A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

How do dryer antistatic sheets work?

December 1, 1995

Dear Cecil:

Often when you put your clothes in the dryer you discover they stick together because of static electricity. But if you put a sheet of Bounce or Cling Free in the dryer, somehow it neutralizes the static electricity. Maybe I should just be glad my clothes don't stick together, but I'm curious. How precisely do Bounce and Cling Free work?

Cecil replies:

They, uh, lubricate. I know, doesn't seem like a very direct approach to the problem. That's the way science is. From the point of view of drama what you want is New and Improved Cling Free with Antimatter, in which the static electricity particles are annihilated by the antistatic antielectricity antiparticles, leaving only a hint of April freshness. In your dreams. What really happens is that static electricity is created when your clothes rubs together. As much as 12,000 volts' worth, in fact. If only we could harness this resource! I'll get on it as soon as I perfect the wintergreen Life Savers reading lamp.

Anyway, if you can create static electricity by rubbing, you can not create it by not rubbing. (Work with me on this.) Assuming (a) not drying the clothes or (b) hanging them on the line to be dried by God's healing sunlight aren't viable options, you can eliminate rubbing by means of strategically applied lubricants. A quart of 30-weight during the rinse cycle? Don't be an amateur. Better to use the waxy compound impregnated in sheets of Bounce or Cling Free and liberated by the dryer's heat. You wax skis, you wax floors, you wax poetic (well, I do), so why not clothes?

Here's why not: after a while you get dingy wax buildup. In the oh-what-a-tangled-web-we-weave way of high technology, you can try to minimize this latest problem by means of "optical brighteners." This is not a new idea. You ever hear of bluing? You know what the idea behind it was? You made your clothes whiter than white, or at least not yellow, by dyeing them blue. The sophisticated version available today involves adding chemicals that fluoresce under the ultraviolet light of the sun, giving the colors a vibrant glow. Of course it's an illusion, but Buddha teaches us that everything is an illusion. Some may see only laundry; I see a metaphor for life.

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