Dryer Sheets Repel Insects—Fact or Fiction

dryer sheets
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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 theoretically most likely to shy away from the dryer sheets are certain mites, food-infesting beetles and weevils, German cockroaches, and, according to one study, fungus gnats. Dryer sheets have not been scientifically tested as a mosquito repellant, but some dryer sheets contain a chemical that is a marginally effective repellant.

The Fungus Gnat Test

In 2011, researchers at the University of Illinois and Kansas State University tested whether 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 and 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 percent of the adult gnats released into the test chamber were collected out of the compartment with moistened media; only 18 percent were present in the compartment with media and the dryer sheet.

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, or disperse into the atmosphere as vapor. 

Linalool as Repellant

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.

Studies have found that 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." A study reported by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that linalool was more effective as a mosquito repellant than citronella but less effective than geraniol.

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.