Drying your bedsheets on high might seem like a good idea: the higher the temp, the faster they’ll dry. You’ll save time and maybe even quarters at the laundromat. Good deal. Truth is, you could be ruining your sheets every time you do it. Bad deal! To understand why this is, we first need to understand what happens when we throw our damp clothes into a dryer and push START.
The most important part of a dryer is the heating element. There are two major kinds: electric and gas. Electric dryers use an electrical current to generate heat. Gas dryers burn natural gas to create a flame. In both cases, air is then passed over the heating element and blown into the chamber your clothes are tumbling in. As your wet clothes bounce around inside, the hot, dry air is blown through them, taking away the moisture and exiting out the dryer vent outside.
Fabrics that are made with natural or synthetic fibers can be impacted by the level of this heat. In the case of cotton, the fibers can become brittle and stiff when exposed to high temperatures for extended periods of time. Ever wonder where all that lint comes from when you empty the trap? It used to be part of your sheets. The tumbling mechanism (combined with high heat) actually causes little cracks and breaks in the fibers that make up your clothing. Eventually, enough of these microscopic fractures gather together to form lint. Synthetic fibers can melt and leech chemical residue and vapors. Wrinkle-free fabrics are sometimes coated with artificial compounds that can react when exposed to warmth. None of those make for a safe and comfortable sleeping situation.
After just 20 washing and high-heat drying cycles, your bedsheets could have lost nearly 50% of their original tensile strength. This means your sheets will fit awkwardly and may even loosen up further over time. It will also impact the feel of the sheets. Instead of a smooth, even feel, your sheets could be uneven and bumpy. By switching to low/no-heat temperatures, you can reduce that number by more than half.
Friction is a big source of damage for laundered clothes. In a washing machine, your clothing is suspended in water, swirling around itself. The water helps to keep the fabrics loose and lubricated from each other. A dryer aims to have the opposite effect. The tumbling action inside most commercial dryers leverages the heat caused by friction to aid in drying your clothes. Heat isn’t the only byproduct of all that tumbling, though.
Before the fabric begins to dry, the microabrasions caused by the motion in the fibers, weaken the fabrics’ overall strength. It is during this process that damage can occur. All that rubbing can also create static electricity and a static-filled sheet is very unpleasant. Even modern sensors can’t detect when the clothes themselves are completely dry and often this leads to over-drying, especially on high heat, since the changes in that environment are more rapid.
There are also aesthetic reasons for why you should never dry on high heat. Sheets that are dried at a higher setting will end up more wrinkled. This has to do with how rapidly the water evaporates from the fabric. Your sheets might appear like a smooth surface from a distance, but they are really a weave of many different threads, strung together in various patterns. These weave patterns dictate how air moves through the fabric, giving different weaves varying ranges of breathability and warmth. As the moisture is removed from the fabric, this can create unsightly and uncomfortable wrinkling on the surface. By drying on low-heat, the moisture level changes more evenly, giving the fabric and sensors time to adjust. Cooler fabrics will also have fewer wrinkles after drying than warm fabrics when they are folded and stored.
Ultimately, the only reason for drying at a high temperature is that it saves time. But how much time are we talking about? And is that extra five to ten minutes really worth damaging your sheets for? Obviously, the time saved would vary from load to load but we aren’t talking about hours here. If you still need one more reason, think beyond the sheets. Most dryers run less efficiently on higher settings, which means more electricity or natural gas used to heat them. That’s just wasteful.
You can do a few things to really get the most life and comfort out of your bedding. Start by purchasing ethically-produced, organic cotton sheets. They will wear better, last longer, and provide greater comfort than synthetic materials or conventionally grown cotton sheets. Not to mention the environmental benefits provided by organic farming. Always be sure to dry them on low or air dry them on a line if possible. Cotton & natural fibers are more susceptible to damage from heat. The good news is that you can avoid it by avoiding the heat, leaving you with soft, comfortable sheets that will bring you many restful nights.
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