Many of you have heard, and I have also believed, that dryer sheets are the leading cause of dryer fires because of the film they leave on the inside of the dryer. I looked for a credible source to back up this claim and I can't find it. (If you can find it, let me know.)
According to this Consumer Reports article, their appliance director says "it's possible that over a long period, fabric sheets, fabric softeners, and laundry detergent ingredients contribute to an unseen film or waxy buildup on the dryer lint screen. But 'it's highly doubtful,' he said, 'that any such invisible buildup alone leads to heating-unit burnout or a fire.'"
Even though Consumer Reports makes this claim, they still suggest avoiding the use of "liquid fabric softener on all-cotton clothing made of fleece, terry cloth or velour." In their flammability tests, "liquid fabric softener added to rinse water accelerated the burning speed of these fabrics." This is important to note, especially for those of us with children who should be wearing clothing specifically designed as sleepwear to bed and labeled "flame resistant." And even to us adults, our clothing is supposed to help protect us. If our clothing has a layer of residue on it, specifically from liquid fabric softener, it won't do a very good job at protecting us in the unfortunate event that any of us come into contact with fire.
So why not use dryer sheets instead of liquid fabric softener? Dryer sheets still leave an unseen film/waxy buildup on your clothing. That's why they smell like the "Mountain Breeze." This fragrance may be especially irritating to a baby's skin & respiratory system. It is also irritating to adults with sensitive skin or allergies. There are rumors that dryer sheets contain very hazardous ingredients, including chloroform and carcinogens. (Again, I can't find any credible source for these claims, and corporations do a really good job at hiding any ingredients that would raise concern for the general public.)
All this said, you can make your own decision on whether or not you want to use fabric softeners. I myself will always err on the side of caution. If you are like me, and no longer wish to use dryer sheets or liquid fabric softener, here is an alternative.
First, clean the screen on your dryer (even if you are going to continue using fabric softener, you should do this on a regular basis.) Just run it under hot water and scrub it off until the water runs through it completely, no pooling. This is important to do because the heat escapes your dryer through the lint trap. If the trap is clogged (with lint or an unseen residue) the heat does not escape as efficiently. Cleaning the trap will increase the efficiency and lifespan of your dryer while decreasing the operating cost. You should also clean the lint out of the dryer vent.
Second, purchase a set of dryer balls. I had initially bought a cheap pair for about $4. They were round and hard. They made a lot of noise, and my husband continued begging me to buy dryer sheets because his dress pants were sticking to his legs. (It is important to note that the reason there is static in your clothing is because you are drying them for too long.) I stuck my heels in the mud and said I was NOT buying dryer sheets.
Instead I purchased the Norwex Dryer Balls. They are made of soft plastic (you can squeeze them) and they are oval instead of round. They don't make much noise because the plastic is not rock hard. The unique oval design of the dryer balls lifts and separates laundry. This reduces drying time, static cling and wrinkles. (The round ones establish a pattern and eventually just spin around with the laundry.) My husband doesn't complain of his dress pants sticking to his legs anymore and we never have to waste money on dryer sheets again! It's a win-win for both of us :)
Do you know of any credible resources to get information on the use of fabric softeners and their effect on our health? It's hard to find unbiased information without an agenda attached.
Consumer Reports - Truths & myths of dryer fires
Consumer Reports - General child safety tips
International Fire Marshals Association - Spring 2001 Newsletter - Page 13