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Sustainability: Reusable dryer sheets

vinegar, scissors, cloth laid out

During the preparations for our upcoming online workshop Inspire sustainability, I was trying to think of examples of sustainability in practice at early childhood education services. You know, these small things that make a difference and are part of the children’s environment. Then I remembered this child-led investigation that I am sure many educators can relate to as washing and drying is so essential when working with young children!

The problem: Static and smell

The children were helping with the laundry and noticed that the sheets had lots of static electricity and smelt funny when they came out of the dryer. The educator explained that they usually added dryer sheets to the load but had just run out.

Finding solutions: Ways to dry sheets

The preschool room children tried a few things to improve the state of the sheets. First, they wanted to investigate how to dry sheets so the educator provided each child with a sheet still wet from a recent wash. After discussing ways of drying the sheets, the children tried wringing them, blowing on them and running around with them. They also discussed what their parents did at home to dry sheets.

There was a washing line at preschool so the children hung some sheets out to dry. These smelled nice once dried and didn’t have static. Unfortunately, as the sheets had to be washed and dried every day, there were too many to dry them all on the line so they had to go into the dryer, while the washing line was used for smaller items.

So the children decided to look into improving the sheets from the dryer. To get rid of the static, the children inserted different materials into each load of washing. The surprising solution was a ball of tin foil, which could be used over and over again and stopped the static. Children and educators discussed this outcome and reasoned that the tinfoil conducted electricity and that this might be the reason this worked. But… what about the damp smell?

Investigating dryer sheets

One of the children brought in dryer sheets from home and these were tested and found to make the sheets smell nice. However, the children didn’t like that, compared to the ball of tin foil, the dryer sheets could only be used a few times so they investigated other possible solutions. One child was worried that chemicals in the dyer sheets might cause allergic reactions.

When the children added vinegar-soaked pieces of cloth to a load, this seemed to stop static and make the sheets feel softer but even using homemade orange peel cleaning vinegar, the sheets still smelt a bit ‘pongy’. The solution was a few drops of essential oils. After testing a few different scents, the children voted to use lavender.

The children then produced some dryer sheets to use at the service but also gifted jars of re-useable dryer sheets to families. The service now always has a pot of them in the laundry and the sheets are wonderfully smooth and smell nice.

Results and conclusion: Reusable is best

Where possible, the children would like to use the line but understand that this is not always possible so they are happy that the service is now using reusable dryer sheets to reduce the environmental impact. The children now want to investigate if they can add lavender collected from the garden to the orange peel vinegar.

One educator remembered reading that reducing static cling is supposed to reduce the drying time but the children couldn’t see any noticeable difference in the time it took to dry the sheets.

As the children’s hypothesis had been that the vinegar smell would persist despite the essential oils, they doubled the amount of essential oil and the sheets did not smell of vinegar after they had been through the dryer.

The children had the impression that bigger dryer sheets or two or three dryer sheets gave better results.

The recipe

  • Cleaning vinegar
  • Essential oils
  • Old sheets – they used a pillow case
  • Scissors
  • Jars

How to make your own dryer sheets

Half fill the jar with vinegar and essential oils. Add pieces of sheet, replace lid and shake. To use, simply squeeze the sheet and pop it in the dryer with the laundry. When the load is dry pop the sheet back in the jar.

Hayley Bates
Article author: Hayley Bates
National Certifications Coordinator

This passionate mathematician and former science teacher will inspire you with her enthusiasm for inquiry-based learning and her determination to provide high-quality hands-on and fun professional development.

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