Do Dryer Sheets Repel Mosquitoes, Spiders, or Other Insects?

Is This Too Good to Be True?

dryer sheets
84335369@N00/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Do Dryer Sheets Repel Pests? According to some university studies, the answer is Yes ... and No. That is, some dryer sheets do have characteristics that repel some insects.

The bugs that are most likely to shy away from the dryer sheets are certain mites, food-infesting beetles and weevils, German cockroaches, and according to a study by researchers at the University of Illinois and Kansas State University  -- Bounce fabric softener dryer sheets (made by Procter & Gamble) can repel fungus gnats.

According to the research:

  • The idea came from Master Gardener and trade magazine claims that "sheets of Bounce tucked into pockets of clothing repel mosquitoes."
  • A test chamber was set up in a lab. The chamber included two compartments; one with a moist growing media or one with moist media and a Bounce dryer sheet.
  • Adult fungus gnats were released into the chamber.
  • The test was to see how many of the gnats flew into each compartment.
  • The results: When the test was concluded, 45% of the adult gnats released into the test chamber were collected out of the compartment with moistened media; only 18% were present in the compartment with media and the dryer sheet.

Repel Insects with Dryer Sheets?

From these results, the testers took it a step further to determine just what was in the dryer sheets that could cause the insects to be repelled. They identified a major volatile compound of the dryer sheets to be linalool.

(Volatile compounds, or volatiles, are those that rapidly evaporate and put off a vapor when they do).

Linalool is a common floral-scented ingredient used in cosmetics and perfumes. It also occurs naturally in some plants, including lavender, marjoram, coriander, and basil.

Other studies have found that the linalool does indeed have repellent or even toxic effects on some insects, including toxicity to spotted mites, sawtoothed grain beetle, German cockroach, Mexican bean weevil, English lesser grain borer, and rice weevil.

In fact, linalool is used in some mosquito repellent sprays. However, a 2007 EPA review of linalool states, "A preliminary screen of labels for products containing Linalool (as the sole active ingredient) indicates that efficacy data on file with the Agency may not support certain claims to repel mosquitoes."

Keep Deer Away

You may also see dryer sheets hanging on stakes around gardens to repel deer. While these may indeed work, it is probably because the dryer sheets have been sprayed with a repellent, as advised by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Division of Fish and Wildlife.

The department also notes that deer can be repelled by:

  • Soap Sachet: Place a bar of soap made with tallow fatty acid in a nylon sock or cheesecloth and hang from targeted bushes and shrubs.
  • Hair Sachet: Place unwashed cut hair (from a local barber) in a nylon sock or cheesecloth and hang from bushes, trees, etc.

Keep Mosquitoes Away?

So to get back to the original claim on which the study was based, do sheets of Bounce tucked into pockets of clothing repel mosquitoes? We don't really know, the study only focused on fungus gnats! But since they did repel the gnats -- and other insects in the other studies, there is certainly a possibility that they could repel mosquitoes or even spiders!

And, because studies have shown some repellency toward food-infesting beetles and weevils, it couldn't hurt to store your extra dryer sheets in the pantry -- though I would certainly not recommend putting them in or on food. Or you could keep your lavender, marjoram, coriander, and basil near your flour, cereal, and other dry goods. Though your best bet for keeping bugs out of foods is checking your dry goods when you get them home from the store, storing them in pest-resistant containers, and not keeping them past their expiration date.