How can I scent laundry without soap or dryer sheets?
September 21, 2020 10:54 AM   Subscribe

I have pretty sensitive skin that doesn't handle scented soaps well, but apparently can handle scents applied in the dryer, or maybe some other way I'm not aware of. I was using essential oils on wool dryer balls, but read that's a fire hazard. What can I do instead to make my laundry smell nice?

-Scented detergent sets off my skin allergies
-Essential oils on dryer balls is a fire hazard (this is what I was doing before I read it wasn't safe)
-Dryer sheets give clothes a weird waxy film
-I don't store my clothes in drawers (so can't toss in soap bars or sachets)

I really love the customizable nature of essential oils on dryer balls (or even perfume oils - chai scented laundry, yum!) but don't want to cause a fire. How can I scent my laundry with the above restrictions? I'm partial to 'clean' soap smell, citrus, vanilla, or warm/musky/woody smells. Not so much into lavender or florals.

My current laundry routine is Method free + clear detergent, then dry with wool dryer balls. Oxi-Clean as needed for stains/brightening.
posted by rachaelfaith to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Trader Joe's Lavender Dryer Bags have a lot of fans. They're sachets filled with dried lavender that are good for 5-10 dryer cycles; people who like them say that the lavender scent is pungent, but your clothes come out only mildly fragranced.

When the scent fades, TJ's recommends opening up the sachet and sprinkling the florets on your carpet and vacuuming them up to give the room a nice little refresh. If you don't live near a Trader Joe's, the Dryer Bags also are sold on Amazon.

D'oh! Just noticed that you aren't into lavender! This is not my day for reading comprehension. Perhaps this comment will be useful to someone who does like lavender.
posted by virago at 11:10 AM on September 21, 2020

Best answer: Honestly I'm a bit skeptical that a drop or two of an essential oil on a dryer ball are at all *likely* to cause fires - I know you're technically not even supposed to put, like, a washed kitchen rag that had olive oil on it in the dryer, but I suspect most people do (I do!). Like, if you accidentally spill a bit of perfume oil on a washcloth, would you avoid putting that in the dryer (like, maybe we should, but would you)?

Regardless, it's certainly theoretically possible to cause a fire this way, and given how heavy some people go with essential oils (and carrier oils) I don't doubt that this has actually happened. If you want to be safer about it, what about adding the EOs during the cooldown or "fluff" part of the dryer cycle (maybe have an extra dryer ball in a different color for this purpose so you don't get them mixed up)?

Alternately, you can make a laundry spray with your favorite oils, some alcohol (vodka or rubbing alcohol), and water. Just spritz that on as you fold, as you take stuff out of the dryer, or just spray into your closet even. But then next time you wash your clothes you would have the oils on there, and maybe that could also cause a fire? I'm not sure how much safer it would actually be!
posted by mskyle at 11:28 AM on September 21, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding what mskyle says. I just did a search for the safety concerns of essential oils on dryer balls as a fire hazard - and it seems to be based on fires starting from someone who, like, drenched the dryer balls in a whole bottle of the stuff. So I think you can get away with a few drops on dryer balls.

If you're still concerned - you may not be a fan of floral scents, but I would suggest you at least consider the Trader Joes Lavender Dryer Bags anyway. True lavender is a whole other animal from that fake perfume-y lavender you often find in "lavender" scented things; it's way more herbaceous. I'm not a fan of the floral-y fake lavender either, but I really like the true lavender scent.

Additionally - if you still don't like them, you'll still have them on hand to see how you could maybe reverse-engineer it to make your own with herbs you do like. I have a feeling it's just a cloth bag with some especially fragrant dried lavender in it; you could probably do the same with rosemary.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:36 AM on September 21, 2020

Best answer: This 2013 post from the blog Overthrow Martha offers a recipe for a 100% DIY Natural Fabric Softener, made with essential oils, vodka/rubbing alcohol and white vinegar; you use half a cup during the rinse cycle for a small or medium load of laundry, or three-quarters of a cup for a large load. The blogger, Sherri Griffin, suggests different kinds of essential oils (peppermint, spearmint, tea tree ... not lavender, heh) but cautions against using citrus essential oils on the grounds that they can wind up bleaching clothes.
posted by virago at 11:38 AM on September 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

How do you store your clothes? Even if it's not in a drawer, there might be ways to scent the storage area.
posted by metahawk at 12:47 PM on September 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Assuming if you don't use drawers you use a closet or wardrobe. MYARO Lavender Scented Sachets? or in other scents.

It would be easy enough to make something in felt say you could put essential oils on or an essential oil diffuser/hanger like used in cars. It would provide a light scent to the whole space & scent your clothes, just be careful about it getting on clothes.
posted by wwax at 1:06 PM on September 21, 2020

I dunno if this counts as not using soap or not, but I use soap - unwrapped bars of sandalwood or lavender soap, stored in the container with the laundry. If they come in a cardboard box I leave them in the box after it is open, or if not they can be wrapped loosely in paper to avoid the soap rubbing on the fabric and transferring more than the scent.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:16 PM on September 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd try what you were doing with the dryer balls, but do it when the cycle is done. Take the balls plus a few drops of oil, toss them into the warm clothes, and run an air-only cycle for 15 minutes or so.

The warm clothing should grab the scent while cooling down and you're not running a flame of any kind.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:25 PM on September 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

You can get cedar closet hangers - basically a 2 x 4" chunk of cedar wood on a hanger head - at most big box home stores. Get a whole bunch to make your closet smell good.

I also use soap with smells I like - while I do store my clothes in drawers, you can put a bunch of scented soaps in your closet on a shelf.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 1:28 PM on September 21, 2020

IMHO laundry dried outside is the ultimate laundry scent.

Otherwise, I have added a few drops of (lavender*) essential oil to water, and spritzed this mixture onto my dry clothing. (I didn't put the clothes away until the spray dried).

*I assume other essential oils would work as well.
posted by oceano at 1:45 PM on September 21, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks. I figured the fire risk is pretty low, but I didn't want to chance it. I really like the idea of using the oils on dryer balls, but on a low/fluff cycle.

Bit late but yes, most of my clothing is hung in a walk-in closet. Some folded clothes, but on open shelving, not in drawers.
posted by rachaelfaith at 2:55 PM on September 21, 2020

You could line the closet with cedar - not cheap, but a little sanding will refresh the scent for a long time and hey, it probably reduces moth damage.
posted by clew at 5:47 PM on September 21, 2020

For a couple drops of essential oil the fire risk is so incredibly low that I'm sad you're being dissuaded from continuing as you have. Nonetheless, I came to suggest putting a couple cedar sachets in the walk-in, or even in the dryer - and you might even consider putting cedar (or eucalyptus, which also smells nice) planks in the walk-in.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:30 PM on September 21, 2020

Here's a list of flash points of essential oils (note that fragrance oils are not the same thing and may have lower flash points). Most household dryers operate between 125-135F, though some may get hotter. Laudromats often have hotter dryers. I think the recommendation of using the EO on a fluff/cool setting makes sense.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:17 PM on September 22, 2020

Best answer: If you're okay with essential oils, you might want to try Seventh Generation laundry detergent. All their scents are made with 100% essential oils. I'm not aware of any other detergents out there that only use essential oils.
posted by dede at 6:55 PM on September 22, 2020

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