clothes smell fresh.
Why are they made of Polyester or other man-made materials?
The main reason for being made of plastic-like materials is that it makes them very durable and can handle the wet and rough environment of the tumbling dryer. The materials are also made in ta way to maximize the amount of fabric softener, anti-static, and scent chemicals that may be added so that it can have the most effect on the clothing.
In just about all cases with conventional dryer sheets, the chemicals they use for both fabric softening and for the various scents are all bad for the compost pile, bad for the environment, and possibly even worse for you with all the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in them. This article from the US National Institute of Health goes into more detail on indoor air quality and the products, including dryer sheets, that are making it worse.
Therefore you should never try to compost your dryer sheets.
Is there a compostable version of dryer sheets?
The good thing is that there are companies that have developed “Paper-based” dryer sheets that use organically sourced scents and are designed to be both a healthy alternative to conventional dryer sheets and a version that is safe to add to your compost bin.
One natural and compostable brand of dryer sheets is from Seventh Generation. A company that produces a good number of naturally based, household products such as detergents, cleaners, and of course dryer sheets.
Pros and Cons of using Natural Dryer Sheets
If you really do want to start composting your dryer sheets and are looking to move to a natural version in order to do so. There are, as with all things, pros and cons to doing so. We can go over them here and see if making the change is a good fit for your household.
- Environmentally friendly
- Great for the compost!
- A safer alternative for the household
- There is no need to throw them out and add to the already overfilled landfills.
- Very pricey. Some brands could be upwards of a dollar a sheet.
- Limited choices of scents
- The scent strength may not be as strong as traditional sheets.
The Seventh Generation “Natural Free and Clear Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets” are one of several good alternatives to traditional dryer sheets and can be found here at the Home Depot. See price.
How to compost natural dryer sheets
If you have decided to go with the naturally based dryer sheets and you want to compost them there are just a few steps involved.
- Take the used dryer sheet and cut it up into smaller pieces. This first step is optional and will just help aid it in the quick break down of the sheet as the smaller pieces are easier for nature to break them down.
- The sheet would be considered a brown or carbon material like other paper, cardboard, dried leaves, or stray. Add the sheets at the same time you would add any of this material.
- Add your nitrogen or greens such as lawn clippings, veggies, and green leaves on top of the browns.
- Mix and maintain the pile as normal. The sheets should break down just as any paper in the compost pile would.
For more information on composting in general, check out our What is Compost page.
What should you do with your conventional dryer sheets?
Without changing to a natural alternative of dryer sheet there isn’t much that can be done with the old ones.
synthetic dryer sheets will not break down in the compost or garden and are not even permitted in local green bin collections. The best thing that can be done with them is to throw them out in the garbage. Although this is not the best solution for most items it is really the only thing that can be done right now as dryer sheets are not recyclable. Have you ever wondered if your dryer lint is compostable? Well, we get into more detail about that on our “Can you compost dryer lint? Page.