Are dryer sheets biodegradable? Can they be composted?

  • Date: May 13, 2022

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Dryer sheets are viewed, by many, as a laundry essential. Although other alternatives are available, their ability to make your clothes smell nice and reduce static make them a go-to laundry product. But, like most of our day-to-day items, they are very much under the spotlight in terms of their impact on the environment. Although not the only consideration, a products’ ability to biodegrade is an important aspect. Are dryer sheets biodegradable and can they be composted?

Firstly, what are dryer sheets made of?

What an item is made from gives us some clues as to whether it is biodegradable and suitable for the compost pile. The vast majority of dryer sheets are made from nonwoven polyester. Polyester is a synthetic fiber which comes from oil. It is, essentially, a plastic.

The dryer sheers are coated with a liquid fabric softener which, when heated, gets released onto the clothes. They work well in the dryer as the polyester fabric is extremely durable and can withstand the high temperatures that they will be exposed to.

So, are dryer sheets biodegradable?

For an item to be classed as biodegradable, it must be able to be broken down by micro-organisms such as bacteria. In this process, the component parts of the of the item returns to nature. The dryer sheets that are made from nonwoven polyester, unfortunately, do not biodegrade. Since polyester is a synthetic material it can not break down naturally – it simply breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces over many years. This is far from ideal, the small pieces can cause havoc in the environment rather than providing nourishment like biodegradable, natural items can.

In fact, most of the standard dryer sheets you have used in your lifetime will still be out there in some form. Quite a sobering thought.

 Are dryer sheets compostable?

Composting is a great way for us to reduce the household waste we produce. As well as reducing the amount we are tossing in the trash, we also get some nutrient-rich fertilizer into the bargain. It will save you money and is kind to the planet too! Everybody wins.

The terms ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ are not interchangeable. Some biodegradable items can’t be composted due to, say, the chemicals they contain. Some simply will not add any nutrients to the final fertilizer – this can deem them unsuitable too.  However, an item must be biodegradable in order to be fit for the compost pile. The synthetic variety of dryer sheets do bring some advantages, but the ability to be composted is not one of them. They are destined for the trash.

It’s not all bad news….

Most dryer sheets are made from polyester – but not all! There are a few brands out there that offer a more planet-friendly approach to dryer sheets. The brand Method produce one of our favorite eco-friendly alternatives to synthetic dryer sheets. Available in a variety of beautiful scents, these paper-based sheets are biodegradable and fully compostable. They also come in an easily recyclable (or compostable) box – always a massive plus.

It is important to note that even when disposing of a fully biodegradable product, it will not necessarily biodegrade quickly if you throw it in the trash. Although still better than polyester-based dryer sheets, the biodegradable paper-based ones will (most likely) take longer to break down than quoted if they end up in landfill. Biodegradation will not be optimal due to the poor airflow and moisture in landfill – it is not like a huge compost pile as many people think, unfortunately. However, the paper-based variety will not add to the epic microplastic challenge that we face.

The bottom line

Most dryer sheets are not biodegradable or suitable for the compost heap. Ideally, we want to reduce the waste that our household produces – and using compostable dryer sheets is one way to do this. We always advocate the use of reusable items rather than single-use, throwaway products. However, if you do not want to give up dryer sheets just yet, you should opt for paper-based sheets – most polyester dryer sheets will outlive you!  Although other brands are available, Method dryer sheets are one of the most planet-friendly alternatives that are fully biodegradable and compostable.